Leopold Ruzicka 13 September 1887 – 26 September 1976, Croatian-Swiss scientist, winner of the 1939 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for establishing the structure and synthesis of the many naturally occurring scents used by today’s perfume and cosmetics industry.
Leopold Ruzicka was born on September 13, 1887, in Vukovar, a small Croatian town on the Danube, his father a cooper by trade was Croatian and his mother German. Following the death of his father in 1891, he lived with his mother in Osijek and attended the classics-program secondary school in Osijek. He was a fairly good student but really only showed any interest in physics and mathematics, other subjects left him unfulfilled. There was no chemistry in the curriculum but he developed a great personal interest in the composition of natural products. In 1906 he went to the Technische Hochschule at Karlsruhe, Germany, where he began his chemical studies.
In 1916 he received the support of the oldest perfume manufacturer in the world Haarman & Reimer, of Holzminden in Germany and became a Swiss citizen in 1917. In 1921 the Geneva perfume manufacturers Chuit & Naef asked him to collaborate where his most fruitful work began by establishing the structure and synthesis of alicyclic ketones and Terpenes: the primary constituents of the essential oils of many types of plants and flowers. Essential oils are used widely as fragrances in perfumery, medicine and aromatherapy. By conducting research on the naturally occurring musk perfumes, civetone from the civit cat and muscone, the molecule responsible for the smell of musk, he provided the fragrance industry with a valuable source of new raw materials. The perfume industry required such large supplies of muscone, which could only be prepared from the musk gland of musk deer, it probably saved the musk deer from extinction. The Synthesis of these molecules and their derivatives transformed the perfume industry providing it with an even greater variety of aromas.
In the 1930s he unravelled the molecular structure of the sex hormones androsterone (1934), progesterone (1934), and testosterone (1935). His laboratory became the world centre for organic chemistry.
During World War II he was a founding member of the Swiss-Yugoslav Relief Society, and worked to rescue Jewish scientists from Nazi Germany. He was later politically active in protests against the accumulation of atomic weapons.
In 1939, he won the Nobel Prize for chemistry with Adolf Butenandt.
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