Luděk Jirousek was born on August 18, 1925 in Olomouc, Czechoslovakia. As a child he wanted to become a painter, but on the advice of his father he changed his mind. During his time as a student at the municipal gymnasiums in Holešov and Zlín, he took a liking to drawing. His output, however, was relatively modest. Then, at the age of fourteen, he read Paul Kruif’s "Microbe Hunters". As a result of this experience, biology and chemistry became his primary interests.
Jirousek received his Ph.D. in chemistry and physiology in 1948 from Charles University in Prague. As a young postdoctoral scholar he began to work as a researcher in the newly established Institute of Endocrinology. In addition to chemical and biochemical research, he became involved in
public health projects, which eventually led to the elimination of endemic cretinism and a significant reduction in the occurrence of goiter in Czechoslovakia, which had reached epidemic proportions. He discovered the nature of the goiter-producing Brassica factor, (with Z. Procházka), a substance with an antibiotic effect as well as trithions (dithiolthions, with L. Stárka), which have possible applications in the area of cancer prevention. In a large-scale physiological study he demonstrated the relationship between iodine deficiency and the presence of goitrogens, conditions which combined to cause the goiter endemic in Czechoslovakia.
In 1954 Jirousek’s research work was nominated for the Czechoslovak State Prize. He successfully defended his results, but the prize was not awarded for political reasons.
Four years later he was forbidden, also for political reasons, to participate in any scientific research in Czechoslovakia, and was subsequently assigned to work as a day-laborer repairing roads. In light of the absurd circumstances in the country at the time, however, he received a six-month postponement of that assignment, since he was required to complete work on a research project the government considered vital. Shortly before he was to start his new job as a road-repair worker, he was commissioned to help increase the pace of work toward the creation of Czechoslovakia’s first Department of Nuclear Medicine at Motol Hospital in Prague. As a "reward" for his efforts, the hard-line communist regime permitted Jirousek to work as a laboratory technician in the new department he helped to create, and he was given the
responsibility of conducting routine tests of radioactive blood and urine. Communist authorities forbade him from doing any research; despite this he managed to do so secretely on a regular basis after working hours. He was also forbidden to do experimental work, to share his scientific thoughts and ideas with others, to attend conferences, to travel and to publish.
In 1961 Jirousek received an invitation from Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee to participate in research on protein sulfenyl iodide derivatives in the metabolism of the thyroid gland. The budding liberalization process which eventually climaxed during the Prague Spring allowed him to leave his homeland in 1965. He later decided to stay in the US, but because of visa regulations he was forced to spend two years in Canada. After his
Canadian sojourn, Jirousek went to Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts to work on the elusive sulfenyl iodides with his good friend, Dr. Morris Soodak. They eventually discovered a promising reagent, but their work could not continue due to a lack of funding.
By 1974 he had grown tired of the many difficultiesinvolved with securing funding for his thyroid research. Jirousek then went to work at the New England Nuclear Corporation in Billerica, Massachusetts, were he managed the Radioiodine Department which manufactured radioactive tracer chemicals for diagnosis and research. Through both his efforts and those of twenty dedicated supertechnicians, Jirousek’s department became the leading institution of its kind in the world. His research findings
have been published in over fifty original papers.
In 1980 Jirousek became seriously ill. During his long stay in hospital he started to think about visual music and what it should be. Five years later he retired from his career in science, industry and business, and he began to devote himself full time to the development of the theory and practice of the visual music.
Until his sudden death in January 1999, he lived a happy, hermit-like existence in Tewksbury, Massachusetts.
© 2007 Zuzana Vanišová & Ondřej Vaniš