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Martin Karplus

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Martin Karplus
Nobel Prize Laureate Martin Karplus during press conference in Stockholm, December 2013
Born (1930-03-15) March 15, 1930 (age 94)
CitizenshipAmerican, Austrian[2]

Award in Theoretical Chemistry (1993)[1]

Scientific career
ThesisA quantum-mechanical discussion of the bifluoride ion (1954)
Doctoral advisorLinus Pauling[2]

Martin Karplus (German: [ˈmaʁˌtin ˈkaʁplus]; born March 15, 1930) is an Austrian and American theoretical chemist. He is the Director of the Biophysical Chemistry Laboratory, a joint laboratory between the French National Center for Scientific Research and the University of Strasbourg, France. He is also the Theodore William Richards Professor of Chemistry, emeritus at Harvard University. Karplus received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, together with Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel, for "the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems".[2][3][4][5][6][7]

Early life[edit]

Martin Karplus was born in Vienna, Austria.[8] He was a child when his family fled from the Nazi-occupation in Austria a few days after the Anschluss in March 1938, spending several months in Zürich, Switzerland and La Baule, France before immigrating to the United States.[9] Prior to their immigration to the United States, the family was known for being "an intellectual and successful secular Jewish family" in Vienna.[10] His grandfather, Johann Paul Karplus (1866–1936) was a highly acclaimed professor of psychiatry at the University of Vienna.[11] His great-aunt, Eugenie Goldstern, was an ethnologist who was killed during the Holocaust.[12] He is the nephew, by marriage, of the sociologist, philosopher and musicologist Theodor W. Adorno and grandnephew of the physicist Robert von Lieben. His brother, Robert Karplus, was an internationally recognized physicist and educator at University of California, Berkeley. Continuing with the academic family theme, his nephew, Andrew Karplus, is a highly respected biochemistry and biophysics professor at Oregon State University.[13]


After earning an AB degree from Harvard College in 1951,[14] Karplus pursued graduate studies at the California Institute of Technology. He completed his PhD in 1953[15] under Nobel laureate Linus Pauling.[16] According to Pauling, Karplus "was [his] most brilliant student."[17] He was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford (1953–55)[15] where he worked with Charles Coulson.[14]

Teaching career[edit]

Karplus taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (1955–60) and then Columbia University (1960–65) before moving to chemistry faculty at Harvard in 1966.[8][15]

He was a professor at the Louis Pasteur University in 1996 where he established a research group in Strasbourg, France, after two sabbatical visits between 1992 and 1995 in the NMR laboratory of Jean-François Lefèvre. He has supervised more than 200 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers over his career since 1955.[18]


He published his first academic paper when he was 17 years old.[14] Karplus has contributed to many fields in physical chemistry, including chemical dynamics, quantum chemistry, and most notably, molecular dynamics simulations of biological macromolecules. He has also been influential in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, particularly to the understanding of nuclear spin-spin coupling and electron spin resonance spectroscopy. The Karplus equation describing the correlation between coupling constants and dihedral angles in proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy is named after him.

From 1969–1970, Karplus visited the Structural Studies Division at the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology.[19]

In 1970 postdoctoral fellow Arieh Warshel joined Karplus at Harvard. Together they wrote a computer program that modeled the atomic nuclei and some electrons of a molecule using classical physics and modeling other electrons using quantum mechanics. In 1974 Karplus, Washel and other collaborators published a paper based on this type of modeling which successfully modeled the change in shape of retinal, a large complex protein molecule important to vision.[15]

His current research is concerned primarily with the properties of molecules of biological interest. His group originated and coordinated the development of the CHARMM program for molecular dynamics simulations.


  • Martin Karplus. Spinach on the Ceiling: The Multifaceted Life of a Theoretical Chemist, World Scientific Publishing, UK 2020.
  • CL Brooks III, M Karplus, BM Pettitt. Proteins: A Theoretical Perspective of Dynamics, Structure and Thermodynamics, Volume LXXI, in: Advances in Chemical Physics, John Wiley & Sons, New York 1988.
  • Martin Karplus and Richard N. Porter. Atoms and Molecules: An Introduction for Students of Physical Chemistry. W. A. Benjamin, New York 1970.

Notable students and postdocs[edit]

Awards and honours[edit]

Karplus was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1967.[21] He was awarded the Irving Langmuir Award in 1987.[22] He is a member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science. He became foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1991[23] and was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2000. He is a recipient of the Christian B. Anfinsen Award, given in 2001. He was awarded the Linus Pauling Award in 2004 and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013.[2]

Personal life[edit]

Karplus is married to Marci[14] and has three children.[8]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jain, Chelsi. "Awards List extended using a reliable source".
  2. ^ a b c d e f g "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2013" (Press release). Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. October 9, 2013. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  3. ^ Chang, Kenneth (October 9, 2013). "3 Researchers Win Nobel Prize in Chemistry". New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  4. ^ Fersht, A. R. (2013). "Profile of Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt, and Arieh Warshel, 2013 nobel laureates in chemistry". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 110 (49): 19656–7. Bibcode:2013PNAS..11019656F. doi:10.1073/pnas.1320569110. PMC 3856823. PMID 24277833.
  5. ^ Hodak, Hélène (2014). "The Nobel Prize in chemistry 2013 for the development of multiscale models of complex chemical systems: A tribute to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel". Journal of Molecular Biology. 426 (1): 1–3. doi:10.1016/j.jmb.2013.10.037. PMID 24184197.
  6. ^ Van Noorden, R. (2013). "Computer modellers secure chemistry Nobels". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2013.13903. S2CID 211729791.
  7. ^ Van Noorden, Richard (2013). "Modellers react to chemistry award: Nobel Prize proves that theorists can measure up to experimenters". Nature. 502 (7471): 280. Bibcode:2013Natur.502..280V. doi:10.1038/502280a. PMID 24132265.
  8. ^ a b c "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2013". NobelPrize.org. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  9. ^ Karplus, M (2006). "Spinach on the ceiling: a theoretical chemist's return to biology". Annual Review of Biophysics and Biomolecular Structure. 35: 1–47. doi:10.1146/annurev.biophys.33.110502.133350. PMID 16689626.
  10. ^ Fuller, Robert (2002). A Love of Discovery: Science Education – The Second Career of Robert Karplus. New York: Kluwer Academic. p. 293. ISBN 0-306-46687-2.
  11. ^ Gaugusch, Georg (2011). Wer einmal war: Das jüdische Großbürgertum Wiens 1800–1938 A-K. Wien: Amalthea Signum. pp. 1358–1367. ISBN 978-3850027502.
  12. ^ Ireland, Corydon (June 3, 2015). "Karplus on film". The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
  13. ^ Splichalova, Dacotah-Victoria. "Diamond in the rough: Karplus wins lifetime achievement award". Orange Media Network. Retrieved 2020-04-24.[permanent dead link]
  14. ^ a b c d "Harvard's Martin Karplus looks back on path to Nobel Prize". Harvard Gazette. 2017-04-21. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  15. ^ a b c d "Martin Karplus | American-Austrian chemist". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 2021-01-18.
  16. ^ Karplus, Martin (1954). A quantum-mechanical discussion of the bifluoride ion (PhD thesis). California Institute of Technology. Archived from the original on 2015-05-18. Retrieved 2015-05-08.
  17. ^ "Harvard professor wins Nobel in chemistry". October 9, 2013.
  18. ^ "Martin Karplus – www.americanbiophysicists.com". Retrieved 2021-01-18.[permanent dead link]
  19. ^ pmabbs (2013-10-09). "LMB Alumni awarded Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 2013". MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Retrieved 2023-07-14.
  20. ^ Martin Karplus, Spinach on the Ceiling: A Theoretical Chemist’s Return to Biology. Annu. Rev. Biophys. Biomol. Struct. 2006. 35:1–47
  21. ^ "Martin Karplus". www.nasonline.org.
  22. ^ "Irving Langmuir Award in Chemical Physics". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 2021-08-19.
  23. ^ "M. Karplus". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on 26 March 2019. Retrieved 19 July 2015.

External links[edit]