Martin Karplus

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Martin Karplus 2013

Martin Karplus (born March 15, 1930 in Vienna ) is an American theoretical chemist of Austrian origin. On October 9, 2013 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry together with Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel “for the development of multi-scale models for complex chemical systems” .


Born in Vienna - the Karplus family belonged to the upper Jewish bourgeoisie - Martin Karplus spent his childhood with his father, the businessman Hans Karplus (September 3, 1898– September 1, 1971), his mother Lucie Isabella Karplus, nee. Goldstern (March 12, 1900– March 19, 1967) and his brother Robert, born in 1927 (later a theoretical physicist and physics teacher at the University of Berkeley ) in the 19th district of Vienna , in Paradisgasse between the old wine -growing towns of Sievering and Unterdöbling , where you can find No. 57 lived.

At first, his career as a medical doctor seemed to be mapped out in the family: His paternal grandfather was the neurophysiologist and professor at the University of Vienna Johann Paul Karplus , married to Valerie von Lieben, daughter of Anna von Lieben and sister Robert von Liebens , the inventor of the electron tube as an amplifier ; the Karplus couple lived in the Palais Lieben-Auspitz opposite the University of Vienna. Martin Karplus' maternal grandfather, Samuel Goldstern, ran the so-called Fango sanatorium, one of the most famous Viennese sanatoriums. On the border between the 12th district of Vienna, Meidling , and the 10th district , Karplusgasse between the Meidling Accident Hospital and the Kaiser-Franz-Josef-Spital has been named after Johann Paul Karplus.

After Austria was " annexed " to the National Socialist German Reich in 1938, his father was imprisoned for a few months in order to be able to extract the family's assets . His mother fled with Martin and his brother Robert Karplus via Switzerland to the United States, where the family (with the father) arrived on October 8, 1938. Karplus has been an Austrian citizen since he was born and a US citizen by naturalization.

In the USA, Martin Karplus studied chemistry at Harvard University from 1947 and obtained a BA degree in 1950. After moving to the California Institute of Technology , he did his doctorate in the work group of the later two-time Nobel Prize winner Linus Pauling in 1953 with the thesis A quantum-mechanical discussion of the bifluoride ion for Ph. D. From 1953 to 1955 he worked as part of a postdoc with Charles Coulson at Oxford University . In 1955 he became an instructor and later an associate professor of physical chemistry at the University of Illinois . From 1959 he was a Sloan Research Fellow . In 1960 he moved again as an associate professor at Columbia University , where he later became a professor.

Karplus has been Professor at Harvard University since 1966, where he took over the Theodore William Richards Chair in Chemistry in 1979. Since 1995 he has also been a professor at the Institut de Science et d'Ingénierie Supramoléculaires (ISIS) at the University of Louis Pasteur ( University of Strasbourg I) in France.

In 1972/73, 1974/75 and 1980/81 he was visiting professor at the University of Paris , 1980/81 and 1987/88 at the Collège de France .

Shortly before his doctorate, Karplus received a Leica camera from his parents ; this made him a passionate photographer in addition to his scientific work. Already during his student days and later during lecture tours in Latin America, China and Japan he photographed landscapes and street scenes. In the summer of 2013 a selection was presented in the Bibliothèque nationale de France under the title “Martin Karplus, la couleur des années 50” . In 2015 some of his color photos from the 1950s were shown at the University of Vienna; the occasion for the exhibition was the award of an honorary doctorate from the University of Vienna to Karplus.

He has been married since 1981 and has three children.


Karplus' work is an important contribution to the field of physical chemistry. The work in the areas of NMR spectroscopy , chemical dynamics, quantum mechanics and the molecular dynamics simulation of biological macromolecules are particularly important .

His best-known work is the Karplus relationship which describes the dependence of the coupling constant on the dihedral angle between the coupling nuclei in NMR spectroscopy .

Together with Andrew McCammon and Bruce Gelin, he published the first molecular dynamics simulation of a protein, the Bovine Pancreatic Trypsin Inhibitor ( BPTI ). His current research interests are the simulation of biologically interesting molecules and the further development of the CHARMM computer program.

Awards (selection)

Nobel laureate Martin Karplus in front of the honorary citizenship plaque in the Vienna City Hall

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences , the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (since 1966) and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences .


  • M. Karplus: Spinach on the Ceiling . A Theoretical Chemist's Return to Biology . In: Annual Review of Biophysics and Biomolecular Structure . Volume 35, 2006, pp. 1-47

Web links

Commons : Martin Karplus  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Lehmann's general Wiener Wohnungs-Anzeiger , edition 1938, volume 1, p. 567 (= p. 583 of the digital representation)
  2. Georg Gaugusch : Who once was - The Jewish upper middle class Vienna 1800–1938 , Amalthea, Vienna 2011, ISBN 978-3-85002-750-2 , pp. 1358–1367
  3. a b Klaus Taschwer : Mixed feelings for the city of birth Vienna , Der Standard , October 9, 2013
  4. Top honors: US researchers Warshel, Karplus and Levitt receive the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry Spiegel Online , website of the news magazine Der Spiegel , Hamburg, October 9, 2013
  5. Life data, publications and academic family tree of Martin Karplus at, accessed on February 15, 2018.
  6. ^ University of Strasbourg / ISIS: Laboratoire de Chimie Biophysique: Martin Karplus ( Memento of October 18, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) (accessed on October 9, 2013)
  7. Alain Beretz, président de l'université de Strasbourg et Alain Fuchs, président du CNRS félicitent Martin Karplus, prix Nobel de chimie 2013 (accessed on October 10, 2013)
  8. The press
  9. Bibliothèque nationale de France : Exposition: Martin Karplus, la couleur des années 50 , 2013
  10. "La Couleur des années 1950" - photographs by Martin Karplus ( Memento of the original from May 30, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link has been inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . Retrieved May 30, 2015. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  11. a b University of Vienna: Dies Honorum 2015: Honorary doctorates and doctorates "sub auspiciis" ( Memento of the original from April 22, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and has not yet been checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. . Retrieved April 22, 2015. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  12. 11 researchers from the University of Vienna are new members of the Academy , uni: view, April 23, 2015
  13. ^ Honorary citizenship for Nobel Prize winner Martin Karplus . City hall correspondence of May 20, 2015, accessed on May 21, 2015.