Protein Modelling Research Group

Research Group of Peptide Chemistry


The corresponding book with this title was published in 2004 and wriiten by Árpád Kucsman, professor emeritus. The short english summary at the end of the book is shown below with permission of the author. The book is dedicated to the memory of Victor Bruckner and Sándor Müller. Bibliographic data and the list of sponsors are shown at the bottom of this page.


The Organic Chemistry Department was established at the University of Budapest by Tibor Széki 70 years ago in 1934. He was invited from the University of Szeged to be the head of the Chemistry Institute No.1 at the University of Budapest. As an organic chemist, he changed the profile of the Institute, which had previously specialized exclusively in analytical chemistry. For more than 60 years, the author of this book had a strong connection to the Institute, which later became a Department at the University. At first, he was enrolled as a student in the Department as a student, then as an assistant and associate professor, full professor, head of department and finally as a professor emeritus. During this long period, the author had the opportunity to gain first-hand information about the Department's history and vision. This greatly increases the authenticity of this historical compilation.

In 1962, the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (MTA) founded a research group next to the Organic Chemistry Department at the Eötvös Loránd University Budapest (ELTE) named the MTA-ELTE Research Group of Peptide Chemistry. A member of the Academy, Gyôzô Bruckner was appointed the head of the Research Group. He had been the head of the Organic Chemistry Department since 1949 as a successor of Széki. Because the Research Group and the Department shared a leader, they became inextricably linked for many years and had a common history.

The first chapter of the book briefly surveys the path of the formation of the chemistry departments stemming from the foundation of the University in 1635. Chapters 2–5 describe the history of the Organic Chemistry Department. The description is divided by and large in accordance with the different heads of the Department: Tibor Széki (1934-49), Gyôzô Bruckner (1949–70), Árpád Kucsman (1970–93), Miklós Hollósi (from 1993). The chapters themselves are divided into four parts. These provide a general historical overview of the University, in addition to the research and teaching activities and the community life in the Department. Chapter 6 is illustrated with numerous portraits and summarizes the most important data about the personnel of the Department. Chapter 7 guides the reader through the laboratories and rooms of the Department. Chapter 8 contains the titles of the chair-occupying presentations held by members of the Academy from the Department. It also contains the list of members of the Department or of the Research Group having obtained their D.Sc, C.Sc, dr.rer.nat. and PhD degrees, together with the titles and dates of their dissertations. The very lengthy Chapter 9 summarizes the publications of the Department and Research Group, presenting the original publications and sections from monographs written in foreign languages, separated from the most important publications, textbooks and lecture notes in Hungarian language. At the end of the book one can find an index of Chapters 1–8.

Historical overview. – Between 1934 and 1989, the Department was based in Building B, which is in the middle of the Trefort-Garden at the Museum Boulevard. This was the first and well-equipped building dedicated for use by the Chemistry Department in Hungary. The building was erected between 1868–71, based on the model of the Chemical Institute of University of Heidelberg, by Károly Than, the young director of the Chemical Institute of the Hungarian Royal University since 1860. After the death of Than (1908), the Institute at the Building B was divided into two parts. Lajos Winkler inherited the southern part of the building, called Chemical Institute No.1. Tibor Széki became his successor in 1934. His main priority was to organize education and research in organic chemistry at the University of Budapest. From 1922 the name of the University was Pázmány Péter University, after the cardinal who established it. In 1939, the name of Chemical Institute No.1. changed to Institute of Organic and Pharmaceutical Chemistry. Széki was assisted by a small team of only six assistants. In 1949, Széki retired, and his successor was Gyôzô (Viktor) Bruckner; he was also invited from Szeged to the chair of the Institute (after 1953 Organic Chemistry Department) at the University of Budapest. The 22 years under his direction are considered to be the golden age of the Department. Because of a considerable increase in staff, the Department of Organic Chemistry complemented by the Research Group of Peptide Chemistry became one of the greatest departments at the University which was officially renamed Eötvös Loránd University (ELTE) in1950, after the famous professor of physics. During that period, about 40 professionals and 30 auxiliary staff members were employed. The number of employees and the outstanding personal contributions allowed the Department to gain an international reputation in the field of research and its educational style became an example for other universities. In 1970, Gyôzô Bruckner handed the leadership over to one of his vo-workers, Árpád Kucsman, who became the leader of the Department for the next 23 years. The goal of his work in the Department was to maintain high educational and research standards and to develop stronger relationships with universities from the Western Bloc according to the opportunities of that time. The practice of one-person leadership in the Department changed in some measure when a multi-professorial system was formed. In the 1980s the time had come for all of the chemistry departments to move to the new establishment at Lágymányos. Organizing the move was the main task of a professor at the Department, Kálmán Medzihradszky. At that time, he was the head of the Institute of Chemistry then the dean of the Faculty of Natural Sciences. The move to the new Chemistry Bloc on the right bank of the Danube finally occurred in 1989. The direction of the Department was taken over by Miklós Hollósi in 1993. Kálmán Medzihradszky became the head of the Research Group in 1990, and in 1999 he was succeeded by Ferenc Hudecz. They both endeavoured to maintain the standards set by their predecessors, while coping with the worsening economic situation.

Research. – The 70-year history of research at the Department can be divided into four main periods. The first period is between 1930 and 1940. The head of the Department, Tibor Széki was occupied first with educational reforms. In spite of having limited opportunities, a team of about 20 chemists as PhD candidates were gathered around Sándor (Alexander) Müller, associate professor at the Institute. They carried on their research under his direct guidance, becoming co-authors of a publication each, finally obtaining their doctoral degrees. The research project focused on the chemistry of sugars and dimerization of phenolic ethers having propenyl side-chains.

The second period was in the 1950s, and its characteristic feature was dynamic and effective teamwork. An army of talented young scientists was gathered around two well-known senior research fellows, Gyôzô Bruckner and Sándor Müller. The two professors represented the two main branches of the research in organic chemistry. Studies in peptide chemistry led by Bruckner were a part of the research of natural organic compounds. The main goal of these studies was to find out the structure of the anthrax polypeptide by using degradation and synthesis as a method. In this project two associate professors at the Department had a great contribution: József Kovács and Kálmán Kovács. Professor Müller's team carried out basic research that focussed a great deal on theory. They examined the dimerization of styrol-analogues. The research was focused on the synthesis of the dimers, elucidating their structure and their relative configuration, and suggesting possible mechanisms of dimerization.

The third period was from 1960 until the 1980s. Because of the formation of a multi-professorial system, the research in the Department was carried on in six organized topics, with the Department and the Research Group collaborating under the guidance of professional directors. Kálmán Medzihradszky, who successfully resolved the total synthesis of ACTH in 1959–66 with his co-workers, was interested especially in the synthesis, mechanism of the activity and metabolism of physiologically active peptides. The main research area of Árpád Furka was the isolation and sequence analysis of peptides; after 1982, he introduced a new, promising method for chemical research: combinatorial chemistry. Mária Szekerke carried out experiments in peptide chemistry connected with anti-cancer drug research. Márton Kajtár investigated the stereochemical properties of peptides and other natural organic compounds, using chiroptical methods whose application he pioneered in Hungary. Árpád Kucsman and his co-workers studied the structure and reaction mechanisms of organosulfur compounds. Károly Körmendy coordinated the synthesis and structure determination of nitrogen-containing heterocycles. This period was characterized by the rapid increase in instrumentation of laboratories worldwide. Unfortunately, the Department could keep up with this progress only in the beginning.

The fourth period after 1990 saw the former, centrally supported funding stopped. The funds needed for research could be provided more and more by winning different applications. This became the task of smaller teams that were aspiring to establish external cooperation with different research groups. Thus, research was carried on in approximately 20 different laboratories with only loose thematic connection with each other.

With the nomination of new professors, new research trends came also to the front: István Kapovits (chemistry of sulfuranes), Miklós Hollósi (VCD and FT-IR spectroscopy), Ferenc Ruff (physical organic chemistry), Tam‡s Vajda (cryochemistry), András Perczel (NMR spectroscopy, quantum chemistry), Ferenc Hudecz (immunochemistry). The work of the following associate professors (C.Sc) was prominent: Gábor Dibó (electrophoresis), Ödön Farkas (ab-initio calculations), István Jalovszky (stereospecific syntheses), András Kótai (basic peptides), Magda Lempert-Sréter (N-heterocycles), Hedvig Medzihradszky-Schweiger (microanalysis), Miomir Mészáros (glycopeptides), Gábor Mezô and György Orosz (peptide syntheses), József R‡bai (organofluorous chemistry), Ferenc Sebestyén (combinatorial chemistry), Helga Süli-Varga (cancer chemotherapeutic agents), Gyula Szókán (HPLC), Miklós Vajda (polarography), Adrienn Wilhelms (dimerization).

Since its foundation, six members of the Department and the Research Group were chosen as corresponding or full members of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences. Tibor Széki (1934, 1945), Gyôzô Bruckner (1946, 1949), Sándor Müller (1949), Kálmán Medzihradszky (1982, 1990), Miklós Hollósi (1998, 2004), Pál Mezey (1998, external member). Thirteen researchers became doctors of chemical sciences (D.Sc). Thirty-seven are candidates of chemical sciences (C.Sc), Forty-four persons are dr.rer.nat. and twenty chemists have obtained their PhD degree. The product of the scientific research at the Department and Research Group is 1458 publications in foreign languages and another 194 selected papers in Hungarian. Due to their successful research, two professors have been internationally recognized: Gyôzô Bruckner (Scheele-Medal, 1948; member of the Leopoldina Academy, 1967), Kálmán Medzihradszky (Heyrovsky Gold Medal, 1982; Rudinger-Award, 2002). The following researchers were awarded high governmental honours (Kossuth-Prize, State-Prize and Széchenyi-prize): Gyôzô Bruckner (1949, 1955), Sándor Müller (1953), Kálmán Medzihradszky (1970), István Kapovits (1996), Árpád Kucsman (1996), Ferenc Ruff (1996) and Árpád Furka (2001). Academ-Prize were awarded to Kálmán Medzihradszky (1962), István Kapovits (1975), Árpád Kucsman (1975), Ferenc Ruff (1975), Márton Kajtár (1986), Miklós Hollósi (1997), Ferenc Hudecz (1997) and Árpád Furka (1999).

Despite political isolation before 1990, the Department and the Research Group used every effort to build connections with western research groups. Its researchers regularly attended European Peptide Symposiums (EPS), International Organosulfur Symposiums (ISOCS), programmes of ESOC, FECS and WATOC. They also took part in the domestic organization of symposiums and conferences. Important collaborations were set up with the following institutions: Research Institutes of the Academy in Berlin, Kiev, Moscow, Prague; University of Barcelona, University of Bochum-Ruhr, University of Bonn, Bose Institute (Calcutta), Gaussian Institute, University of Halle, University of Jena, University of Konstanz, Max Planck Institute (Heidelberg), University of Nancy, National Cancer Institute, University of Nottingham, University of Osaka, University of Oxford, University of Philadelphia, University of Rostock, Ruder Boskovic Institute (Zagreb), University of San Louis (Argentina), University of Texas A and M, University of Toronto, University of Wisconsin, Wistar Institute. Nearly all the members of the Department or the Research Group have obtained scholarships and worked in research institutes, often overseas.

The Department developed close collaborations with numerous Hungarian universities (Budapest Technical University , ELTE Institute of Biology, Semmelweis Medical University, University of Debrecen, University of Szeged, University of Veszprém) and research institutes (Drug Research Institute, Chemical Research Center of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Research Institute of Plant Protection, Biological Research Center in Szeged, Research Center of Inorganic Chemistry). National and international industrial cooperation has also been important (e.g.. Chinoin, EGIS, Forte, Reanal, Richter; Bristol, Clariant, Exxon, Givaudan, Lancaster).

Education. – Thanks to Tibor Széki, the Department became a pioneering institute in the theoretical and practical education of organic chemistry after 1934. At that time, the only opportunity to study organic chemistry for students at Budapest University was to attend the lectures of honorary lecturers such as Frigyes Konek and Nándor Mauthner. After 1949, Gyõzõ Bruckner raised the education of the organic chemistry to an international level. His main lectures intended for chemists and his special lectures covering different areas of organic chemistry had a great impact on future generations of students who were interested in organic chemistry. Previously in 1936 his colleague, Sándor Müller, introduced the education of theoretical organic chemistry in Hungary, which consisted of the interpretation of chemical structures and reaction mechanism on the basis of the electronic theory of chemical bond. More basic courses having fewer hours of class per week were held for chemistry teachers and biology and physics students by senior lecturers. The students could now acquire the basic skills required in an organic chemistry laboratory during classes of varying length depending on the major they chose. A special laboratory was available for the preparation of diploma works.

Educational reforms in 1970 divided the main course into two parts. The lecturer of the basic course became Árpád Kucsman (later on István Jalsovszky), while the lecturer of the course dealing with natural organic compounds became Gyõzõ Bruckner (later on Márton Kajtár and Miklós Hollósi). Theoretical organic chemistry lectures were presented by András Messmer. The Department tried to raise the level of practical instruction by organizing special analytical and preparative laboratory exercises. The specialization in organic chemistry of upper level students was helped by numerous special courses that were presented by leading university and industry researchers invited by the Department. In the 1990s, 65 different special courses were offered. The Department was involved in the teaching of an average number of 150–200 students per year, with this number considerably increasing since the middle of the 1990s. With the revival of the PhD programme at the University, 45 such students were admitted at the doctoral school between 1993–2003, with wanting to do their research at the Department or at the Research Group.

The teaching of organic chemistry at the Department was aided by numerous textbooks and lecture notes. Among these, the textbook written by Gyõzõ Bruckner, of which there are 6 volumes, is of overriding importance (1952–81, 4236 pages). Árpád Kucsman, Márton Kajtár, Kálmán Medzihradszky and János Császár assisted the author. This grandiose work in the Hungarian language is unique at an international level also, since it surveys the entire knowledge base of organic chemistry at an educational level, and reflects the scientific knowledge of the 1960–70s. For their basic courses, lecture notes were written by Árpád Kucsman (1975–76, 5 volumes, 1240 pages) and Márton Kajtár (1976–78, 5 volumes, 1510 pages). Árpád Furka wrote a textbook for chemistry teachers in 1988, consisting of 980 pages. The lecture notes of Kajtár were the basis of the book “Variations on Four Elements” (1984, 2 volumes, 973 pages). The book introduces organic chemistry to the reader using the writer’s own point of view having a modern tone, which made the book very popular. Ferenc Ruff and Imre G. Csizmadia wrote a textbook about the investigation of organic reaction mechanisms in English (1994, 464 pages) and later in Hungarian (2000, 470 pages). Several guides were used for laboratory exercises; these were written collectively by members of the Department. An organic chemistry laboratory exercise-book was published in form of a textbook, edited by György Orosz (1998, 466 pages).

As proposed by the Department, Professors Gyõzõ Bruckner (1976), Imre G. Csizmadia (1987), Gerald D. Fasman (1995) and Kálmán Medzihradszky (2003) were elected as honorary doctors of Eötvös Lóránd University. In recognition of their educational merits, Gyõzõ Bruckner (1972), Kálmán Medzihradszky (1989) and Árpád Kucsman (1997) were also awarded the Gold Medal Prize of Eötvös Loránd University.

Community life – The 70-year period of the existence of the Department was strongly influenced by the stormy events of Hungarian history in the 20th century. In this book, the author attempts to outline the effect of the political events on the internal life of the Department and on the relationships between colleagues. To present this, he has used primarily stories from the past and his own memories. The Széki-era, starting with the foundation of the Department, occurred during the Horthy-regime before and during the war and the short period of democracy after the war. The naming of Gyõzõ Bruckner as a professor took place in the “decisive year” 1949. After the communists took power, the “hard” Rákosi-dictatorship and the repression years following the euphoric days of revolution in1956 made public life almost unbearable. The relative calmness inside the Department and the family atmosphere created by Gyõzõ Bruckner eased the pressure of the regime. His successor, Árpád Kucsman could do his work in the “soft” Kádár-regime. During this period, the step-by-step expansion of possibilities in all aspects of life came to the fore. The real change occurred during the fall of the communist dictatorship and the revival of the democracy in 1989. This date also coincided with the move of the Department in the new establishment in Lágymányos, and formally implied the promise of the developing of a new way of life. In 1993, Miklós Hollósi who had widespread collaborations with western research institutes, handled the direction of the Department. In this period, it was fortunate that the autocracy of politics, which had previously influenced everything, came to an end. At the same time, however, increasing financial difficulties set limits to long-awaited freedom.

Árpád Kucsman: The Organic Chemistry Department of ELTE is 70 years old (1934-2003)

ISBN 963 463 6
Published by ELTE Eötvös Kiadó and PolgArt Kiadó
Technical editor: Tamás Kiss
Printed by Perfekt Nyomda
Supervisor: Laki Péter
Size: 32 (A/5) sheets
Béres Foundation
Chinoin Rt.
Kató L. Perlman (USA, Madison, Wis.)
Reanal Rt.
Richter Gedeon Rt.