Professor Kurt Wüthrich was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2002 “for his development of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy for determining the three-dimensional structure of biological macromolecules in solution”. He is currently at the Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California. Professor Wüthrich pioneered the development of techniques of high resolution Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) that have resulted in the elucidation of structure and binding of proteins of molecular weight over 100 kD, in solution state. Earlier, he was the first to decisively establish NMR as the pivotal technique for protein structure investigations in solution. It would be no exaggeration to say that Prof. Wüthrich and his group have established NMR as suited to de novo protein structure determination at atomic resolution – and in fact as the method of choice to establish the three dimensional structure of proteins in solution.
Kurt Wüthrich was born in rural Switzerland, and studied Maths, Physics and Chemistry at the Gymnasium Biel and then at the University of Bern. With keen interest in forests, farms, fishing, football and French, he went on to major in Sports, taking the Eidgenössisches Turn- und Sportlehrerdiplom – and a Ph.D. in inorganic chemistry from the University of Basel. He has been ski instructor, and has taught Physics at a Kantonsschule, Chemistry at a Gymnasium (his alma mater, in fact), and Gymnastics at a Mädchengymnasium (Girls’ school).
After his doctoral work on the catalytic activity of copper compounds in autoxidation reactions, during the course of which he may be said to have started his lifelong love affair with Magnetic Resonance, by way of EPR, he went on to study metal complexes in solution state by EPR and then did postdoctoral work at the University of California, Berkeley, on EPR investigations and NMR relaxation studies of the hydration of metal ions and metal complexes. He was then with the Biophysics Department at the Bell Telephone Labs, and plunged into studies on the structure and function of proteins, employing high resolution NMR at 220 MHz for studies on hemoglobin and other hemoproteins. Subsequently, he joined the ETH in Zürich as Privatdozent in 1970, going on to become Professor of Biophysics in 1980 and Chairman, Biology Department, 1995-2000.
He was Secretary General of the International Union of Pure and Applied Biophysics (IUPAB) for six years from 1978, and member of the General Committee of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU), as well as of its Standing Committee on the Free Circulation of Scientists. He has been strongly international in his outlook, and has strong professional links with India, among other nations.
Prof. Wüthrich has won innumerable international awards and honorary degrees in the last four decades, including the President’s Gold Medal from the Government of India, and a Doctor of Science honoris causa from the King George Medical University, Lucknow, India. Prof. Wüthrich is Fellow of numerous international Science Academies and Societies, including Foreign Fellow of the Indian National Science Academy. He has delivered a large number of named lectures worldwide (including the G.N. Ramachandran Memorial Lecture of the Indian Biophysical Society), has been a Visiting Faculty all round the world, besides being Member of Scientific Advisory Boards, and Patronage Committees. IIT Madras is honoured to host Prof. Kurt Wüthrich as the inaugural speaker in the L & T ECC-sponsored “Nobel Laureate Lecture Series”.