John the second of four children of English-born, Oxford-educated schoolmaster and teacher John Warcup Cornforth and Hilda Eipper a granddaughter of pioneering missionary and Presbyterian minister Christopher Eipper. He was raised in Sydney and Armidale, north of New South Wales, where he went through his primary school education. His secondary school education was at Sydney Boys' High School, and he excelled academically. His chemistry teacher, Leonard Basser, encouraged John to change his career directions from law to chemistry.
He went on to study at the University of Sydney, studying organic chemistry and graduated with a Bachelor of Science with First-Class Honours
In 1939, John won one of two Science Research Scholarships from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, tenable overseas for two years. At the University of Oxford, he worked with Sir Robert Robinson which he found stimulating, and the two would often deliberate to no end until one had a cogent case against the other's counterargument. He both graduated with a D.Phil. in Organic Chemistry. At the time, there were no institutions or facilities at which a PhD in chemistry could be done in Australia.
During World War II he was at Oxford where his work significantly influenced the development of penicillin. At the time penicillin was very unstable in its crude form and researchers were building on Howard Florey's work on the drug. Along with other chemists, he measured the yield of penicillin in arbitrary units to understand the conditions that favoured penicillin production and activity.
While working at the MRC, Cornforth was appointed a Professor at the University of Warwick and was employed there from 1965 to 1971.
In 1975, Cornforth was awarded a share of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, alongside Vladimir Prelog. In the same year, he moved to the University of Sussex in Brighton as a Royal Society Research Professor. He remained here as a professor and was active in research until his death. He was knighted in 1977. He died o the 8th December 2013 (aged 96).
This model was built by Brick to the Past's James Pegrum as part of a series of scenes on important events in world history. Be the first to see them by following us on Twitter or Facebook.