- Prelog, Vladimir
▪ 1999Swiss chemist (b. July 23, 1906, Sarajevo, Bosnia, Austria-Hungary [now in Bosnia and Herzegovina]—d. Jan. 7, 1998, Zürich, Switz.), pioneered research in several areas of molecular structure and function and made important discoveries about the way that atomic arrangements determine the chemical properties of many biological molecules. Along with John Warcup Cornforth, he was awarded the 1975 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his work on the molecular architecture of cholesterol, antibiotics, and antimalarial alkaloids. Six years after earning a doctorate (1929) from the Institute Technical School of Chemistry in Prague, Prelog became a lecturer at the University of Zagreb, Croatia, but fled to Switzerland in 1942 to escape German occupation. There he accepted an offer to work at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zürich, with his mentor, 1939 Nobel Prize winner Leopold Ruzicka, whose research helped establish the field of stereochemistry, which examines the properties of chemical compounds on the basis of the three-dimensional arrangement of their atoms. Prelog focused on chirality—functional differences based on the mirror-image relationship, or left- and right-handedness, of otherwise identical chemical structures—and helped establish the chiral nomenclature system. His work with steroids, antibiotics, and antimicrobial chemical structures, including nonactins and rifamycin, facilitated a variety of pharmaceutical advances. A well-traveled and internationally acclaimed lecturer, Prelog was elected a foreign associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences in 1961 and became a member of the Royal Academy of Britain in 1962. He served as director (1957-65) of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology's laboratory of organic chemistry, where he continued to teach until his retirement in 1976.
* * *▪ Swiss chemistborn July 23, 1906, Sarajevo, Bosnia, Austria-Hungary [now in Bosnia and Herzegovina]died Jan. 7, 1998, Zürich, Switz.Swiss chemist who shared the 1975 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with John W. Cornforth for his work on the stereochemistry of organic molecules and reactions. (Stereochemistry is the study of the three-dimensional arrangements of atoms within molecules.)Prelog was born of Croatian parents in Sarajevo. He was educated at the Institute Technical School of Chemistry in Prague, receiving his doctorate in 1929. After several years in a commercial laboratory, he began teaching at the University of Zagreb in 1935, first as a lecturer and later as professor of organic chemistry. In 1942 he joined the faculty of the Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich, where he served as head of the laboratory of organic chemistry from 1957 to 1965. He became a Swiss citizen in 1959 and retired from teaching in 1976.Prelog performed wide-ranging research on the stereochemistry of alkaloids, antibiotics, enzymes, and other natural compounds. In particular he contributed to the understanding of stereoisomerism, in which two compounds of identical chemical composition have different, mirror-image configurations (like a person's right and left hands). With Robert Cahn and Sir Christopher Ingold, he developed a nomenclature for describing complex organic compounds. This system, known as CIP, provided a standard and international language for precisely specifying a compound's structure.
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