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Apr 2002 Journal

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Maz Perutz dies at 88

Max Perutz, one of the giants of twentieth-century science, has died. Born into Vienna’s haute juiverie involved in the textile trade (cf. Hofmannsthal, Hermann Broch and Stefan Zweig), he opted for scientific study. In 1936 he arrived in Cambridge to research haemoglobin. During wartime internment in Canada, he lectured at a ‘camp university’ alongside Hermann Bondi and Klaus Fuchs. Released, he worked on a hush-hush project for a floating airbase in mid-Atlantic, which proved impracticable.

Postwar, he continued his protracted research into the molecular structure of haemoglobin, ultimately gaining the Nobel Prize in 1962. In the process, he played a key role in setting up the Cambridge-based Medical Research Council’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology, a huge nursery of scientific talent.

In refugee circles, Perutz is remembered for claiming that his brutal uprooting was the spur to achievement: ‘Cambridge made me.’ Just as controversial, though less well-known, was his comment on the Central European diaspora: ‘One only reads about Jews who turned their emigration into an opportunity, but there were also many who never ceased to look backwards. They only moved in circles of their old acquaintances from Vienna or Prague, and remained foreigners all their lives.’
RG

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