Efraim Racker

Scientist and Artist | June 28, 1913 - September 9, 1991
Photo collage of Efraim Racker

Biographical timeline


  • June 28, 1913 Efraim Racker born Neu Sandez, Poland
  • 1915 During World War I, Naftali “Meyer” Racker, father, and Ella Spira Racker, mother, relocates Ef, older sister Miriam and older brother Heinrich to Vienna, Austria
  • 1915 Naftali “Meyer” Racker starts the first daily Yiddish newspapers in Vienna, “Wiener Morgenzeitung” and “Yiddishe Morgenpost”
  • 1920 Sells rights to his newspapers to Robert Stricker
  • Meyer Racker continues as correspondent for “Yiddish World” of Cleveland, Ohio
  • Racker family is poor; survives in post-World War I Vienna operating a small store.


  • Ef plays soccer and chess; enjoys music and art
  • 1925 Ef receives an oil painting set as a birthday present; starts painting and drawing; Viktor Loewenfeld, his high school art teacher, nurtures Ef’s interest in art and psychology
  • 1930 Ef graduates from high school; admitted to the prestigious Vienna Academy of Art (Akademie der Bildenden Kuenste)
  • 1932 Ef leaves the Vienna Academy of Art to study medicine at the University of Vienna but continues to paint and draw seriously throughout his life
  • 1936 Ef meets medical school student Franziska “Franzi” Weiss; she sees Ef’s paintings when she attends home concerts by his brother Heinrich who is an accomplished pianist pursuing a career in psychoanalysis and medicine
  • 1937 Naftali “Meyer” Racker, Ef’s father, dies

Escape from Nazi occupation

  • March 11, 1938 Hitler invades Vienna while Ef and Franzi are taking medical school final exams; Jews are banned from the university, but in July 1938 are allowed to complete medical school exams
  • Ef flees to Great Britain; he conducts research on energy metabolism of the brain in lab of Dr. J.Hirsh Quastel , chief of psychiatry at Cardiff City Mental Hospital; then sent to Isle of Man as a physician in prisoner of war camp
  • Franzi Weiss flees to Great Britain to work with European refugees while awaiting visa to U.S.; has no contact with Ef
  • Ef’s brother Heinrich flees to Denmark, immigrates to Buenos Aires, Argentina where he becomes famous in transference psychoanalysis; dies there in 1961
  • Ef’s sister Miriam, completes PhD in German literature in Vienna, flees to England to join army until 1945; immigrates to Haifa, Israel to become a social worker; lives there until her death in Israel in 1996; Ef’s mother Ella immigrates to the US and dies in Israel

Immigration to U.S.

  • 1941 Ef sponsored by University of Minnesota, Red Wing as a polio researcher to examine carbohydrate metabolism of the brain
  • 1942 Harlem Hospital, NY: Ef becomes intern and resident specializing in pneumonia research at Harlem Hospital, NY
  • 1943 Ef reunites with Franzi Weiss who arrives in U.S. in 1939 as a physician and is completing masters at Harvard School of Public Health
  • 1944 Microbiology Dept. at New York University appoints Ef as a biochemical researcher and instructor in bacteriology; makes seminal discovery of a thioester high energy intermediate
  • Aug. 24, 1945 Ef and Franzi Weiss marry
  • Oct 11, 1950 Ef and Franzi’s daughter Ann Myra Racker is born
  • 1952 Yale University appoints Ef as Associate Professor of Biochemistry; Ef discovers the enzyme transketolase
  • 1954-66 Public Health Research Institute of the City of New York appoints Ef as Chief of Physiology and Nutrition and New York University appoints him as Professor of Microbiology; Ef mounts a large program dealing with mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation and the control of energy metabolism in cancer cells; he discovers the enzyme of mitochondria responsible for making ATP called F1
  • 1958 Ef, Franzi and Ann move to Mt. Vernon, NY where he creates first art studio in their attic

Cornell University 1966-1991

  • 1966 Cornell University appoints Ef as the Albert Einstein Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Chair of Section of Biochemistry; Ef moves family and many colleagues from his New York City lab to Ithaca
  • Tompkins County Hospital, Ithaca, names Franzi as Head of Rehabilitation
  • Ef builds art studio in his home overlooking Cayuga Lake
  • 1974 Ef shares the Warren Triennial Prize with Peter Mitchell
  • 1976 President Jimmy Carter awards Ef the National Academy of Sciences Medal
  • 1980 Ef receives the Gairdner Award
  • 1982 daughter Ann and husband John Costello return to Ithaca to open internal medical practice
  • September 9, 1991 Ef dies in Syracuse, NY as he was preparing to take a leave of absence from his lab at Cornell studying the biochemical basis of cancer to participate in the Djessari Art Retreat in Woodside, Ca.
  • During his 25 years at Cornell, Ef does groundbreaking research in oxidative phosphorylation and the chemiosmotic theory of energy coupling among many scientific contributions. He expands and strengthens the biochemistry graduate program while continuing to work at the lab bench. Ef remains a vocal advocate for public understanding of science and basic research.