13 June, 2019, 7:30 pm

‘In Praise of Wool’ – Archer Martin, Richard Synge and the blobs that won Leeds a Nobel Prize

Kersten Hall

University House

All Welcome

‘Blobs win Nobel Prize for two young researchers’ was the memorable headline with which the News Chronicle newspaper announced the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in November 1952. The two young researchers in question were Archer Martin and Richard Synge who, whilst working in Leeds at the Wool Industries Research Association (WIRA) in Headingley had developed a groundbreaking new method called partition chromatography. Although originally developed for the analysis of wool, the impact of this work was to go far beyond the textile industries of West Yorkshire, for it transformed our understanding of medically important proteins such as insulin and helped to unlock the secrets of how DNA carries genetic information. To mark the unveiling of a plaque in honour of Martin and Synge by the Leeds Philosophical and Literary Society, Dr. Kersten Hall will explore their life and work and explain why they are perhaps the other great Leeds M & S story.


A former molecular biologist in the School of Medicine at the University of Leeds, Kersten is now an honorary fellow in the School of Philosophy, Religion and History of Science. He is author of ‘The Man in the Monkeynut Coat’ (Oxford University Press, 2014) which tells the story of pioneering Leeds scientist William Astbury whose role in the discovery of the structure of DNA is little known. He is currently working on a new book about the discovery of insulin and the crucial role that Martin and Synge’s achievement played in enabling this life-saving hormone to be developed as an effective therapy for Type 1 diabetes.