Roald Hoffmann
1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
Cornell University

Roald Hoffmann shared the 1981 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his theory—expressed in a set of statements now called the Woodward-Hoffman rules—"concerning the course of chemical reactions." He has discovered that many reactions involving the formation or breaking of rings of atoms take courses that depend on an identifiable symmetry in the electronic structures of the reactants. The theory accounts for the failure of certain compounds to form from apparently appropriate starting materials.

Hoffman was born in Zloczow, Poland, and lived in several displaced persons’ camps before immigrating to the United States in 1949. He attended Columbia University and earned his advanced degrees in physics and chemistry from Harvard. Three years with the Society of Fellows at Harvard started him on his pioneering research into electrocyclic reactions. Hoffman joined the Cornell University faculty in 1965 and was named John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science in 1974 and Franklin H.T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters in 1996. His awards include the ACS Award in Inorganic Chemistry (1982), the Arthur C. Cope Award in Organic Chemistry (1973), and the National Medal of Science (1983). Hoffman has been active in communicating science to non-scientists and in 1993 hosted a 26-segment television documentary on PBS titled The World of Chemistry.

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