Kurt Wüthrich (*1938)

Full professor of biophysics

Kurt Wüthrich

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Kurt Wüthrich was born in Aarberg on 4 October 1938. He went to school in Biel and studied chemistry, physics and mathematics at the University of Berne from 1957 to 1962. In 1964 he obtained a Federal Gymnastics and Sports Instructor Diploma and a Dr phil. II at the University of Basel with a dissertation on inorganic chemistry, in which he already examined electron spin resonance (ESR).

Research on nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy

As a postdoctoral student in Basel, he initially worked as a physics, chemistry and sports teacher until he moved to the University of California in Berkeley, USA, where he used nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy in his research.

New Jersey and return to Switzerland

In 1967 he joined Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, USA, as a scientist, where he conducted research on NMR protein studies at the Department of Biophysics. 

Wüthrich returned to Switzerland in 1969 and has been teaching and researching at ETH Zurich ever since – initially as a senior lecturer and assistant professor and from 1976 as an associate professor until he was appointed as a full professor of biophysics in 1980. From 1995 to 2000 he was Head of the Biology Department at ETH Zurich. Since 2001 Wüthrich has also been a Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Professor of Structural Biology at Scripps Research Institute, La Jolla, California, USA.

Nobel Prize for Chemistry

In 2002 Wüthrich received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (external link) "for his development of nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to determine the three-dimensional structure of biological macromolecules in solution" (together with John B. Fenn, John B. Fenn, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, USA, and Koichi Tanaka Shimadzu Corp., Kyoto, Japan).

Wüthrich has received numerous awards for his scientific achievements, including:

  • Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (1991)
  • Marcel Benoist Prize (1992)
  • Prix Louis Jeantet de Médecine (1993)
  • Kyoto Prize in Advanced Technology (1998)

He has also received several medals and honorary doctorates, including:

  • University of Zurich
  • ETH Lausanne
  • University of Valencia
  • University of Sheffield
  • Universities of Siena and Verona
  • Université René Descartes in Paris, and many more

Kurt Wüthrich is an honorary member of many academies and scientific societies:

  • Swiss Chemical Society
  • European Academy of Sciences and Arts
  • International Society for Magnetic Resonance in Medicine
  • World Academy of Young Scientists
  • World Innovation Foundation in England
  • Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Society of Japan, and others

He also holds numerous guest professorships to this day. 


Documents on Kurt Wüthrich’s work at ETH Zurich can be found in the university's administrative files, which are held in ETH Zurich's University Archives. Access to them is still partially blocked, however, as the files are subject to the Federal Act on Archiving (ArchA). The archive also contains letters from Kurt Wüthrich in molecular biologist Robert Schwyzer's personal papers.