Sir John Cornforth 1917 - 2013

Sir John Cornforth 1917 - 2013

The College is deeply saddened to announce that alumnus and Honorary Fellow Sir John Cornforth (1939, Chemistry) passed away on December 14 2013 at the age of 96. Professor Cornforth was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1975 for his research into the ‘stereochemistry of enzyme-catalysed reactions’.

Professor Cornforth was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1917. He suffered from otosclerosis, a disease of the inner ear, which left him deaf by the age of 20. After graduating from the University of Sydney in 1938, he moved to Oxford to study Chemistry at St Catherine’s.

During the Second World War, he was part of the Oxford laboratory which pioneered penicillin, helping to author The Chemistry of Penicillin – the official record of the international research effort which pioneered the drug. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1975 in recognition of his research into the ‘stereochemistry of enzyme-catalysed reactions’, and in 1977 he was knighted. He received the prestigious Copley Medal from the Royal Society of London in 1982, and remained active in research as a Royal Society Research Professor at the University of Sussex up until he was almost 90 years old.

The Master, Professor Roger Ainsworth said, ‘John Cornforth was an outstanding Chemist. We owe much of today’s Chemistry to his pioneering research, and we are immensely proud that he was St Catherine’s first alumnus to be awarded a Nobel Prize. He will be much missed.’

Photo: Sir John Cornforth receiving the Nobel Prize for Chemistry © AP.