Revolutionary Conformist

Today is the birthday of Derek Barton, a British chemist born in 1918 who revolutionized organic chemistry by launching conformational analysis, the study of the three-dimensional structure of complex molecules. In a paper in 1950, Barton showed that organic molecules, particularly steroids, could exist in several shapes. For instance, cyclohexane, a six-carbon ring-shaped molecule, can exist in three conformations known as the chair, the boat, and the skew. The chair form is preferred because the arrangement of bonds provides the greatest stability. Barton shared the 1969 Nobel Prize in chemistry (with Odd Hassel of Norway) for his work on conformational analysis. He died in March 1998.

[Source: Britannica Online; Molecules 1998, 3, 132-134.]