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The Papers of Max Ferdinand Perutz

Reference Code: GBR/0014/PRTZ

Scope and Contents

This collection includes off prints of scientific articles, photographs, slides, films and videos, articles, book reviews, lectures and talks, correspondence with individuals and organisations, and personal papers. Most of the material is from later on in Max Perutz's life, and concerns mostly lecture materials, and correspondence relating to nominations and references. Max wrote, in relation to his record keeping practices, that 'I am no Einstein whose every scrap of paper betrays a facet of his great thoughts and my correspondence is not of lasting interest in the history of science' (see PRTZ 3/1/11).


  • Creation: 1901 - 2003


Conditions Governing Use

Researchers wishing to publish excerpts from the papers must obtain prior permission from the copyright holders and should seek advice from Archives Centre staff.

Biographical / Historical

Max Ferdinand Perutz was born 19th May 1914 in Vienna, Austria, the only son of Hugo Perutz, a textile industrialist, and Dely Perutz (née Goldschmidt).

He was educated at the Theresianium, and studied organic and inorganic chemistry at Vienna University before moving to Cambridge in September 1936 to study for his ph.D in the Cavendish laboratory under the direction of JD Bernal. He was part of the crystallography research group. He married Gisela Clara Piser in 1942, and they had two children, Vivien and Robin.

Max was appointed a research assistant to Sir Lawrence Bragg, under a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation in 1939. During the Second World War Max was treated as an enemy alien, and interned in camps in the UK and Canada for 9 months, before this policy was revered and he was brought back to the UK, where he continued his research at the Cavendish.

His war time work included working on the project code-named Habakkuk, which concerned the construction of an aircraft carrier constructed out of the recently invented mixture of ice and woodpulp known as pykrete. In 1945 Max was given an Imperial Chemical Industries Research Fellowship, and in 1947 was made Chairman of the Medical Research Council Laboratory of Molecular Biology.

Whilst at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (LMB) James D. Watson and Francis Crick determined the structure of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), and Max co-discovered the structure of haemoglobin, which transports oxygen in the blood, with John Kendrew in 1957. This work resulted in his sharing the 1962 Nobel Prize for Chemistry with Kendrew.

He retired as chairman of the MRC LMB in 1979, but remained an active participant in laboratory matters until the very end of his life. He died of cancer on 6 February 2002 at Addenbrooke’s hospital, Cambridge. He was survived by his wife Gisela, and their two children.

Max Perutz was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1954, followed by the CBE in 1963, and the Companion of Honour in 1975, and the order of merit in 1988. He became an honorary fellow of Peterhouse (1962), and Darwin College (1984) Cambridge. He received many honorary degrees and prizes, the last being the Lewis Thomas prize from the Rockefeller University, New York (1997), for his writing on science for the general public.


45 archive box(es)

Language of Materials



The collection has been arranged into 6 series: personal, scientific work, correspondence, literary, audio-visual, and photographs and slides.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The papers were deposited by Vivien Perutz in August 2007 and 2009. A further accession was deposited by Georgina Ferry via the family of Max Perutz in Nov 2021.


The collection arrived at the centre box-listed (by the LMB Archive) and most files were generally in good order, often with title labels of the enclosed material. However, the original order had been disrupted; the collection had previously been at the family home, and used by the official biographer. Some artificial arrangement was therefore necessary of loose papers including correspondence, the literary papers, and photographic material. A proportion of the correspondence has been closed in accordance with data protection and freedom of information laws as much of it relates to honours and award nominations of individual scientists. Closures are noted in the catalogue.

Related Materials

Churchill Archives Centre also holds the papers of Rosalind Franklin, GBR/0014/FRKN; Cesar Milstein, GBR/0014/MLST; and John Turton Randal, GBR/0014/RNDL.


Perutz’s major book publications include “Is Science necessary: essays on science and scientists” (1988); “I wish I’d made you angry earlier: essays on science, scientists and humanity” (1998); “Proteins and nucleic acids: structure and function” ; Science is Not a Quiet Life: unravelling the atomic mechanism of Haemoglobin” (n.d); “Protein Structure: A user’s guide” (n.d)


The collection was box-listed initially by the LMB archive before arriving at Churchill College in August 2007. The collection was catalogued by Sandra Marsh in 2008. A small addition was made in September 2009 and another in Jul 2023. Information was taken from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography,, and from Georgina Ferry's biography 'Max Perutz and the secret of life' (published 2007).


Perutz, Max Ferdinand, 1914-2002, molecular biologist

2007-10-22 09:54:52+00:00
Language of description
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Repository Details

Part of the Churchill Archives Centre Repository

Churchill Archives Centre
Churchill College
Cambridge Cambridgeshire CB3 0DS United Kingdom
+44 (0)1223 336087