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Ephraim Katchalski-Katzir

by Susan J. Ainsworth
September 14, 2009 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 87, Issue 37


Ephraim Katchalski-Katzir, 93, a prominent biochemist who served as president of Israel from 1972 to 1978, died on May 30.

Born in Kiev, Katchalski-Katzir studied biochemistry and organic chemistry at Jerusalem's Hebrew University, completing an M.S. in 1937 and a Ph.D. in 1941. He became a research fellow at the Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn (now the Polytechnic Institute of New York University) in 1945.

Katchalski-Katzir then returned to Israel to cofound the Weizmann Institute of Science in 1949. While heading Weizmann's biophysics department, he was also professor of biophysics at Hebrew University and chief scientist at the Israel Defense Ministry.

After serving as president of Israel, he returned to the Weizmann Institute as a professor. In 1979, he served temporarily as the Herman F. Mark Professor at the Polytechnic Institute. In 1980, he established and directed the biotechnology department at Tel Aviv University.

Early in his career, Katchalski-Katzir did pioneering work on the synthesis of poly(α-amino acids), which he designed as models for studying the structure and function of proteins. He received the Japan Prize in 1985 for developing a method of preparing immobilized enzymes.

He authored hundreds of scientific papers, served on numerous editorial and advisory boards, received many awards and honorary doctoral degrees, and was a member of numerous scientific societies. He was an emeritus member of ACS, joining in 1948.

Katchalski-Katzir is survived by a son, Meir; and three grandchildren. His wife, Nina, died in 1986. His older brother, Aharon, was killed in 1972 in a terrorist attack at Israel's Ben Gurion Airport.

Susan J. Ainsworth writes obituaries. Obituary notices may be sent to and should include a detailed educational and professional history.


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