Vladimir Prelog

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Vladimir Prelog
Vladimir Prelog (1986)

Vladimir Prelog (born July 23, 1906 in Sarajevo ; † January 7, 1998 in Zurich ) was a Croatian-Swiss chemist . Together with John W. Cornforth he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1975 for his work on the stereoisomerism of organic molecules . Also known is the Cahn-Ingold-Prelog Convention (CIP) for the description of chiral molecules, which he proposed together with Robert Sidney Cahn and Christopher Kelk Ingold in 1966.


Vladimir Prelog's parents were Milan Prelog and Mara, geb. Cettolo. His father was a Croatian historian who worked in Sarajevo. In 1915 the family moved to Zagreb . Vladimir attended high school in Zagreb and Osijek . From 1924 to 1929 he studied chemistry at the College of Chemical-Technological Engineering of the Czech Technical University in Prague , where he received his doctorate under Emil Votoček . At first he worked as a research assistant in a laboratory in Prague, where he could not do any research. In 1933 he married Kamila Vítek in Prague. In 1935 he switched to teaching at the University of Zagreb. In 1937 he spent several months researching with Leopold Ružička , professor at the ETH Zurich and Nobel Prize winner for chemistry (1939), in Zurich.

After the German invasion in 1941, Prelog wanted to leave Zagreb and Ružička invited him to Zurich. There he began to work as an assistant in the laboratory for organic chemistry at ETH. In 1942 he was appointed private lecturer and in 1945 adjunct professor, in 1947 associate professor. In 1950 he became full professor and in 1957 Ružička's successor as head of the Institute for Organic Chemistry. In 1976 he retired .

In 1949 Prelog's son Jan was born and in 1959 he received Swiss citizenship . In 1998 Prelog died in Zurich at the age of 91. His ashes were transferred to the Mirogoj cemetery in Zagreb on September 27, 2001 .


With his scientific efforts he continued the research of Leopold Ružička . He was mainly active in the field of stereochemistry of natural products , in particular that of alkaloids and antibiotics . Stereochemistry examines the spatial arrangement of atoms in molecules . It would like to convey a picture of the shape of molecules that is as accurate as possible and thus makes a significant contribution to knowledge about the relationship between structure and properties of matter. It is not a specialty of organic chemistry but, as an essential point of view, permeates all areas of chemistry. Prelog earned particular merit in researching the so-called "middle rings", ring compounds with 8 to 14 carbon atoms, thus bridging the gap between the "classic rings" with 6 carbon atoms and the large rings with 16 or 18 carbon atoms whose discovery Ružička was honored with the Nobel Prize, could close.

Basic research was also a socially relevant activity for Prelog. Especially when it later turned into drugs to fight tuberculosis or leprosy , for example . The development of effective antibiotics was based on his work. Vladimir Prelog was popular with his employees and colleagues as an unpredictable humorist who was bursting with ideas. In addition to his devotional work, he collected postage stamps, was an avid photographer and loved chamber music . He also found time and interest in sport. The professor lived as a committed pedestrian, non-car driver and non-smoker. In 1976 he retired, but by no means withdrew from research. On September 22, 1986, on the occasion of Vladimir Prelog's 80th birthday, a scientific symposium was held in the Auditorium Maximum of the ETH Zurich. In this context, the first Prelog lecture was held and the first award of the golden Prelog medal was staged.

Professor Prelog has received countless awards in the course of his academic career. In addition to the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1975, he was honored with honorary doctorates from the Universities of Zagreb , Liverpool and Paris and the Weizmann Institute for Science in Rehovot, Israel. He was also “Membre étranger” of the Académie des sciences , Paris, as well as a foreign member of the Royal Society , London, member of the United States National Academy of Sciences , the Leopoldina Halle , the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1960), the American Philosophical Society (1976) and the Academy of Sciences of the USSR . In 1964 Prelog was awarded the Marcel Benoist Prize , the oldest science prize in Switzerland, in 1974 he received the Paul Karrer Medal and in 1968 he received the Robert Robinson Award . In 1986 he became an honorary member of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts . On the Hönggerberg campus of the ETH, the Vladimir-Prelog-Weg (from the Hönggerbergring to the Wolfgang-Pauli-Strasse) is named after him.


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