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Max Perutz

Max Ferdinand Perutz
BornMay 19 1914
Vienna, Austria
DiedFebruary 6 2002 (aged 87)
Cambridge, England
FieldMolecular biology, Crystallography
InstitutionsUniversity of Cambridge
Alma materUniversity of Cambridge
Academic advisor  J.D. Bernal
Notable students  James D. Watson
Francis Crick
Known forHeme-containing proteins
Notable prizes Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1962)

Max Ferdinand Perutz, OM (May 19 1914, Vienna, Austria – February 6 2002, Cambridge, UK) was an Austrian-British molecular biologist, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1962.


The scientist

In 1936, after doing a first university degree in Austria, Perutz became a research student at the University of Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory, in a crystallography research group under the direction of J.D. Bernal.

Perutz was affiliated with Cambridge's Peterhouse College from his 1936 matriculation until his death. He was an Honorary Fellow from 1962 to 2002, and was seen at least weekly in the College's halls until just before his death. He took a keen interest in the Junior Members, and was a regular and popular speaker at the Kelvin Club, the College's scientific society. Perutz's contributions to molecular biology in Cambridge are documented in The History of the University of Cambridge: Volume 4 (1870 to 1990) published by the Cambridge University Press in 1992.

During World War II, Perutz was part of Project Habakkuk, a secret project investigating the recently invented mixture of ice and woodpulp known as pykrete, in the hope of using it to build an aircraft carrier.

Perutz established the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, England in 1962 and was its chairman until 1979. He remained active in research to the end of his life.

In 1953, Perutz showed that the diffracted X-rays from protein crystals could be phased by comparing the patterns from crystals of the protein with and without heavy atoms attached. In 1959, he employed this method to determine the molecular structure of the protein hemoglobin, which transports oxygen in the blood. This work resulting in his sharing with John Kendrew the 1962 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

Robin Perutz, the son of Max and Gisela Perutz, is a professor of chemistry at the University of York in England. Their daughter Vivien has edited a selection of Max's letters for publication by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.

DNA structure and Rosalind Franklin

During the early 1950s, Perutz supervised James D. Watson and Francis Crick while they were determining the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA). Watson and Crick made use of unpublished X-ray diffraction images taken by Rosalind Franklin, shown at meetings and shared with them by Maurice Wilkins, and of Franklin's preliminary account of her detailed analysis of the X-ray images included in an unpublished 1952 progress report for the King's College laboratory of Sir John Randall. Randall and others eventually criticized the manner in which Perutz gave a copy of this report to Watson and Crick.

It is debatable whether Watson and Crick should have been granted access to Franklin's results without her knowledge or permission, and before she had a chance to publish a detailed analysis of the content of her unpublished progress report. It is also not clear how important the content of that report had been for Watson and Crick's modeling. In an effort to clarify this issue, Perutz later published the report, arguing that it included nothing that Franklin had not said in a talk she gave in late 1951 and that Watson attended. Perutz also added that the report was addressed to a MRC committee created in order to "establish contact between the different groups of people working for the Council". Randall's and Perutz's labs were both funded by the MRC.

The author

In his later years, Perutz was a regular reviewer/essayist for The New York Review of Books on biomedical subjects. Many of these essays are reprinted in his 1998 book I wish I had made you angry earlier.[1] Perutz's flair for writing was a late development. His relative Leo Perutz, a distinguished writer, told Max when he was a boy that he would never be a writer. Thus Max highly cherished his having been awarded the Lewis Thomas Prize for Writing about Science in 1997.

Books by Perutz

  • Is Science Necessary: Essays on Science and Scientists.
  • 1998. I Wish I'd Made You Angry Earlier: Essays on Science, Science, Scientists, and Humanity. CSHL Press. Includes an account of his adventures during WWII and selections from his notebook containing cherished quotations from other authors.
  • Proteins and nucleic acids: structure and function.
  • Science is Not a Quiet Life: Unravelling the Atomic Mechanism of Haemoglobin.
  • Glutamine Repeats and Neurodegenerative Diseases: Molecular Aspects.
  • Le molecole dei viventi. Rome: Di Renzo Editore. ISBN: 8886044917
  • Protein Structure: A User's Guide.


  • Judson, Horace Freeland, 1995. The Eighth Day of Creation. Penguin. ISBN 0-140-17800-7
  • Olby, Robert, 2004 (1974). The Path to the Double Helix: The Discovery of DNA. Seattle: University of Washington Press. ISBN 0-486-68117-3

Preceded by
Melvin Calvin
Nobel Prize in Chemistry
with John Kendrew

Succeeded by
Karl Ziegler and Giulio Natta

Books about Max Perutz

  • Paterlini, Marta, 2006. Piccole Visioni - La Grande Storia di una Molecola. Codice Edizioni. ISBN 88-7578-052-8
  • Ferry, Georgina, 2007. Max Perutz and the Secret of Life. Published in the UK by Chatto & Windus (ISBN 0-701-17695-4), and in the USA by the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press.
  • Jean Medawar and Pyke, David, 2000. Hitler's Gift - Scientists Who Fled Nazi Germany - Einstein, Max Perutz, Fritz Haber, Leo Szilard, Max von Laue, Max Planck & more. London: RCB. ISBN 1-860-66172-6

Books referring to Perutz

  • Brown, Andrew, 2005. J. D. Bernal: The Sage of Science. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-199-20565-5
  • De Chadarevian, Soraya, 2002. Designs For Life: Molecular Biology After World War II. Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 0-521-57078-6
  • Dickerson, Richard E., 2005. Present at the Flood: How Structural Molecular Biology Came About. Sinauer. ISBN 0-878-93168-6;
  • Hager, Thomas, 1995. Force of Nature: The Life of Linus Pauling. Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-684-80909-5
  • Hunter, Graeme, 2004. Light Is A Messenger, the life and science of William Lawrence Bragg. Oxford Univ. Press. ISBN 0-19-852921-X.
  • Krude, Torsten, ed., 2003. DNA Changing Science and Society. Cambridge Univ. Press. ISBN 0-521-82378-1). Being the Darwin Lectures for 2003, including one by Sir Aaron Klug on Rosalind Franklin's role in determining the structure of DNA.
  • Brenda Maddox, 2003. Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA. ISBN 0-00-655211-0.
  • Matt Ridley, Francis Crick: Discoverer of the Genetic Code (Eminent Lives). HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0-06-082333-X.
  • Sayre, Anne, 1975. Rosalind Franklin and DNA. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. ISBN 0-393-32044-8.
  • James D. Watson, 1980 (1968). The Double Helix: A Personal Account of the Discovery of the Structure of DNA. Atheneum. ISBN 0-689-70602-2. Gunther S. Stent edited the 1980 Norton Critical Edition (ISBN 0-393-01245-X).
  • Maurice Wilkins, . The Third Man of the Double Helix: The Autobiography of Maurice Wilkins. ISBN 0-19-860665-6.

This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Max_Perutz". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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