Johannes Martin Bijvoet

Johannes Martin BijvoetJohannes Martin Bijvoet (1892-1980) is the name-giver of the Bijvoet Center for Biomolecular Research. The choice to name the institute after him, eight years after his passing away, is a tribute to one of the most reputable scientists in his field.

Johannes Martin Bijvoet was a Dutch chemist who worked at the van ‘t Hoff Laboratory of Utrecht University and who became famous for developing a method to  establish the absolute configuration of molecules using X-ray crystallography. Bijvoet’s absolute structure of sodium rubidium (+)-tartrate tetrahydrate marked the first time stereochemistry had been determined by experiment (Nature 1951, DOI: 10.1038/168271a0), a discovery that laid the basis for many of the current-day crystallography experiments on complex molecules, such as proteins

From 1952 onwards, his laboratory was established at the Faculty of Chemistry in the so-called ‘Kristalpaleis’ (Crystal Palace) at the Catharijnesingel in Utrecht, a converted villa, making his private home part of the same building. In the fifties, Bijvoet acquired Utrecht University’s first computer, the ‘ZEBRA’. This meant a great break-through for the research in crystallography. After his active years in the ‘Kristalpaleis’, Bijvoet still kept in touch with the latest studies. He dedicated the years after his retirement to putting all his data in historical overviews, which are still very useful today. Bijvoet will always be remembered as one of the most famous scientists both in Utrecht and the Netherlands.

You can read more about Johannes Martin Bijvoet and about his breakthrough experiments on Wikipedia, the website of Chemical & Engineering News and in the book that was published for occasion of the 20th anniversary of the Bijvoet Center.