|Sir John Cornforth|
7 September 1917 |
|Institutions||University of Oxford
University of Sussex
|Alma mater||University of Sydney
St Catherine's College, Oxford
|Doctoral advisor||Roberrt Robinson|
|Known for||Stereochemistry of enzyme-catalyzed reactions|
|Notable awards||Corday–Morgan Medal (1949)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1975)
Royal Medal (1976)
Copley Medal (1982)
Sir John Warcup "Kappa" Cornforth, Jr., AC, CBE, FRS, FAA (born 7 September 1917 in Sydney, Australia), is an Australian–British chemist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1975 for his work on the stereochemistry of enzyme-catalyzed reactions.
Cornforth investigated enzymes that catalyse changes in organic compounds, the substrates, by taking the place of hydrogen atoms in a substrate's chains and rings. In his syntheses and descriptions of the structure of various terpenes, olefins, and steroids, Cornforth determined specifically which cluster of hydrogen atoms in a substrate were replaced by an enzyme to effect a given change in the substrate, allowing him to detail the biosynthesis of cholesterol. For such work, he won a share of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1975, alongside co-recipient Vladimir Prelog, and was knighted in 1977.
Born in Sydney, New South Wales, Cornforth was the son and the second of four children of English-born, Oxford-educated schoolmaster and teacher John Warcup Cornforth and Hilda Eipper (1887–1969), a granddaughter of pioneering missionary and Presbyterian minister Christopher Eipper. Before her marriage, Eipper had been a maternity nurse.
At about 10 years old, Cornforth had noted signs of deafness, which led to a diagnosis of otosclerosis, a disease of the inner ear which causes progressive hearing loss. This would leave him completely deaf by the age of 20 but also fatefully influence his career direction towards chemistry.
Cornforth was educated at Sydney Boys High School, whereat he academically excelled, having passed in English, mathematics, science, French, Greek, and Latin, and was inspired by his chemistry teacher, Leonard ("Len") Basser, to change his career directions from the law to chemistry. After graduating from High at the age of 16, Cornforth attended the University of Sydney, where his hearing became progressively worse, thus making listening to lectures difficult. At the time, he could not use hearing aids as the sound became distorted, and he did not significantly use lip reading.
Having studied organic chemistry while at the University of Sydney's School of Chemistry, Cornforth graduated with first-class honours and was recognised for his excellence with a University Medal in 1937. Also there, he met his future wife, fellow chemist, and scientific collaborator, Rita Harradence, herself a graduate of St George Girls High School and a distinguished academic achiever.
In 1939, Cornforth and Harradence, independently of each other, each won one of two Exhibition scholarships to work at the University of Oxford with Sir Robert Robinson, with whom they would collaborate for 14 years. In 1941, Cornforth and Harradence were each awarded a D.Phil.
After his arrival at Oxford and during World War II, Cornforth significantly influenced the work on penicillin, particularly in purifying and concentrating it. Penicillin is usually very unstable in its crude form; as a consequence of this, researchers at the time were building upon Alexander Fleming's work on the drug. In 1940, Cornforth and other chemists measured the yield of penicillin in arbitrary units to understand the conditions that favoured penicillin production and activity, and he contributed to the authoring of The Chemistry of Penicillin.
During his time at Oxford, Cornforth found working for, and with, Robert Robinson stimulating, and the pair would deliberate to no end until one had a cogent case against the other's counterargument.
In 1946, Cornforth and his wife, Rita, left Oxford and joined the Medical Research Council, working at the National Institute for Medical Research (NIMR), where they continued on earlier work in synthesising sterols, including cholesterol. The Cornforths collaboration with Robinson continued and flourished. In 1951, they completed, simultaneously with Woodward, the first total synthesis of the non-aromatic steroids. At the NIMR, Cornforth collaborated with numerous biological scientists, including George Popják, with whom he shared an interest in cholesterol. Together, they received the Davy Medal in 1968 in recognition of their distinguished joint work on the elucidation of the biosynthetic pathway to polyisoprenoids and steroids.
In 1975, Cornforth was awarded a share of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, alongside Vladimir Prelog. Also in 1975, he had moved to Sussex University as a Royal Society Research Professor.
Cornforth's other awards and recognitions thus follow:
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