Royal Society Publishing

Alexander Robertus Todd, O.M., Baron Todd of Trumpington. 2 October 1907 — 10 January 1997

Daniel M. Brown, Hans Kornberg

Elected F.R.S. 1942


Alexander Robertus Todd (Alex to his friends), was born in October 1907 in Cathcart, to the south of Glasgow. His father, Alexander Todd, of southern Scottish descent, was at first a clerk in the Glasgow Subway Railway Company and later its Secretary; subsequently he was the Managing Director of the Drapery and Furnishing Co–operative Society Ltd in Glasgow. He was ambitious to better himself and his family and although his formal teaching had ended at thirteen he held a strong regard for education and was determined, as was his wife Jane (née Lowry) that it should not be denied to their children. As their affluence increased they moved to the village of Clarkston, whence Alex had to trudge one and a half miles each day to the public school in Cathcart. One should recall that this was during wartime: life was hard and boots were of poor quality. At the age of eleven he passed the entrance examination to Allan Glen's school, the Glasgow High School of Science in the centre of the city. Among the teachers was Robert Gillespie, who taught chemistry and fostered Alex's growing interest in that subject. This gave him the impetus, after passing the Higher Leaving Certificate examination in 1924, to enter the University of Glasgow to read for an honours degree in chemistry. Once there, he was recognized by his teachers as a highly talented student, taking the James Black Medal and the Roger Muirhead Prize in his first year, which also gave him a scholarship for the rest of his course. Alex graduated BSc with first class honours in 1928 and was awarded a Carnegie Research Scholarship of €100 a year to work with Professor T.S. Patterson. He and his predecessor, G.G. Henderson, F.R.S., had strong interests in alchemy and the history of chemistry. The latter subject was even compulsory in the final year. Alex was interested in this and, much later in life, spoke and wrote knowledgeably on several aspects of the history of organic chemistry. Patterson's research interest was optical rotatory dispersion and, although Todd's first two papers were published jointly with Patterson in 1929 (1, 2)*, it was clear that a subject in which theory and practice made little contact was not for him. With encouragement from Patterson, Alex transferred to the University of Frankfurt to work in the laboratory of W. Borsche.

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