Otto Warburg and the Turn to Manometry (1912–1925)
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The third chapter studies the work of one central actor, the cell physiologist Otto Warburg, in more detail. Warburg turned to photosynthesis in 1919, and his contributions to the field mark a turning point in twentieth-century photosynthesis research: He introduced a number of revolutionising new techniques, notably manometry and the use of the unicellular green alga Chlorella as the preferred experimental organism. He also put forward a new model of the mechanism, and added a completely new perspective by attempting to establish the energy requirement of photosynthesis in terms of its maximum quantum yield. The in-depth reconstruction of Warburgs research strategies allows the characterisation of the various conceptual and methodical “building blocks” that he availed himself with. Three different contexts of inspiration are explored: first, Warburg’s earlier research into cell respiration, in which he had developed a set of methodical approaches and techniques that he adapted for use in his photosynthesis studies; second, his father’s (Emil Warburg) work on the quantum yield of photochemical reactions in general, from which Otto Warburg borrowed theoretical conceptions; and, third, the way in which Warburg relied on the photosynthesis model by Willstätter and Stoll.