Martin Karplus

Martin Karplus (born March 15, 1930) is an American theoretical chemist. He is the Director of the Biophysical Chemistry Laboratory, a joint laboratory between the French National Center for Scientific Research and the University of Strasbourg, France. He is also the Theodore William Richards Professor of Chemistry, emeritus at Harvard University. Karplus received the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, together with Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel, for "the development of multiscale models for complex chemical systems".[1][2][3][4][5][6]

Martin Karplus
Nobel Prize Laureate Martin Karplus during press conference in Stockholm, December 2013
Born (1930-03-15) March 15, 1930
CitizenshipAmerican, Austrian[1]
Alma mater
Scientific career
ThesisA quantum-mechanical discussion of the bifluoride ion (1954)
Doctoral advisorLinus Pauling[1]

Education and career

After earning an AB degree from Harvard College in 1950, Karplus pursued graduate studies at the California Institute of Technology. He completed his Ph.D. in 1953 under Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling.[7] According to Pauling, Karplus "was [his] most brilliant student".[8] He was an NSF Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Oxford (1953–55) where he worked with Charles Coulson. Karplus taught at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign (1955–60) and then Columbia University (1960–67) before moving to Harvard in 1967. He established a research group in Strasbourg, France, after two sabbatical visits between 1992 and 1995 in the NMR laboratory of Jean-François Lefèvre at Louis Pasteur University in Strasbourg.


Karplus has contributed to many fields in physical chemistry, including chemical dynamics, quantum chemistry, and most notably, molecular dynamics simulations of biological macromolecules. He has also been influential in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, particularly to the understanding of nuclear spin-spin coupling and electron spin resonance spectroscopy. The Karplus equation describing the correlation between coupling constants and dihedral angles in proton nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy is named after him.

His current research is concerned primarily with the properties of molecules of biological interest. His group originated and currently coordinates the development of the CHARMM program for molecular dynamics simulations. He is a member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science. He has supervised more than 200 graduate students and postdoctoral researchers over his career since 1955. He is a recipient of the Christian B. Anfinsen Award, given in 2001.


  • CL Brooks III, M Karplus, BM Pettitt. Proteins: A Theoretical Perspective of Dynamics, Structure and Thermodynamics, Volume LXXI, in: Advances in Chemical Physics, John Wiley & Sons, New York 1988.
  • Martin Karplus and Richard N. Porter. Atoms and Molecules: An Introduction for Students of Physical Chemistry. W. A. Benjamin, New York 1970.

Notable students and postdocs

Awards and honours

Karplus was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1967.[9] He was awarded the Irving Langmuir Award in 1987. He became foreign member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1991[10] and was elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 2000. He was awarded the Linus Pauling Award in 2004 and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 2013.[1]

Personal life and biography

Karplus was a child when his family fled from the Nazi-occupation in Austria a few days after the Anschluss in March 1938, spending several months in Zürich, Switzerland and La Baule, France before immigrating to the United States.[11] Prior to their immigration to the United States, the family was known for being "an intellectual and successful secular Jewish family" in Vienna.[12] His grandfather, Johann Paul Karplus (1866-1936) was a highly acclaimed professor of psychiatry at the University of Vienna.[13] His great-aunt, Eugenie Goldstern, was an ethnologist who was killed during the Holocaust.[14] He is nephew, by marriage, of the sociologist, philosopher and musicologist Theodor W. Adorno and grandnephew of the physicist Robert von Lieben. His brother, Robert Karplus, was an internationally recognized physicist and educator at University of California, Berkeley.


  1. "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2013" (Press release). Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. October 9, 2013. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  2. Chang, Kenneth (October 9, 2013). "3 Researchers Win Nobel Prize in Chemistry". New York Times. Retrieved October 9, 2013.
  3. Fersht, A. R. (2013). "Profile of Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt, and Arieh Warshel, 2013 nobel laureates in chemistry". Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 110 (49): 19656–7. Bibcode:2013PNAS..11019656F. doi:10.1073/pnas.1320569110. PMC 3856823. PMID 24277833.
  4. Hodak, Hélène (2014). "The Nobel Prize in chemistry 2013 for the development of multiscale models of complex chemical systems: A tribute to Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel". Journal of Molecular Biology. 426 (1): 1–3. doi:10.1016/j.jmb.2013.10.037. PMID 24184197.
  5. Van Noorden, R. (2013). "Computer modellers secure chemistry Nobels". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2013.13903.
  6. Van Noorden, Richard (2013). "Modellers react to chemistry award: Nobel Prize proves that theorists can measure up to experimenters". Nature. 502 (7471): 280. Bibcode:2013Natur.502..280V. doi:10.1038/502280a. PMID 24132265.
  7. Karplus, Martin (1954). A quantum-mechanical discussion of the bifluoride ion (PhD thesis). California Institute of Technology.
  8. "Harvard professor wins Nobel in chemistry". October 9, 2013.
  9. "Martin Karplus".
  10. "M. Karplus". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 19 July 2015.
  11. Karplus, M (2006). "Spinach on the ceiling: a theoretical chemist's return to biology". Annual Review of Biophysics and Biomolecular Structure. 35: 1–47. doi:10.1146/annurev.biophys.33.110502.133350. PMID 16689626.
  12. Fuller, Robert (2002). A Love of Discovery: Science Education - The Second Career of Robert Karplus. New York: Kluwer Academic. p. 293. ISBN 0-306-46687-2.
  13. Gaugusch, Georg (2011). Wer einmal war: Das jüdische Großbürgertum Wiens 1800-1938 A-K. Wien: Amalthea Signum. pp. 1358–1367. ISBN 978-3850027502.
  14. Ireland, Corydon (June 3, 2015). "Karplus on film". The Harvard Gazette. Retrieved 26 March 2019.
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