Australian 1975 Nobel Prize-Winning Chemist John Cornforth Dies at 96

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By Janice Somosot | December 16, 2013 5:38 PM EST

Australian 1975 Nobel Prize-Winning chemist John Cornforth has died on Dec. 14, 2013 at the age of 96 years old. Cornforth was awarded the Nobel Chemistry Prize in 1975 for his work on the stereochemistry of enzyme-catalysed reactions. Cornforth won the Nobel Chemistry Prize in 1975 with Croatian-Swiss organic chemist Vladimir Prelog.

According to Cornforth's bio in the Nobel Prize Web site, part of his childhood was spent in Sydney, Australia and part of it was in rural Armidale in New South Wales (NSW). He was about ten years old when he experienced the first signs of deafness which he got from otosclerosis, a disease of the inner ear that causes progressive hearing loss.

"The total loss of hearing was a process that lasted more than a decade, but it was sufficiently gradual for me to attend Sydney Boys' High School and to profit from the teaching there," wrote Cornforth in his Nobel Prize Web site bio.

He credits his teacher Leonard Basser for influencing him to be interested in Chemistry and pursuing a career in that area.

"This seemed to offer a career where deafness might not be an insuperable handicap," added Cornforth in his bio.

Cornforth didn't let his deafness become a barrier to his success. He learned how to lip-read and became very good at it. He studied at the University of Sydney and Oxford University.

He was able to complete the first total synthesis of the cholesterol molecule in 1951 with organic chemist and fellow Nobel laureate Robert Robinson (1947 Nobel Prize winner for plant dyestuffs (anthocyanins) and alkaloid research.

In the mid-1950s, Cornforth was able to develop a new method using hydrogen isotopes to follow and reveal how cells create cholesterol from acetic acid.

Aside from being a 1975 Nobel Prize-Winning chemist, Cornforth was also awarded Australian of the Year in 1975. Plus, he received a Centenary Medal and was knighted in 1977. Here are his other awards:

  1. RSC Corday-Morgan Prize 1953
  2. RSC Robert Flintoff Medal 1965
  3. Novartis (CIBA) Medal and Prize 1965 (with Vladimir Prelog)
  4. Davy Medal 1968 (with George Joseph Popjak)
  5. ACS Ernest Guenther Award 1969
  6. Royal Medal 1976
  7. Knight of the British Empire 1977
  8. Copley Medal 1982

Australian 1975 Nobel Prize-Winning chemist John Cornforth may have already died, but he lived a long and fruitful life filled with outstanding achievements, recognitions and great contributions to science. He is a source of inspiration because he was able to become extremely successful in his chosen field of Chemistry despite his deafness. Rest in Peace Professor John Cornforth.

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