The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1939.
"for his work on polymethylenes and higher terpenes"
Leopold Ruzicka (1887 - 1976) won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his contributions to organic chemistry—especially the structures of polymethylenes and higher terpenes.
One of the structures that Ruzicka solved was that of muscone, the molecule responsible for the smell of musk. The perfume industry required large supplies of this molecule which could only be prepared from the musk gland of musk deer. The preparation of synthetic muscone probably saved the musk deer from extinction.
Ruzika was born in Austria-Hungary but he spent most of his career in Switzerland. Do to political circumstances in 1939, the prize was awarded at a special ceremony in Switzerland in January 1940. Ruzika attended another ceremony in Sweden at the end of the war. He shared the 1939 Nobel Prize with Adolf Friedrich Johann Butenandt.
The special award presentation describes the work on sex hormones.
When studying the natural odorants occurring in musk and civet, muscone and civetone, little known until then, Ruzicka obtained fundamentally new and surprising results during the years 1924-1926. He discovered that the molecule of muscone as well as that of civetone contains one single ring of carbon atoms, the number of which was considerably larger than that in all hitherto known cyclic molecules, larger even than had been considered possible. During his investigations of these odora he synthesized many kindred macrocyclic compounds, and drew attention to the plant-physiologically remarkable fact that these could be prepared from natural fatty acids.
Many interesting relationships exist between the polyterpenes studied by Ruzicka and a series of physiologically and medicinally important groups of compounds, viz. the bile acids, the sterols and the sex hormones. Among the many interesting results obtained by Ruzicka and his collaborators with sex hormones, the preparation of compounds with the same action as male sex hormones is of signal importance. It is his merit that by establishing preparative methods for androsterone and testosterone the technical synthesis of these two hormones has been made possible.
Moreover, the numerous new related compounds prepared by Ruzicka have contributed fundamentally to our knowledge of the physiologically so very important sex hormones, thus creating a sound basis for future investigations.
[Photo Credit (bottom): ETH-Bibliothek Zürich, Bildarchiv: Creative Commons License]
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