The Great Scot whose work on nucleotides won him the 1957 Nobel Prize for Chemistry


Sir Alexander Robertus Todd was born in Glasgow on October 2, 1907, the elder son of Alexander Todd, a business man of that city, and his wife Jean Lowrie. He was educated at Allan Glen’s School and Glasgow University, where he took his B.Sc. degree in 1928 and, after a short initial research training with T.S. Patterson he proceeded to the University of Frankfurt-on-Maine. Here he studied under W. Borsche and obtained his Ph.D. (Dr.Phil.nat.) in 1931 for a thesis on the chemistry of the bile acids.
Returning to England he worked from 1931-1934 on anthocyanins and other colouring matters with Sir Robert Robinson, the Nobel Prize winner, and took a Ph.D. degree at Oxford University in 1933.

Todd went back to Scotland in 1934 when he joined the staff of Edinburgh University under G. Barger. Two years later, i.e. in 1936 he moved to the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine, Chelsea, and became Reader in Biochemistry in the University of London in 1937.

In 1938 he was appointed as Sir Samuel Hall Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Chemical Laboratories of the University of Manchester, which position he held until 1944, when he accepted an appointment as Professor of Organic Chemistry at Cambridge University and Fellow of Christ’s College. 

Todd took considerable interest in international scientific affairs; he was President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, and Chairman of the British National Committee for Chemistry. He served on many Government Committees and in 1952 was elected Chairman of the British Government’s Advisory Council on Scientific Policy. He was a Managing Trustee of the Nuffield Foundation.

The main subjects of Todd’s researches were the chemistry of natural products of biological importance and, in addition to the nucleotide and nucleotide coenzyme studies described in his Nobel Lecture, the chemistry of vitamins B1, E and B12, the constituents of Cannabis species, insect colouring matters, factors influencing obligate parasitism and various mould products.

Knighted in 1954, he was raised to the Peerage in March, 1962, being created Baron Todd of Trumpington.

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