100th Birthday: Jerome Karle

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  • Author: ChemViews Magazine
  • Published Date: 18 June 2018
  • Copyright: Wiley-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co. KGaA
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Jerome Karle was born in New York, USA, on June 18, 1918. He studied biology and chemistry at City College of New York, where he received his Bachelor's degree in 1937. He received a Master's degree in biology from Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA, in 1938. Karle then worked at the New York State Department of Health, Albany, NY, USA, where he developed a process for measuring the fluoride content of drinking water.


In 1942, Karle received another Master's degree, this time in physical chemistry, from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, USA. The same year, he married the chemist Isabella Karle (née Lugoski), who would work with him throughout his career. Together, the couple worked on determining the structures of natural products. During World War II, both of them performed research on the purification of plutonium for the Manhattan Project. Isabelle and Jerome Karle had three daughters, who all went on to work in different fields of science.


Karle received his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan under the supervision of Lawrence Brockway in 1944, and, then became a researcher at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory, Washington D.C. In 1946, his wife joined him at the institute, and both of them continued to perform research there until their joint retirement in 2009.


In the 1950s, Karle and Herbert Aaron Hauptman developed the theoretical foundation for the direct determination of crystal structures from X-ray diffraction data. They found a mathematical way to tackle the so-called "phase problem", which is difficult to solve for a three-dimensional system such as a crystal. The implementation of their method made solving crystal structures considerably faster when scientists started to use computers in the 1960s. Before that, solving a structure could take years. To honor this groundbreaking work, the two researchers received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1985 "for their outstanding achievements in the development of direct methods for the determination of crystal structures".


Jerome Karle is the answer to Guess the Chemist (78).


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