About Lavoslav Ružička

Lavoslav Ružička was born in Vukovar on September 13, 1887, into a wealthy family of craftsmen. Although of Czech origin, his father was an ardent Croatian patriot, which also influenced Lavoslav, who for the rest of his life considered Croatia his homeland and spoke Croatian fluently. In the fourth year, Lavoslav’s father died, and in 1891 the mother moved to Osijek with her sons Lavoslav and the younger Stjepan, where Lavoslav finished elementary school and classical grammar school. From 1906 to 1910 he studied chemistry at the Technical High School (ETH) in Karlsruhe, Germany, where he earned a doctorate under the supervision of Professor Staudinger, the founder of macromolecular sciences.

Until 1916, as an assistant to Professor Staudinger, he worked on researching the structure of the active components of the Dalmatian pyrethrum plant. He was particularly interested in terpene chemistry and odor synthesis research. He later parted ways with Professor Staudinger because he wanted to work on independently selected projects.

During this period, Ružička proved that musk fragrances, male and cibeton, are macrocyclic ketones, which enabled the synthetic production of expensive musk fragrances and connected it with the pharmaceutical industry. He lived in Geneva for a time, and from 1927 to 1929 he worked as a professor of organic chemistry in Utrecht. Returning to Zurich in 1929 was the beginning of the most successful part of his career.

During this period, he determined the structures of many sesqui and di-terpenes. In 1934, Ružička attracted a lot of attention when he published a partial synthesis of the male sex hormone androsterone, and the following year testosterone.

Work on sex hormones and steroids strengthened Ružička’s scientific reputation, and in 1939 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on polymethylenes and higher terpenes. Due to the beginning of World War II, the award was presented to him at ETH, and he gave a lecture on this occasion entitled From Dalmatian Pyrethrum to Sex Hormones in Zagreb on March 16, 1940 in front of 1,000 guests. On that occasion, he was elected an honorary member of the Yugoslav Academy of Sciences and Arts and an honorary doctor of the University of Zagreb. In the same year, he became an honorary citizen of Vukovar and then signed himself in the picture as “Lavoslav Ružička from Vukovar, 1940.” He retired in 1957, at the age of 70. On that occasion, with the support of the Swiss chemical industry, the Ružička Award for Distinguished Young Swiss Chemists was established.

There are three main areas of Lavoslav Ružička’s scientific work: large rings, higher terpenes and sex hormone.

He and his collaborators published as many as 583 scientific papers, mostly in the period between 1930 and 1950. At that time, he was also the editor and editorial board of many scientific journals. He is the holder of numerous awards and the winner of the Marcel Benoit Award (the highest scientific award in Switzerland) and the laureate of 8 honorary doctorates, a member of 18 scientific academies, including the Pontifical Academy. He was awarded 13 different medals and awards. Although he received Swiss citizenship, he considered Croatia his homeland and helped many Croatian chemists. Some of his collaborators have achieved high results, such as Vladimir Prelog, also a Nobel Laureate in Chemistry. Lavoslav Ružička died on September 26, 1976 in Mammern on Lake Constance, at the age of 89, and was buried in Zurich.