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John Cornforth

John CornforthAKA John Warcup Cornforth, Jr.

Born: 7-Sep-1917
Birthplace: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
Died: 8-Dec-2013
Location of death: Sussex, England
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Presbyterian
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Chemist

Nationality: England
Executive summary: Stereochemistry of enzyme-catalysts

As a young boy, John Cornforth was diagnosed with otosclerosis, a disease of the inner ear that causes progressive hearing loss and left him completely deaf by his mid-teens. He focused his attention on chemistry at least in part, he said later, because it offered "a career where deafness might not be an insuperable handicap". He became a skilled lip-reader, and after studying at the Universities of Sydney and Oxford, he completed the first total synthesis of the cholesterol molecule in 1951, with Robert Robinson. Beginning in the mid-1950s, he developed a new method using isotopes of hydrogen to follow and reveal how cells create cholesterol from acetic acid.

He studied biosynthesis, enzymes, sugars and glycochemistry, and synthesized abscisic acid, alkenes, and oxazoles. For pioneering work in the field of bio-organic chemistry, he shared the 1975 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Swiss chemist Vladimir Prelog, and two years later he was knighted. His wife, Rita Harradence, was his college classmate, a fellow chemist, a valued aide in communication with the hearing world, and his frequent scientific collaborator. He retired in 1982, but continues working and remains in good health.

Father: John Warcup Cornforth (English)
Mother: Hilda Eipper Cornforth (b. 1887, m. 1913, d. 1969)
Brother: Roger George Warcup Cornforth (salesman, b. 19-Jan-1919, d. 19-Mar-1976)
Wife: Rita Harradence (organic chemist, m. 1941, d. 2012, two daughters, one son)
Daughter: Brenda
Son: John
Daughter: Philippa

    High School: Sydney Boys' High School, Sydney, Australia (1932)
    University: BC Organic Chemistry, University of Sydney (1937)
    University: MS Chemistry, Oxford University (1938)
    University: PhD Chemistry, Oxford University (1941)
    Scholar: Oxford University (1941-46)
    Scholar: Medical Research Council, National Institute for Medical Research (1946-62)
    Professor: Molecular Science, University of Warwick (1965-72)
    Professor: Royal Society Research Professor, University of Sussex (1975-82)

    RSC Corday-Morgan Prize 1953
    RSC Robert Flintoff Medal 1965
    Novartis (CIBA) Medal and Prize 1965 (with Vladimir Prelog)
    Davy Medal 1968 (with George Joseph Popjak)
    ACS Ernest Guenther Award 1969
    Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1975 (with Vladimir Prelog)
    Australian of the Year 1975
    Royal Medal 1976
    Knight of the British Empire 1977
    Copley Medal 1982
    Royal Dutch Shell Director, Milstead Laboratory of Chemical Enzymology (1962-75)
    Australian Academy of Science
    National Academy of Sciences Foreign Associate
    Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences Foreign Member
    Royal Society 1953
    Australian Ancestry (maternal)
    English Ancestry (paternal)
    German Ancestry (maternal)
    Risk Factors: Deafness

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