Dunitz, Jack D.

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Jack David Dunitz was born on March 29, 1923 in Glasgow, Scotland. He attended primary and secondary school in Glasgow, where he established himself as an intelligent child and a capable rugby player. It was during this time that he first became interested in chemistry, leading him to pursue a Bachelor's Degree in Chemistry at Glasgow University in 1940. Due to the strains of World War II, Dunitz's studies at Glasgow were condensed into three years and, following graduation, he entered the university's doctoral program under the supervision of John Monteath Robertson. Largely due to the pressures of Robertson's official responsibilities, Dunitz's experience as a doctoral student was primarily one of self-motivated learning and informal collaboration with other students. It was during this time that he began to work intensively with x-ray crystallography. He was assigned to the determination of the crystal structures of acetylenedicarboxylic acid dihydrate and diacetylenedicarboxylic acid dihydrate - a difficult and tedious process that took three years to complete.

At Glasgow Dunitz became familiar with the work of Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin, an internationally known crystallographer. Upon receiving his Ph.D., he took a position at Oxford as a postdoctoral researcher under Hodgkin's supervision. During his time in her laboratory, Dunitz met some of the most influential figures in twentieth century science including Sir Lawrence Bragg, John Desmond Bernal, and Max Perutz. There, he embarked on an extensive research program that included determining the structure of a calciferol derivative - a molecule that, at the time, was the most complex structure ever determined through means of x-ray crystallography - and the study of a tetraphenylcyclobutane structure. Through this work, he was introduced to Verner Schomaker who suggested that Dunitz begin gas-phase electron diffraction studies and helped to equip Dunitz with a research fellowship at the California Institute of Technology. After completing his work at Oxford, Dunitz left England for California where, in 1948, he began his work at Caltech. There, he met many of the scientists responsible for developing the field of modern structural chemistry including Linus Pauling and Robert Corey.

After three years at Caltech, Dunitz returned to Oxford where he learned theoretical chemistry from fellow researcher Leslie Orgel. It was during this period that Dunitz, Orgel, Sydney Brenner, and Dorothy Hodgkin visited Francis Crick and James Watson at Cambridge and became some of the first people to see the double helix model of DNA. After a year of work on ferrocene at Oxford, Dunitz returned to Caltech accompanied by his new bride, Barbara. While there, he met Alexander Rich and was recruited to set up a structural chemistry lab at the NIH Institute of Mental Health. Unfortunately, he quickly found himself uncomfortable at the NIH and returned to England, where he accepted a position as Senior Research Fellow at the Davy-Farraday Laboratory at The Royal Institution in London. Despite working under Sir Lawrence Bragg, who had dedicated himself to protein crystallography, Dunitz continued his collaboration with Leslie Orgel in the application of crystal-field theory.

In the early fall of 1957, Dunitz was offered an associate professorship at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology with an explicit order to create a first class x-ray crystallography group. He took the position in October 1957 and was promoted to Full Professor in 1964. Supported by the security of a permanent position and a great deal of autonomy, Dunitz began to apply the skills he had learned at Oxford and Caltech. He began work on synthetic ionophores, medium-ring compounds, relationships between crystal and chemical systems, phase transformations, and advanced crystallographic methods - a research program that he continued until his retirement in 1990. During his time in Zurich, he received extensive recognition from the international scientific community, resulting in awards, fellowships, and invitations of membership from the London Chemical Society, Harvard University, the Swiss Chemical Society, the Royal Swedish Academy of Science, and the American Crystallographic Association, among others. Dunitz has published nearly four hundred research articles and reviews as well as several texts on structural chemistry.

  • 1923: Jack David Dunitz is born on March 29 in Glasgow, Scotland to William and Mildred Dunitz.
  • 1944: Dunitz graduates from Glasgow University with a bachelor of science degree.
  • 1946: Dunitz accepts a position as research fellow at the Chemical Crystallography Laboratory at Oxford University.
  • 1947: Dunitz earns his Ph.D. at Glasgow University under the supervision of J. Monteath Robertson.
  • 1948: The California Institute of Technology employs Dunitz as an A. A. Noyes Research Fellow.
  • 1951: Dunitz returns to Oxford University as a research fellow in the Chemical Crystallography Laboratory.
  • 1953: After completing his work at Oxford, Dunitz returns to the California Institute of Technology for a second A. A. Noyes Research Fellowship. Jack Dunitz and Barbara Steuer are married on August 11, 1953 at Den Hague, Holland.
  • 1954: Dunitz serves as a visiting scientist at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
  • 1955: Marguerite Dunitz, Jack and Barbara's first child, is born on May 14, 1955 in Bethesda, Maryland.
  • 1956: Dunitz takes a position as Senior Research Fellow at the Davy-Faraday Research Laboratory at The Royal Institution in London.
  • 1957: Julia Dunitz, Jack and Barbara's second child, is born on April 15, 1957 in London, England. Dunitz assumes a position as Professor of Chemical Crystallography at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland.
  • 1964: Dunitz is promoted to full Professor of Chemical Crystallography at the Swiss Institute of Technology.
  • 1968: Dunitz accepts an Overseas Fellowship at Churchill College, Cambridge.
  • 1974: Dunitz is elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of London.
  • 1977: Dunitz is awarded the Centenary Medal from the Chemical Society in London.
  • 1979: Dunitz is appointed Foreign Member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences. That same year, Dunitz is named a member of the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina.
  • 1980: Dunitz is honored as the 1980 Havinga Lecturer by the University of Leiden.
  • 1981: Dunitz is named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
  • 1985: Dunitz receives the Tishler Award at Harvard University.
  • 1986: The Swiss Chemical Society awards Dunitz with the Paracelsus Prize.
  • 1988: Dunitz becomes a Foreign Associate of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences.
  • 1989: Dunitz joins the Academia Europaea. That same year, Dunitz is awarded the Bijvoet Medal by the University of Utrecht.
  • 1990: After thirty-three years of service to the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Dunitz retires. In due course, Dunitz receives an honorary doctorate from the Israel Institute of Technology, becomes an Honorary Member of the Swiss Society of Crystallography and receives the Gregori Aminoff Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences.
  • 1991: Dunitz joins the European Academy of Sciences and Arts. That same year, Dunitz receives the Buerger Award from the American Crystallographic Association.
  • 1992: The Weizmann Institute of Science awards Dunitz with an honorary Ph. D.
  • 1997: Dunitz is appointed Foreign Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and also joins the American Philosophical Society as a Foreign Member. The American Chemical Society likewise awards Dunitz with the Arthur C. Cope Scholar Award.
  • 1999: Dunitz receives an honorary doctorate of science from Glasgow University.
  • 2000: Dunitz becomes an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry.
  • 2004: The Swiss Chemical Society appoints Dunitz as Honorary Member.

From the guide to the Jack Dunitz Papers, 1927-2009, (Oregon State University Special Collections, The Valley Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers, 1910-1994 (bulk 1922-1991) Oregon State University SpecialCollections & Archives Research Center, The ValleyLibrary
referencedIn Horace Freeland Judson Collection, 1968-1978 American Philosophical Society
referencedIn Donohue, Jerry, 1920-. Papers, 1941-1985. University of Pennsylvania, Archives & Records Center
creatorOf Jack Dunitz Papers, 1927-2009 Oregon State University SpecialCollections & Archives Research Center, The ValleyLibrary
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bürgi, Hans-Beat. person
associatedWith California Institute of Technology. corporateBody
associatedWith Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre. corporateBody
associatedWith Donohue, Jerry, 1920- person
associatedWith Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich. corporateBody
associatedWith Gajdusek, D. Carleton (Daniel Carleton), 1923-2008 person
associatedWith Hodgkin, Dorothy, 1910-1994 person
associatedWith Judson, Horace Freeland, 1931- person
associatedWith Orgel, Leslie E. person
associatedWith Pauling, Ava Helen person
associatedWith Pauling, Linus, 1901-1994 person
associatedWith Pauling, Linus Carl, 1901- person
associatedWith Prelog, V. (Vladimir), 1906-1998 person
associatedWith Robertson, J. Monteath (John Monteath) person
associatedWith Trueblood, Kenneth N. person
associatedWith University of Glasgow. corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
X-ray crystallography
Universities and colleges
Electronic Records
Molecular structure


Birth 1923-03-29




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