Hans Kornberg

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Sir Hans Kornberg
Sir Hans Kornberg.jpg
Hans Leo Kornberg

(1928-01-14)14 January 1928
Died16 December 2019(2019-12-16) (aged 91)
CitizenshipUnited Kingdom
Alma materUniversity of Sheffield
Scientific career

Sir Hans Leo Kornberg, FRS (14 January 1928 – 16 December 2019)[2] was a British-American biochemist.[3][4] He was Sir William Dunn Professor of Biochemistry in the University of Cambridge from 1975 to 1995, and Master of Christ's College, Cambridge from 1982 to 1995.

Early life and education[edit]

Kornberg was born in 1928 in Germany of Jewish parents, Max Kornberg (1889–1943) and Selma (née Nathan; 1886–1943). In 1939 he left Nazi Germany (although his parents could not), and moved to the care of an uncle in Yorkshire. Initially he went to a school for German refugees, but later to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School in Wakefield.

On leaving school he became a junior laboratory technician for Dr Hans Krebs at the University of Sheffield who encouraged him to study further and apply for a scholarship at the same university. He graduated with a BSc Honours in Chemistry in 1949. His interest moved to biochemistry and he studied in the Faculty of Medicine, receiving a PhD degree in 1953 for a thesis entitled Studies on gastric urease.


A Commonwealth Fund Exchange Fellowship of the Harkness Foundation enabled him to travel to the USA and work in several biochemistry laboratories. He then returned to the UK where his mentor Hans Krebs had moved to Oxford University and offered him a post there. This partnership produced a paper in Nature,[5] concerning their discovery of the Glyoxylate cycle, and also a joint book[6] which was the first major publication on biological thermodynamics.

In 1960 he was appointed to the first Chair in Biochemistry at the University of Leicester, which he held until 1975 when he was elected to the Sir William Dunn Chair of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge. In 1963 he was awarded the Colworth Medal, the first person to receive it.

From 1982 to 1995 he was Master of Christ's College, Cambridge.

In 1995 he left the Cambridge chair to take up a position as a Professor of Biology at Boston University, USA, where he taught upper-level biochemistry. His major research area was the nature and regulation of carbohydrate transport in micro-organisms, primarily E. coli.

Honours and awards[edit]

He was elected to the Fellowship of the Royal Society in 1965 and the same year awarded the Colworth Medal of The Biochemical Society. In 1973 he was awarded the Otto Warburg Medal of the German Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. In the 1978 Queen's Birthday Honours List he was knighted for "services to science". He has been awarded 11 honorary doctorates and has been elected into membership of:

and Honorary Fellowship of

  • The Biochemical Society (UK)
  • The Royal Society of Biology
  • Brasenose College (Oxford)
  • Worcester College (Oxford)
  • Wolfson College (Cambridge)
  • The Foulkes Foundation (London)

Personal life[edit]

While at Oxford, he also met and married his first wife, Monica King, a radiographer; she died in 1989. In 1991 he married Donna Haber. They lived in Brookline, Massachusetts.

Professor Kornberg was a Distinguished Supporter of Humanists UK.

He was a member of the Advisory Council for the Campaign for Science and Engineering.[7]

He was editor of the Sheffield University Rag Magazine Twikker in 1947.

He was President and a keen supporter of the Christ's College Boat Club while he was Master of Christ's College, Cambridge: the Boat Club has one boat Sir Hans named after him, and another Lady K after his wife.

He had four children: Julia Cork (b. 1957), Rachel Kornberg (b. 1959), Dr. Jonathan Kornberg and Simon Kornberg (b. 1960). Julia's daughter is singer SuRie, who represented the United Kingdom in the Eurovision Song Contest 2018.

Sir Hans Kornberg died on December 16, 2019. [8][9]


  1. ^ Kornberg, H. L. (1966). "The role and control of the glyoxylate cycle in Escherichia coli". The Biochemical Journal. 99 (1): 1–11. doi:10.1042/bj0990001. PMC 1264949. PMID 5337756.
  2. ^ Obituaries, Telegraph (18 December 2019). "Professor Sir Hans Kornberg, German-born biochemist and Master of Christ's College, Cambridge who did pioneering research into how bacteria work – obituary". The Telegraph.
  3. ^ Kornberg, H. L. (2003). "Memoirs of a biochemical hod carrier". Journal of Biological Chemistry. 278 (12): 9993–10001. doi:10.1074/jbc.X200008200. PMID 12556462.
  4. ^ "Curriculum Vitae: Sir Hans Kornberg" (PDF). The Academy of Europe. 2015.
  5. ^ Kornberg, H. L.; Krebs, H. A. (1957). "Synthesis of cell constituents from C2-units by a modified tricarboxylic acid cycle". Nature. 179 (4568): 988–91. Bibcode:1957Natur.179..988K. doi:10.1038/179988a0. PMID 13430766.
  6. ^ Krebs, H. A.; Kornberg, H. L. (1957). Energy Transformations in Living Matter. Berlin: Springer. doi:10.1007/978-3-642-86577-0. ISBN 978-3-540-02189-6.
  7. ^ "Advisory Council of the Campaign for Science and Engineering". Retrieved 11 February 2011.
  8. ^ Obituaries, Telegraph (18 December 2019). "Professor Sir Hans Kornberg, German-born biochemist and Master of Christ's College, Cambridge who did pioneering research into how bacteria work – obituary". The Telegraph.
  9. ^ Ferry, Georgina (7 January 2020). "Sir Hans Kornberg obituary". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 10 January 2020.

External links[edit]

Academic offices
Preceded by
New position
Professor of Biochemistry, University of Leicester
Succeeded by
Bill Brammar
Preceded by
Frank George Young
Sir William Dunn Professor of Biochemistry, Cambridge University
Succeeded by
Tom Blundell
Preceded by
Jack Plumb
Master of Christ's College, Cambridge
Succeeded by
Alan Munro