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Lavoslav Stjepan Ružička - Croatian Nobel prize winners for chemistry


Lavoslav Stjepan Ružička, Nobel prize laureate for chemistry in 1939.
Born     13 September 1887
Vukovar, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia, Austria-Hungary (today's Croatia)
Died     26 September 1976 (aged 89)
Mammern, Switzerland

Citizenship     Austria-Hungary (1887–1917)
Switzerland (1917–1976)
Fields     Biochemistry
Alma mater     Technische Hochschule Karlsruhe
Doctoral advisor     Hermann Staudinger
Known for     Terpenes
Notable awards     Nobel prize winner.svg Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1939)

Lavoslav Stjepan Ružička born as Lavoslav ( Leopold ) Ružička (13 September 1887 – 26 September 1976) was a Croatian scientist and winner of the 1939 Nobel Prize in Chemistry who worked most of his life in Switzerland. He received eight honoris causa  doctorates in science, medicine, and law; seven prizes and medals; and twenty-four honorary memberships in chemical, biochemical, and other scientific societies.


Short Biography

Ružička was born in Vukovar, Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia within the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His family of craftsmen and farmers was of Croatian, Czech, and German origin.[1]

Ružička attended the classics-program secondary school in Osijek. He changed his original idea of becoming a priest and switched to studying technical disciplines. Chemistry was his choice, probably because he hoped to get a position at the newly opened sugar refinery built in Osijek.

Due to the excessive hardship of everyday and political life, he left and chose the High Technical School in Karlsruhe in Germany. He was a good student in areas he liked and that he thought would be necessary and beneficial in future, which was organic chemistry. That is why his physical chemistry professor, Fritz Haber (Nobel laureate in 1918), opposed his summa cum laude degree. However, in the course of his studies, Ružička set up excellent cooperation with Hermann Staudinger (a Nobel laureate in 1953). Studying within Staudinger's department, he obtained his doctor's degree in 1910. With Staudinger, Ružička went to Zurich and was his assistant.


Leopold Stephen Ruzicka was born on September 13, 1887, in Vukovar, a small Croatian town on the Danube, somewhat east of its confluence with the Drava. His father, Stjepan Ruzicka, was a cooper; his mother's maiden name was Ljubica Sever. His great-grandparents included a Czech, from whom the name Ruzicka stems, an Upper Austrian and his wife from Wurtemberg, the other five being Croats. His ancestors were artisans or farmers, who had enjoyed at most a few years of schooling. After the early death of his father in 1891, he returned with his mother to her birthplace, Osijek, on the Drava somewhat west of its junction with the Danube. There he attended the primary school and the classical gymnasium where the Croatian language was used. He was a fairly good pupil in a general way, but really interested only in physics and mathematics. The other subjects, including the purely descriptive sciences, left him cold. There was no chemistry in the curriculum but, nevertheless, he decided to study this subject out of his interest in the composition of natural products.


He wanted to study at the Zurich Polytechnic Institute but found to his dismay that an entrance examination was required not only in chemistry but also in "descriptive geometry". He decided to go instead to Germany, where anyone with a completed secondary school education was acceptable as a student at a University or Technical Institute without having to undergo additional entrance examinations. He chose the Technische Hochschule at Karlsruhe, where he began his chemical studies in 1906. This step proved to be decisive for his future. Only later did he discover that in Zurich the curriculum, including practical work, was organized on a very rigid basis; still in 1906 attendance at the lectures was or could be checked. In Karlsruhe, on the other hand, there was considerable freedom. He completed his laboratory courses in 1 3 /4 years and then immediately started his doctoral work on ketenes with Professor Staudinger, who was, at 27, only 6 1/2 years older. There were few bureaucratic formalities; he had attended the prescribed lectures neither in chemical technology nor, unfortunately, in physical chemistry and physics.

After two years of research work Ruzicka was a "Dipl. Ing", and two weeks later "Dr. Ing". Staudinger appointed him as his assistant, and they together entered the quite unexplored field of the active constituents - named by them pyrethrins - of Dalmatian insect powder, a plant product, toxic to insects and other coldblooded animals. They thus opened a new chapter of alicyclic chemistry, which was then as unfamiliar to Ruzicka as it was to Staudinger.

In October 1912 he followed Staudinger who became Willstätter's successor at the newly dubbed "Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule" (ETH, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology) at Zurich. In Switzerland he found not only a second homeland but also a peaceful and convivial environment that brought with it all the conditions for uninterrupted research. In 1917 he acquired Swiss citizenship.

In the previous year he had already started independent work and this decision initiated the most fruitful and happy decade of his life, when he could work at the laboratory bench from morning to night, on problems of his own choosing, with no teaching responsibilities, except one hour weekly from 1918 onward. During the years 1920-1924 he laid the fundaments of all his future work.

For the accomplishment of his Habilitation work (necessary to become a "Privatdozent") in 1916-1917 he was glad of the support of the oldest perfume manufacturers in the world, Haarman & Reimer, of Holzminden in Germany. The starting-point for their collaboration was the Tiemann formula for drone; the results were the total synthesis of fenchone and the extension and interpretation of the Wagner rearrangement (this term was then introduced by him). After his habilitation in 1918 the firm of Ciba, Basle, became interested in his work on the preparation of quinine-like compounds. With various co-workers, the first synthesis of b-collidine and of linalool, the partial synthesis of pinene, and a series of investigations in the monoterpene field were carried out.

In 1921, the Geneva perfume manufacturers Chuit, Naef & Firmenich, asked him to collaborate with them. By this time the investigations that were to lead to the elucidation of the constitutional formulas of the higher terpenes has already been started. In the perfumery and sesquiterpene domain the total syntheses of nerolidol and farnesol were carried through. The structure of jasmone was established, Tiemann's irone formula corrected, and synthetic work in these fields undertaken. But by far the most important fruits collected in the perfumery garden were the elucidations of the structures of the naturally occurring musk perfumes, civetone and muscone. Following these discoveries Ruzicka and his co-workers were able to prepare the whole series of alicyclic ketones with 9 to over 30 carbon atoms as ring members, compounds that had previously been believed to be incapable to existence.

Most of the years 1925-1926 he spent with his friends in Geneva. From October 1926 till 1929 he was Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University of Utrecht. Although he was very happy in Holland, he decided to accept the invitation of the ETH to return to Zurich. The main reason for this decision was the strength of the Swiss organic chemical industry, especially its pharmaceutical and perfumery branches, which required the skill and energy of a whole army of chemists with a thorough training in modern organic chemistry. This circumstance was not only a challenge to the teaching and research abilities of the professors; it also encouraged students to acquire the necessary understanding of the theories and methods to equip them for a career in these industries. The three-fold community of professors, students and industry was thus bound together by bonds of common interest.

In 1930, the Ciba renewed the contact with his laboratory. This association led in a few years to scientifically as well as industrially important successes in the field of the male sex hormones. From 1937 the Rockefeller Foundation generously provided financial backing for the research on natural compounds, especially the triterpenes and steroids, free from any special conditions. With the two industries, there was thus formed a strong group of constant supporters of his research team which had grown much in the meantime.

Professor Ruzicka holds eight honorary doctorates (4 Science, 2 Medicine, 1 Natural Sciences, 1 Law) 7 prizes and medals, 24 honorary memberships of chemical, biochemical and other scientific societies, 18 honorary, ordinary and foreign memberships of scientific academies. The circle of his friends is very wide, not only geographically but also spiritually, including the Vatican City as well as Moscow. He feels that the honours which he has won should be distributed among the whole team of his co-workers, and that, to mention only one example, the laudation of his 1936 honorary Doctor diploma of Harvard (tercentenary celebration of the oldest USA university) should more realistically be read in the plural form "... to the team of chemists, daring in their attacks, brilliant in their methods, successful in their interpretations of the architecture of nature's baffling compounds", since every member of the team helped to transform the youthful dreams of its oldest member into reality.[1]

Work and research

Ružička's first works originated during that period in the field of chemistry of natural compounds. He remained in this field of research all his life. He investigated the ingredients of the Dalmatian insect powder (Pyrethrum cinerariifolium), a highly esteemed insecticide. In this way, he came into contact with the chemistry of terpene, a fragrant oil of vegetable origin, interesting to the perfume industry. He intended to start individual research and even started successful and productive cooperation with the Chuit & Naef Company (later known as Firmenich) in Geneva.

In 1916-1917, he received the support of the oldest perfume manufacturer in the world Haarman & Reimer, of Holzminden in Germany. With expertise in the terpene field, he became senior lecturer in 1918, and in 1923, honorary professor at the ETH (Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule) as well the University in Zurich. Here, with a group of his doctoral students, he proved the structure and existence of the compounds of muscone and civet, the scents derived from the musk deer and the civet cat. The Ruzicka large ring synthesis is a method in organic chemistry for the organic synthesis of these type of compounds.

In 1921, the Geneva perfume manufacturers Chuit & Naef asked him to collaborate. Working here, Ružička achieved financial independence, but not as big as he did plan so he left Zurich to start working for the Ciba, Basel- based company. In 1927, he took over the organic chemistry chair at Utrecht University in Netherlands. In Netherlands he remained for three years, and then returned to Switzerland, which was superior in its chemical industry.

Back to Zurich, at ETH he became professor of organic chemistry and started the most brilliant period of his professional career. He widened the area of his research, adding to it the chemistry of higher terpenes and steroids. After the successful synthesis of sex hormones (androsterone and testosterone), his laboratory became the world center of organic chemistry.

In 1939, he won the Nobel prize for chemistry with Adolf Butenandt. In 1940, following the award, he was invited by the Croatian Chemical Association, where he delivered a lecture to an over packed hall of dignitaries. The topic of the lecture was From the Dalmatian Insect Powder to Sex Hormones. During the World War II, some of his excellent collaborators were lost, but Ružička restructured his laboratory with new, younger and promising people; among them was young scientist Vladimir Prelog. With new people and ideas new research areas were opened.

Following 1950, Ružička returned to chemistry, which had entered a new era of research. Now he turned to the field of biochemistry, the problems of evolution and genesis of life, particularly to the biogenesis of terpenes. He published his hypothesis, Biogenetic Isoprene Rule, which was the peak of his scientific career.[2] Ružička retired in 1957, turning over the running of the laboratory to his assistant and future Nobel laureate Vladimir Prelog.

Ružička dedicated significant efforts to the problems of education. He insisted on a better organization of academic education and scientific work in the new Yugoslavia, and established the Swiss-Yugoslav Society. Ružička became an honorary academician at the then Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts in Zagreb. In Switzerland, the Ružička Award was established, for young chemists working in Switzerland. In his native Vukovar, a museum was opened in his honour in 1977.

Personal life

Ružička married twice: to Anna Hausmann in 1912, and 1951 to Gertrud Acklin. He has no children, and lives in Zurich. His hobbies are old Dutch and Flemish paintings and alpine plants gardening. He died in Mammern, Switzerland, a village on Lake Constance.


1. ^ Karl Grandin, ed. (1939). "Leopold Ružička Biography". Les Prix Nobel. The Nobel Foundation. http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/1939/ruzicka-bio.html. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
2. ^ Ružička, L. (1953). "The isoprene rule and the biogenesis of terpenic compounds". Journal Cellular and Molecular Life Sciences 9 (10): 357–367. doi:10.1007/BF02167631.


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