Sir John Cowdery Kendrew (24 March 1917 – 23 August 1997) was an English biochemist and crystallographer who shared the 1962 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Max Perutz; their group in the Cavendish Laboratory investigated the structure of heme-containing proteins.
During the war years, he became increasingly interested in biochemical problems, and decided to work on the structure of proteins.
In 1947 he became a Fellow of Peterhouse, and MRC [the Medical Research Council] agreed to create a research unit for the study of the molecular structure of biological systems, under the direction of Sir Lawrence Bragg. In 1954 he became a Reader at the Davy-Faraday Laboratory of the Royal Institution in London.
Kendrew shared the 1962 Nobel Prize for chemistry with Max Perutz for determining the first atomic structures of proteins using X-ray crystallography. Their work was done at what is now the MRC Laboratory of Molecular Biology in Cambridge. Kendrew determined the structure of the protein myoglobin, which stores oxygen in muscle cells.
In 1947 the MRC agreed to make a research unit for the Study of the Molecular Structure of Biological Systems. The original studies were on the structure of sheep hemoglobin, but when this work had progressed as far as was possible using the resources then available, Kendrew embarked on the study of myoglobin, a molecule only a quarter the size of the hemoglobin molecule. His initial source of raw material was horse heart, but the crystals thus obtained were too small for X-ray analysis. Kendrew realized that the oxygen-conserving tissue of diving mammals could offer a better prospect, and a chance encounter led to his acquiring a large chunk of whale meat from Peru. Whale myoglobin did give large crystals with clean X-ray diffraction patterns. However, the problem still remained insurmountable, until in 1953 Max Perutz discovered that the phase problem in analysis of the diffraction patterns could be solved by multiple isomorphous replacement — comparison of patterns from several crystals; one from the native protein, and others that had been soaked in solutions of heavy metals and had metal ions introduced in different well-defined positions. An electron density map at 6 angstrom (0.6 nanometre) resolution was obtained by 1957, and by 1959 an atomic model could be built at 2 angstrom (0.2 nm) resolution.
After his retirement from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Kendrew became President of St. John's College, Oxford, a post he held from 1981-1987. From 1974-79 he was a Trustee of the British Museum and from 1974 to 1988 he was successively Secretary General, Vice-President and President of the International Council of Scientific Unions. Kendrew's entry in Who's Who lists ten other important National and International committees on which he served as either member or chairman.