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Scientist Obituary: John W. Cornforth, Nobel Prize-winning Chemist, Age 96

John W. Cornforth, a Nobel Prize-winning Australian chemist, passed away earlier this month at the age of 96. Cornforth first began to explore chemistry when he developed early symptoms of hearing loss. A high school teacher encouraged him to pursue chemistry as a career, saying his deafness would pose less of a handicap in science than in other lines of work.

John W. Cornforth

Cornforth entered the University of Sydney at age 16. By the time he graduated four years later, he was completely deaf.

Cornforth went on to have a long and illustrious career. During World War II, he joined the effort to isolate, identify and synthesize penicillin. In 1975, he won the Nobel Prize for his complicated work deciphering a class of chemical reactions that are important in living organisms. Said the Nobel committee: “This subject is difficult to explain to the layman, as it is a question of geometry in three dimensions.”

Dr. Cornforth retired at age 82, but continued doing research and publishing important papers until age 90. Read more in his New York Times obituary.

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Seandor Szeles

    Seandor Szeles is the co-editor of the Secret Life Blog. He is most interested in the human side of science and providing take-away for educators.