Sir Norman Haworth

(1883—1950) chemist

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(1883–1950) British chemist Haworth, who was born in Chorley, began work in a linoleum factory managed by his father. This required some knowledge of dyes, which led Haworth to chemistry. Despite his family's objections he persisted in private study until he was sufficiently qualified to gain admission to Manchester University in 1903, where he studied under and later worked with William Perkin, Jr. on terpenes. Haworth did his postgraduate studies at Göttingen where, in 1910, he gained his PhD. In 1912 he joined the staff of St. Andrews University and worked with Thomas Purdie and James Irvine on carbohydrates. He remained there until 1920 when, after five years at the University of Durham, he was appointed Mason Professor of Chemistry at Birmingham, where he remained until his retirement in 1948.

Emil Fischer had dominated late 19th-century organic chemistry and, beginning in 1887, had synthesized a number of sugars taking them to be open-chain structures, most of which were built on a framework of six carbon atoms. Haworth however succeeded in showing that the carbon atoms in sugars are linked by oxygen into rings: either there are five carbon atoms and one oxygen atom, giving a pyranose ring, or there are four carbon atoms and one oxygen atom, giving a furanose ring. When the appropriate oxygen and hydrogen atoms are added to these rings the result is a sugar. He went on to represent the carbohydrate ring by a perspective formula, today known as a Haworth formula.

With Edmund Hirst (1898–1975) he went on to establish the point of closure of the ring using the technique of converting the sugar into its methyl ester. He later investigated the chain structure of various polysaccharides. In 1929 he published his views in The Constitution of the Sugars.

In 1933 Haworth and his colleagues achieved a further triumph. Albert Szent-Györgyi had earlier isolated a substance from the adrenal cortex and from orange juice which he named hexuranic acid. It was in fact vitamin C and Haworth, again in collaboration with Hirst, succeeded in synthesizing it. He called it ascorbic acid.

For this work, the first synthesis of a vitamin, Haworth shared the 1937 Nobel Prize for chemistry with Paul Karrer.

From A Dictionary of Scientists in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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