Yester Year No­bel Lau­re­ates - Leopold Ruz­icka

Veena Patwardhan - Spe­cial Cor­re­spon­dent

Chemical Industry Digest - - What’s In? -

Ruz­icka main­tained an enor­mous in­ter­est in chem­i­cal pro­cesses of na­ture. He was awarded the No­bel for his work on poly­methylenes and ter­penes. His life and times are pre­sented here.

of his was colour pho­tog­ra­phy. His great fond­ness for paint­ings and pho­tog­ra­phy seems quite in­ter­est­ing con­sid­er­ing he was se­verely colour-blind, find­ing it dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish the colour red. They say his friends would joke about this short­com­ing sug­gest­ing that it ex­plained his left­ist po­lit­i­cal views.

A re­turn to chem­istry

> Ruz­icka was also an ar­dent gar­dener, de­vot­ing a lot of time to tend­ing to his plants. An­other hobby of his was colour pho­tog­ra­phy. His great fond­ness for paint­ings and pho­tog­ra­phy seems quite in­ter­est­ing con­sid­er­ing he was se­verely colour-blind, find­ing it dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish the colour red. They say his friends would joke about this short­com­ing sug­gest­ing that it ex­plained his left­ist po­lit­i­cal views.

To­wards the be­gin­ning of the 1950s, there were im­por­tant changes in Ruz­icka’s per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life. In 1950, he and his first wife Anna, whom he had mar­ried in 1912, got divorced af­ter a child­less mar­riage. The fol­low­ing year, at the age of 64, he mar­ried Gertrud Ack­lin, the mother of a grown-up son.

Around this same time, he re­turned to the field of chem­istry af­ter a break of a few years, to find that the meth­ods and tech­niques for study­ing molec­u­lar struc­tures had fun­da­men­tally changed by now. Re­search­ing by purely chem­i­cal meth­ods had been re­placed by phys­i­cal meth­ods like molec­u­lar spec­troscopy and X-ray crys­tal­lo­graphic anal­y­sis. Re­al­is­ing the ad­van­tages of adopt­ing these mod­ern meth­ods, he ac­quired the nec­es­sary in­stru­ments and equip­ment and saw to it that trained peo­ple were avail­able for tak­ing care of and main­tain­ing them.

Also, Ruz­icka’s in­ter­est had now shifted to bio­chem­istry, par­tic­u­larly to the bio­gen­e­sis of ter­penes and steroids, sub­stances on which he had car­ried out pi­o­neer­ing chem­i­cal re­search in the past. This phase in his pro­fes­sional life marked an­other ma­jor achieve­ment on his part. While re­search­ing ter­penes ear­lier, he had ex­ten­sively ap­plied the then in use ‘Iso­prene Rule’. Now, over a decade later, in 1953, he pro­posed his own ‘Bio­genetic Iso­prene Rule’ that re­placed the for­mer rule and soon re­ceived univer­sal ac­cep­tance.

Till this time, bio­chem­istry was be­ing taught in Switzer­land mostly as a pre­lim­i­nary and an­cil­lary dis­ci­pline. Ruz­icka vig­or­ously cam­paigned for the es­tab­lish­ment of a sep­a­rate Chair and lab­o­ra­tory of bio­chem­istry at ETH. His ef­forts fi­nally met with suc­cess in 1956, just be­fore he re­tired.

Awards and recognitions

As a trib­ute to Ruz­icka, when he re­tired in 1957 at the age of 70, the Swiss chem­i­cal in­dus­try con­trib­uted to­wards estab­lish­ing the Ruz­icka Prize at ETH. Each year, this prize is awarded for out­stand­ing work done by young Swiss chemists or chemists work­ing in Switzer­land.

In 1974, Ruz­icka’s na­tive Yu­goslavia hon­oured him with the Or­der of the Yu­goslav Flag with Golden Wreath. In his home town Vuko­var, the house where he was born has been con­verted into a mod­est-size Ruz­icka Mu­seum.

Apart from the No­bel Prize, some of the other ma­jor hon­ours con­ferred on him in­clude the Mar­cel Benoist Prize—Switzer­land’s high­est sci­en­tific award, eight Hon­orary Doc­tor­ates, and Hon­orary Fellowships of a num­ber of re­puted so­ci­eties. He was also an hon­orary mem­ber of the Amer­i­can Academy of Arts and Sciences.

A pro­lific writer, he con­tin­ued writ­ing even in his old age, his 583 pub­li­ca­tions span­ning a pe­riod of sixty years. Most of these how­ever were pub­lished be­tween 1930 and 1950.

Leopold Ruz­icka died on 26 Septem­ber, 1976 at the age of 89 in Mam­mern in Switzer­land, a vil­lage on Lake Con­stance. He suc­cumbed to the af­ter-ef­fects of a surgery he had un­der­gone.

When Amer­ica’s Har­vard Univer­sity awarded Ruz­icka an hon­orary doc­tor­ate in 1936, Dr. James B. Co­nant, Har­vard’s Pres­i­dent, had aptly lauded him as, “A chemist dar­ing in his at­tack, bril­liant in his meth­ods, suc­cess­ful in his in­ter­pre­ta­tions of the ar­chi­tec­ture of na­ture’s baf­fling com­pounds.” It was a wor­thy trib­ute to one of the great men of sci­ence.

Ref­er­ences

1. No­belPrize.org: Leopold Ruz­icka – Bi­o­graph­i­cal – No­bel Me­dia AB 2014, https://www.no­belprize.org/no­bel_prizes/ chem­istry/lau­re­ates/1939/ruz­icka-bio.html

2. Soy­lent Com­mu­ni­ca­tions: Leopold Ruz­icka – http://www.

nndb.com/peo­ple/427/000100127/

3. Univer­sity of Zurich: Leopold Ruz­icka - No­bel Prize in Chem­istry 1939 – http://www.uzh.ch/en/about/por­trait/no­belprize/ruz­icka.html

4. Michi­gan State Univer­sity, Depart­ment of Chem­istry: Leopold Ruz­icka – https://www.chem­istry.msu.edu/fac­ulty-re­search/por­traits/leopold-ruz­icka/

5. Vladimir Prelog, Os­kar Jeger: Leopold Ruz­icka, 13 Septem­ber 1887 - 26 Septem­ber 1976 – Bi­o­graph­i­cal Mem­oirs of Fel­lows of the Royal So­ci­ety, 26, 411-502, 1980

6. Al­bert Eschen­moser: Leopold Ruz­icka - From the Iso­prene Rule to the Ques­tion of Life’s Ori­gin – Chimia44 (1990) Nr. 1-2 ( Jan­uary-Fe­bru­ary).

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