© The Nobel Foundation
Melvin Calvin

American Jewish Recipients of the Nobel Prize

Melvin Calvin: Nobel Prize
in Chemistry Recipient-1961

by Seymour “Sy” Brody

Melvin Calvin was an American Jewish recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in 1961, for his discovery of the chemical pathways of photosynthesis.

He was born on April 8, 1911, in St. Paul, Minnesota. He parents were Jewish immigrants from Russia, who operated a small grocery store in Detroit.

He received a B.S. degree from the Michigan College of Science and Technology (now Michigan Technological University) in 1931. He was the college’s first chemistry major. He received his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Minnesota, in 1935.

Calvin spent the next two years, 1935-1937, in Manchester, England, working with Michael Polanyi, an intellectual giant. He became interested in phthalocyanines, which led him into other fields of chemistry.

In 1937, Calvin became an instructor at the University of California, Berkeley. In 1947, he became a full professor of Chemistry and in 1963, he was given an additional title of Professor of Molecular Biology.

He was the founder and Director of the Laboratory Chemical Biodynamics and at the same time, the Associate Director of Berkeley Radiation Laboratory, where he conducted much of his research.

Calvin was a member of the Science Advisory Committee under President Kennedy and Johnson and the Advisory Group in the Office of Science Technology Policy of the Executive Office of the President.

He was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences and he became the chairman of the Committee on Science Public Policy. Calvin was also honored with membership in the Royal Society of London, the Japan Academy and the Royal Netherlands Academy of Sciences.

He received many awards for his work which included the National Medal of Science,1989, the Priestly Medal from the American Chemical Society, the Davy Medal from the Royal Society of London and the Gold Medal from the American Institute of Chemists.

In 1942, Calvin married Genevieve Jemtegaard and they had three children, two daughters and a son. After 36 years of marriage, his wife died in 1987.
Melvin Calvin died on January 9, 1997.

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