The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1939
Born: 13 September 1887, Vukovar, Austria-Hungary (now Croatia)
Died: 26 September 1976, Zurich, Switzerland
Affiliation at the time of the award: Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), Zurich, Switzerland
Prize motivation: “for his work on polymethylenes and higher terpenes”
Prize share: 1/2
Terpenes are a large and varied group of substances that range from rubber and the solvent turpentine to the cholesterol in our blood. Leopold Ruzicka studied fragrances in perfumes and became interested in how they were related to other substances. In the mid-1920s he came to the conclusion that the substances were composed of the same building block, terpene isoprene. By manipulating cholesterol molecules, Ruzicka succeeded in producing the male sex hormone androsterone and later demonstrated that testosterone also could be produced from cholesterol.