The Rita and John Cornforth Award was first awarded in 2009. Between 2009 and 2020 this was awarded to collaborative research teams in both chemistry and the life sciences disciplines.
Rita Harradence and John Cornforth first met as students at the University of Sydney, Australia. The pair won scholarships to study at the University of Oxford in 1939, at the outbreak of the Second World War. During their time in Oxford they conducted studies in purifying penicillin.
John suffered from otosclerosis, a disorder that left him completely deaf by the age of 20. By 1941, both Rita and John had completed their DPhil theses and had married – Rita became John’s wife, research partner and interpreter.
John is famous for winning the Nobel Prize in 1975 for his work on the stereochemistry of enzyme-catalysed reactions, and Rita remained an integral part of the team – using radioactive tracers and providing labelled materials of great complexity.
In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize, John said of his wife: “Throughout my scientific career my wife has been my most constant collaborator. Her experimental skill made major contributions to the work; she has eased for me beyond measure the difficulties of communication that accompany deafness; her encouragement and fortitude have been my strongest supports.”
In 2020, as part of a series of changes following an independent review of the Royal Society of Chemistry's recognition programmes, this award evolved to one of our new Horizon Prizes, which highlight the most exciting, contemporary chemical science at the cutting edge of research and innovation. These prizes are for teams or collaborations who are opening up new directions and possibilities in their field, through ground-breaking scientific developments.