Ruzicka - Biography
Excerpt from: (http://www.nobel.se/chemistry/laureates/1939/ruzicka-bio.html)
Leopold Stephen Ruzicka* was born on September 3, 1887, in Vukovar, a small Croatian
town on the Danube, somewhat east of its confluence with the Drava. His
father, Stjepan Ruzicka, was a cooper; his mother's maiden name was Ljubica
Sever. His great-grandparents included a Czech, from whom the name Ruzicka
stems, an Upper Austrian and his wife from Wurtemberg, the other five
being Croats. His ancestors were artisans or farmers, who had enjoyed
at most a few years of schooling. After the early death of his father
in 1891, he returned with his mother to her birthplace, Osijek, on the
Drava somewhat west of its junction with the Danube. There he attended
the primary school and the classical gymnasium where the Croatian language
was used. He was a fairly good pupil in a general way, but really interested
only in physics and mathematics. The other subjects, including the purely
descriptive sciences, left him cold. There was no chemistry in the curriculum
but, nevertheless, he decided to study this subject out of his interest
in the composition of natural products.
He wanted to study at the Zurich Polytechnic Institute but found to his
dismay that an entrance examination was required not only in chemistry
but also in "descriptive geometry". He decided to go instead
to Germany, where anyone with a completed secondary school education was
acceptable as a student at a University or Technical Institute without
having to undergo additional entrance examinations. He chose the Technische
Hochschule at Karlsrohe, where he began his chemical studies in 1906.
This step proved to be decisive for his future. Only later did he discover
that in Zurich the curriculum, including practical work, was organized
on a very rigid basis; still in 1906 attendance at the lectures was or
could be checked. In Karlsruhe, on the other hand, there was considerable
freedom. He completed his laboratory courses in 1 3 /4 years and then
immediately started his doctoral work on ketenes with Professor Staudinger,
who was, at 27, only 6 1/2 years older. There were few bureaucratic formalities;
he had attended the prescribed lectures neither in chemical technology
nor, unfortunately, in physical chemistry and physics.
After two years of research work Ruzicka was a "Dipl. Ing",
and two weeks later "Dr. Ing". Staudinger appointed him as his
assistant, and they together entered the quite unexplored field of the
active constituents - named by them pyrethrins - of Dalmatian insect powder,
a plant product, toxic to insects and other coldblooded animals. They
thus opened a new chapter of alicyclic chemistry, which was then as unfamiliar
to Ruzicka as it was to Staudinger.
In October 1912 he followed Staudinger who became Willstätter's
successor at the newly dubbed "Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule" (ETH, Swiss
Federal Institute of Technology) at Zurich. In Switzerland he found not
only a second homeland but also a peaceful and convivial environment that
brought with it all the conditions for uninterrupted research. In 1917
he acquired Swiss citizenship.
In the previous year he had already started independent work and this
decision initiated the most fruitful and happy decade of his life, when
he could work at the laboratory bench from morning to night, on problems
of his own choosing, with no teaching responsibilities, except one hour
weekly from 1918 onward. During the years 1920-1924 he laid the fundaments
of all his future work.
For the accomplishment of his Habilitation work (necessary to become a
"Privatdozent") in 1916-1917 he was glad of the support of the
oldest perfume manufacturers in the world, Haarman & Reimer, of Holzminden
in Germany. The starting-point for their collaboration was the Tiemann
formula for drone; the results were the total synthesis of fenchone and
the extension and interpretation of the Wagner rearrangement (this term
was then introduced by him). After his habilitation in 1918 the firm of
Ciba, Basle, became interested in his work on the preparation of quinine-like
compounds. With various co-workers, the first synthesis of b-collidine and of linalool, the
partial synthesis of pinene, and a series of investigations in the monoterpene
field were carried out.
In 1921, the Geneva perfume manufacturers Chuit, Naef & Firmenich,
asked him to collaborate with them. By this time the investigations that
were to lead to the elucidation of the constitutional formulas of the
higher terpenes has already been started. In the perfumery and sesquiterpene
domain the total syntheses of nerolidol and farnesol were carried through.
The structure of jasmone was established, Tiemann's irone formula corrected,
and synthetic work in these fields undertaken. But by far the most important
fruits collected in the perfumery garden were the elucidations of the
structures of the naturally occurring musk perfumes, civetone and muscone.
Following these discoveries Ruzicka and his co-workers were able to prepare
the whole series of alicyclic ketones with 9 to over 30 carbon atoms as
ring members, compounds that had previously been believed to be incapable
Most of the years 1925-1926 he spent with his friends in Geneva. From
October 1926 till 1929 he was Professor of Organic Chemistry at the University
of Utrecht. Although he was very happy in Holland, he decided to accept
the invitation of the ETH to return to Zurich. The main reason for this
decision was the strength of the Swiss organic chemical industry, especially
its pharmaceutical and perfumery branches, which required the skill and
energy of a whole army of chemists with a thorough training in modern
organic chemistry. This circumstance was not only a challenge to the teaching
and research abilities of the professors; it also encouraged students
to acquire the necessary understanding of the theories and methods to
equip them for a career in these industries. The three-fold community
of professors, students and industry was thus bound together by bonds
of common interest.
In 1930, the Ciba renewed the contact with his laboratory. This association
led in a few years to scientifically as well as industrially important
successes in the field of the male sex hormones. From 1937 the Rockefeller
Foundation generously provided financial backing for the research on natural
compounds, especially the triterpenes and steroids, free from any special
conditions. With the two industries, there was thus formed a strong group
of constant supporters of his research team which had grown much in the
Professor Ruzicka holds eight honorary doctorates (4 Science, 2 Medicine,
1 Natural Sciences, 1 Law) 7 prizes and medals, 24 honorary memberships
of chemical, biochemical and other scientific societies, 18 honorary,
ordinary and foreign memberships of scientific academies. The circle of
his friends is very wide, not only geographically but also spiritually,
including the Vatican City as well as Moscow. He feels that the honours
which he has won should be distributed among the whole team of his co-workers,
and that, to mention only one example, the laudation of his 1936 honorary
Doctor diploma of Harvard (tercentenary celebration of the oldest USA
university) should more realistically be read in the plural form "...
to the team of chemists, daring in their attacks, brilliant in their methods,
successful in their interpretations of the architecture of nature's baffling
compounds", since every member of the team helped to transform the
youthful dreams of its oldest member into reality.
Ruzicka married Anna Hausmann in 1912, and Gertrud Acklin in 1951. He
has no children, and lives in Zurich. His hobbies are old Dutch and Flemish
paintings and alpine plants gardening.
*The pronunciation can be
best explained by the French transcription "Rougitchka".
Leopold Stephen Ruzicka died