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Roald Hoffmann


Roald Hoffmann
Roald Hoffmann

"Applied theoretical chemistry" is how Hoffmann characterizes the blend of computations stimulated by experiment and the construction of generalized models and frameworks for understanding that is his unique contribution to chemistry. Two of his early major contributions are the development and application of the extended Hückel molecular orbital method, and (with Woodward) the application of simple but powerful arguments of orbital symmetry to concerted reactions. Hoffmann shared (with Kenichi Fukui, see portrait) the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for these accomplishments.

Hoffmann is a superb teacher, lecturer and writer who has done much to convey the achievements of chemistry to other scientists and the general public. He helped prepare and narrate the PBS TV series "The World of Chemistry", and has often authored the "Marginalia" column in the American Scientist. His books include "Chemistry Imagined" (1993; a unique combination of art, science and literature), "The Same and Not the Same" (1995; the dualities underlying chemistry) and "Old Wine, New Flasks: Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition" (1997), as well as two books of poetry ("The Metamict State", 1987, the book he holds in this portrait, and "Gaps and Verges", 1990). With Djerassi, he wrote a play "Oxygen".

Hoffmann was born in Poland, experienced but survived the Nazi occupation, and came to the USA in 1949. After a B.A. at Columbia and Ph.D. in Chemical Physics at Harvard (1962) he became a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows at Harvard. In 1965 he joined the Cornell faculty where, since 1974, he has been John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science. Just a few of his many awards include the first ACS Arthur C. Cope Award (1973, joint with Woodward), the ACS Award in Inorganic Chemistry (1982), the National Medal of Science (1983) and the ACS Priestley Medal (1990).

Sponsor: Peter J. Wagner

Location in chemistry building: Fourth Floor; West Wing South Wall; Sequence 2

Source: Professor Hoffmann