John Cornforth

John Cornforth

Australian organic chemist
Date of Birth: 07.09.1917
Country: Australia

  1. Biography of John Cornforth
  2. Early Life
  3. Career and Contributions
  4. Nobel Prize and Later Years

Biography of John Cornforth

John Warcup Cornforth was an Australian organic chemist. He was born in Sydney to English father J.U. Cornforth and Australian mother Hilda (Eipper) Cornforth, whose parents were of German descent.

Early Life

Cornforth grew up in Sydney and in the rural areas of New South Wales. At the age of 10, he started experiencing hearing loss due to otosclerosis, a condition characterized by the growth of bone tissue in the middle and inner ear. By the age of 20, Cornforth had lost his hearing completely.

During his years at a boys' school in Sydney, Cornforth developed a strong interest in chemistry, thanks to his school teacher. In 1933, he enrolled at the University of Sydney and graduated with honors four years later, receiving the university medal.

Career and Contributions

After completing a year of diploma work in chemistry, Cornforth and Rita H. Harradens, a student from the organic chemistry department at the University of Sydney, won a scholarship to study at the University of Oxford. However, their plans were interrupted by the outbreak of World War II in 1939. In London, they joined the laboratory of Robert Robinson, where they studied the synthesis of steroids, organic molecules that contain a flat four-ring structure with various side chains.

In 1941, Cornforth and Rita Harradens got married and both were awarded doctorates in chemistry by the University of Oxford that same year. During the war, Cornforth continued his research on steroid synthesis and the chemical structure of penicillin, which had been discovered by Alexander Fleming. His findings on penicillin synthesis were published in 1949 in a report titled "The Chemistry of Penicillin," which included the work of scientists from different countries.

From 1946 to 1962, Cornforth and Rita worked at the Medical Research Council Laboratory. Cornforth focused on the study of cholesterol, a natural steroid found in biological membranes and the foundation of steroid hormones and bile acids. He identified the steps involved in the synthesis of cholesterol and the structural position of each acetic acid molecule in its formation.

In 1962, Cornforth and George Popják became co-directors of the Enzyme Chemistry Laboratory at Shell Research Limited in Sittingbourne, Kent. From 1965 to 1971, Cornforth also served as an adjunct professor at the School of Molecular Sciences at the University of Warwick. During this time, he and Popják explored the stereochemistry of enzymatic reactions involved in the synthesis of squalene from mevalonic acid.

Nobel Prize and Later Years

In 1975, Cornforth was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the stereochemistry of enzyme-catalyzed reactions. He shared the prize with Vladimir Prelog. After retiring from the enzyme chemistry laboratory in 1975, Cornforth became a professor at the University of Sussex, where he taught for seven years.

Cornforth and his wife continued to work together in the chemistry lab for many years. They now reside in Saxon Down, East Sussex, and have a son and two daughters. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Cornforth received numerous other honors and awards throughout his career. He passed away on December 8, 2013, leaving behind a remarkable legacy in the field of organic chemistry.