Sad News - Professor Sir Hans Kornberg FRS

It is with deep sadness that we have to announce that our former Master, Professor Sir Hans Kornberg FRS, died on Monday 16th December 2019.Kornberg

Hans was born in 1928, in Germany, of Jewish parents, but moved to Yorkshire in 1939 to live with an uncle, although tragically his parents were unable to escape.   At first he attended a school for German refugees but later went to Wakefield Grammar School.  On leaving school he became a junior laboratory technician at the University of Sheffield in 1945, under Professor Sir Hans Krebs, who encouraged him to apply for a scholarship at the same University.    He graduated in 1949 with a BSc Honour in Chemistry, and then went on to take a PhD in Biochemistry.    After working for two years in the US he returned to the UK and took a post, again with his mentor Sir Hans Krebs, at the University of Oxford, where they collaborated on the first major publication on biological thermodynamics, and where he met and married his first wife Monica.  In 1960 he was appointed to the first Chair in Biochemistry at the University of Leicester, which he held until 1975 when he was elected to the Sir William Dunn Chair of Biochemistry at the University of Cambridge. 

Hans was admitted to the Christ’s Fellowship in 1975 having been recruited by the then Master, Lord Todd, and was elected the 34th Master of the College in 1982, succeeding Sir Jack Plumb, and remained as Master until his retirement in 1995. Whilst Master he was President and a keen supporter of the College Boat Club which has a boat named ‘Sir Hans’ after him and another, Lady K, after his wife.  Sadly his first wife, Monica, died in 1989 and Hans set up the Monica Kornberg Bursary in the College in her memory.  He then, to his delight, met Donna and they married in 1991.

The word ‘retirement’ hardly applies in Hans’ case.  He left the Cambridge chair in 1995 to take up a position as a University Professor and Professor of Biology at Boston University in the US, where he has been teaching biochemistry ever since, living in Brookline, Massachusetts.  His major research area is the nature and regulation of carbohydrate transport in micro-organisms, and he has published over 250 papers in professional journals.

He has received many honours for his work including election to the Royal Society in 1965 and a knighthood in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List in 1978 for ‘services to science’.  He has been awarded 11 honorary doctorates and been elected into memberships of many eminent institutions, including the National Academies of Sciences of the USA, Germany and Italy.

Many in College will remember his puckish sense of humour and love of appalling puns.  He and Donna often visited, the last time in the Summer of 2017, staying with the Master and her husband in Hans’ beloved Master’s Lodge, combining their stay with a visit to Hans’ children and grandchildren, some of whom live close by in Bishops Stortford. 

The funeral will take place at noon on Friday 20th December at the Falmouth Jewish Congregation, 7 Hatchville Road, East Falmouth, Massachusets. Lady Kornberg has kindly suggested that donations can be made in lieu of flowers to the Sir Hans Kornberg Travel Award, a link for which can be found here.