John Cornforth FRS - Scientists with disabilities | Royal Society
Sir John Cornforth (1917-2013) was an Australian–British chemist whose life and career were shaped by a hearing disorder that left him profoundly deaf by the age of 20. In 1975, he received a Nobel Prize for his work on the stereochemistry of enzyme-catalysed reactions.


Today it is no secret that one of the greatest musicians the world has ever known was functionally deaf by his mid-40s. It was a tragic irony Beethoven wished the world understood, not just from a personal perspective, but a medical one.

The composer would outlive his doctor by nearly two decades, yet close to two centuries after Beethoven's death a team of researchers set out to fulfil his testament in ways he would never have dreamed possible, by genetically analyzing the DNA in authenticated samples of his hair.

"Our primary goal was to shed light on Beethoven's health problems, which famously include progressive hearing loss, beginning in his mid- to late-20s and eventually leading to him being functionally deaf by 1818," says biochemist Johannes Krause from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany.

It wasn't just hearing loss the composer had to deal with in his adult life. From at least the age of 22 he is said to have suffered severe abdominal pains and chronic bouts of diarrhea.

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