Alexander R. Todd

The Lord Todd

Alexander Todd Nobel.jpg
Todd in 1957
Alexander Robertus Todd

(1907-10-02)2 October 1907
Cathcart, Scotland
Died10 January 1997(1997-01-10) (aged 89)
Oakington, England
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow
University of Frankfurt am Main
University of Oxford
AwardsDavy Medal (1949)
Royal Medal (1955)
Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1957)
Paul Karrer Gold Medal (1963)
Copley Medal (1970)
Lomonosov Gold Medal (1978)
Scientific career
FieldsChemistry, Biochemistry
InstitutionsLister Institute
University of Edinburgh
University of London
University of Manchester
University of Cambridge
Christ's College, Cambridge
University of Strathclyde
Hatfield Polytechnic
Doctoral advisorWalter Borsche, Sir Robert Robinson
Doctoral studentsJ. Rodney Quayle

Alexander Robertus Todd, Baron Todd OM FRS FRSE (2 October 1907 – 10 January 1997) was a British biochemist whose research on the structure and synthesis of nucleotides, nucleosides, and nucleotide coenzymes gained him the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1957.

Early life and education

Todd was born in Cathcart in outer Glasgow, the son of Alexander Todd, a clerk with the Glasgow Subway, and his wife, Jane Lowry.

He attended Allan Glen's School and graduated from the University of Glasgow with a BSc in 1928. He received a PhD (Dr.phil.nat.) from Johann Wolfgang Goethe University of Frankfurt am Main in 1931 for his thesis on the chemistry of the bile acids.

Todd was awarded an 1851 Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851, and, after studying at Oriel College, Oxford, he gained another doctorate in 1933.


Todd held posts with the Lister Institute, the University of Edinburgh (staff, 1934–1936) and the University of London, where he was appointed Reader in Biochemistry.

In 1938, Alexander Todd spent six months as a visiting professor at California Institute of Technology, eventually declining an offer of faculty position. Todd became the Sir Samuel Hall Chair of Chemistry and Director of the Chemical Laboratories of the University of Manchester in 1938, where he began working on nucleosides, compounds that form the structural units of nucleic acids (DNA and RNA).

In 1944, he was appointed to the 1702 Chair of Chemistry in the University of Cambridge, which he held until his retirement in 1971. In 1949, he synthesised adenosine triphosphate (ATP) and flavin adenine dinucleotide (FAD). Todd served as a visiting professor at the University of Chicago in Autumn 1948 and University of Sydney in 1950.

In 1955, he helped elucidate the structure of vitamin B12, although the final formula and definite structure was determined by Dorothy Hodgkin and her team, and later worked on the structure and synthesis of vitamin B1 and vitamin E, the anthocyanins (the pigments of flowers and fruits) from insects (aphids, beetles) and studied alkaloids found in hashish and marijuana. He served as chairman of the Government of the United Kingdom's advisory committee on scientific policy from 1952 to 1964.

He was elected a Fellow of Christ's College, Cambridge in 1944 and was Master from 1963 to 1978. He became Chancellor of the University of Strathclyde in 1975, and a visiting professor at Hatfield Polytechnic (1978–1986). Among his many honours, including over 40 honorary degrees, he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1942, a member of the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1955, a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1957, and the American Philosophical Society in 1965. He was President of the Royal Society from 1975 to 1980 and became a member of the Order of Merit in 1977.

In 1981, Todd became a founding member of the World Cultural Council.

Personal life and death

In 1937, Todd married Alison Sarah Dale (d.1987), daughter of Nobel Prize winner Sir Henry Dale, who, as Todd did, served as president of the Royal Society of London. They had a son, Alexander Henry, and two daughters, Helen Jean and Hilary Alison.

Todd died in Cambridge on 10 January 1997 at the age of 89 following a heart attack.


Todd was honoured as a Nieuwland Lecturer at the University of Notre Dame in 1948, an Arthur D. Little Visiting Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1954, and a Hitchcock Lecturer at University of California, Berkeley, in 1957.

He was knighted as Sir Alexander Todd in 1954 and was created a Life Peer as Baron Todd of Trumpington in the County of Cambridge on 16 April 1962.

He is commemorated by a blue plaque erected by the Royal Society of Chemistry at the Department of Chemistry in the University of Cambridge.[citation needed]

Coat of arms of Alexander R. Todd
In front of an open book Proper bound Or a fox passant guardant Gules.
Gules a chevron between in chief two foxes' masks and in base a serpent embowed biting the tail Or.
Dexter an ounce and sinister a fox each sable bezanty and gorged with a ducal coronet with chain reflexed over the back Or pendant from the coronet by a like chain an escutcheon blue celeste.
Faire Sans Dire


  • Todd, Alexander (1983), A time to remember: the autobiography of a chemist, Cambridge University Press

See also

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