British chemist who was corecipient, with Vladimir Prelog, of the
1975 Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his research on the stereochemistry
of enzyme-catalyzed reactions. Stereochemistry is the study of how the
properties of a chemical compound are affected by the spatial arrangement
of atoms in molecules and complexes.
He was codirector (1962-68) and director (1968-75) of the Milstead Laboratory of Chemical Enzymology for Shell Research Ltd., in Sittingbourne, Kent. He concurrently served as a professor at the University of Warwick (1965-71) and the University of Sussex (1971-82).
Cornforth investigated enzymes that catalyze change in organic compounds
(substrates) by taking the place of hydrogen atoms in a substrate's
chains and rings. In his syntheses and descriptions of the structure
of various terpenes, olefins, and steroids, he determined specifically
which cluster of hydrogen atoms in a substrate is replaced by an enzyme
to cause a given change in the substrate. This allowed Cornforth to
detail the biosynthesis of cholesterol, an exceptionally complex molecule.
He received the Nobel Prize in 1975 and was knighted in 1977.
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