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1975: Professor John Cornforth

Cornforth (MRC National Institute for Medical Research) won the 1975 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He worked on enzymes, which are proteins that speed up biological processes, and what is known as stereochemistry – the geometry of chemical reactions. He found out how enzymes work by using radioactive versions of hydrogen atoms to identify molecular changes that resulted from enzyme action.

By using the three isotopes (forms) of hydrogen, he was able to identify precisely which hydrogen atom was affected by enzyme action. He was able, for example, to establish the orientation of all the hydrogen atoms in the cholesterol molecule. Cornforth studied how a particular enzyme makes cholesterol in the living cell and how enzymes synthesise chemicals that are mirror images of each other.