The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2002
Born: 4 October 1938, Aarberg, Switzerland
Affiliation at the time of the award: Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology), Zurich, Switzerland; The Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, CA, USA
Prize motivation: “for his development of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy for determining the three-dimensional structure of biological macromolecules in solution”
Prize share: 1/2
Kurt Wüthrich was born in Aarberg and grew up in Lyss, Bern Canton, Switzerland. His father came from a farming family, but worked as an accountant. Wüthrich studied at the University of Bern and received his PhD from the University of Basel in 1964. After working at the University of California, Berkeley and Bell Labs in Murray Hill, New Jersey, he returned to Switzerland and the Institute of Technology in Zurich (ETH). Wüthrich divides his time between ETH and Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California. Wüthrich is married with two children.
The protons and neutrons in an atomic nucleus act like tiny, spinning magnets. This causes atoms and molecules to adopt certain positions in a magnetic field. This alignment, however, can be disrupted by radio waves with specific frequencies that vary for different atoms. These resonance frequencies are also affected by the atoms' chemical environment. Thus, the phenomenon can be exploited to determine the compositions and structures of different molecules. In the 1980s, Kurt Wüthrich developed a method for mapping the structure of large biological molecules.
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