Roald Hoffmann

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Roald Hoffmann
Roald Hoffmann.jpg
Roald Hoffmann
Born Roald Safran
(1937-07-18) July 18, 1937 (age 77)
Złoczów, Poland (now Ukraine)
Citizenship United States
Nationality American
Fields Chemistry
Institutions Cornell University
Alma mater Stuyvesant High School
Columbia University
Harvard University
Doctoral advisor William N. Lipscomb, Jr., Martin Gouterman
Known for reaction mechanisms
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1981)
National Medal of Science (1983)
Priestley Medal (1990)
Lomonosov Gold Medal (2011)
Spouse Eva Börjesson (m. 1960; 2 children)

Roald Hoffmann (born Roald Safran; July 18, 1937)[1] is an American theoretical chemist who won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He is the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Emeritus, at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York.[2]

Early life[edit]

Escape from the Holocaust[edit]

Roald Hoffmann (2015)

Hoffmann was born in Złoczów, Poland (now Ukraine), to a Jewish family, and was named in honor of the Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen. His parents were Clara (Rosen), a teacher, and Hillel Safran, a civil engineer.[3] After Germany invaded Poland and occupied the town, his family was placed in a labor camp where his father, who was familiar with much of the local infrastructure, was a valued prisoner. As the situation grew more dangerous, with prisoners being transferred to liquidation camps, the family bribed guards to allow an escape and arranged with a Ukrainian neighbor named Mikola Dyuk for Hoffman, his mother, two uncles and an aunt to hide in the attic and a storeroom of the local schoolhouse, where they remained for eighteen months, from January 1943 to June 1944, while Hoffmann was aged 5 to 7.

His father remained at the labor camp, but was able to occasionally visit, until he was tortured and killed by the Germans for his involvement in a plot to arm the camp prisoners. When she received the news, his mother attempted to contain her sorrow by writing down her feelings in a notebook her husband had been using to take notes on a relativity textbook he had been reading. While in hiding his mother kept Hoffmann entertained by teaching him to read and having him memorize geography from textbooks stored in the attic, then quizzing him on it. He referred to the experience as having been enveloped in a cocoon of love.[4]

Most of the rest of the family perished in the Holocaust, though one grandmother and a few others survived.[5] They migrated to the United States in 1949.

Hoffmann visited Zolochiv with his adult son (by then a parent of a five-year-old) in 2006 and found that the attic where he had hidden was still intact, but the storeroom had been incorporated, ironically enough, into a chemistry classroom. In 2009, a monument to Holocaust victims was built in Zolochiv on Hoffmann's initiative.[6]

Academic credentials[edit]

Hoffmann graduated in 1955 from New York City's Stuyvesant High School,[7] where he won a Westinghouse science scholarship. He received his Bachelor of Arts degree at Columbia University (Columbia College) in 1958. He earned his Master of Arts degree in 1960 from Harvard University. He earned his Doctor of Philosophy degree from Harvard University while working[8][9][10][11][12] under direction of subsequent 1976 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner William N. Lipscomb, Jr. Under Lipscomb's direction the Extended Hückel method was developed by Lawrence Lohr and by Roald Hoffmann.[9][13] This method was later extended by Hoffmann.[14] He went to Cornell in 1965 and has remained there, becoming professor emeritus.

Chemistry interests[edit]

Hoffmann has investigated both organic and inorganic substances, developing computational tools and methods such as the extended Hückel method, which he proposed in 1963.

He also developed, with Robert Burns Woodward, rules for elucidating reaction mechanisms (the Woodward–Hoffmann rules). He also introduced the isolobal principle.

"From a chemist's point of view, the surface or interior of a star…is boring—there are no molecules there." – Roald Hoffmann[15]

The World Of Chemistry with Roald Hoffmann[edit]

Hoffmann is the co-host of the Annenberg/CPB educational series, The World of Chemistry, with Don Showalter.

Artistic interests[edit]

Hoffmann is also a writer of poetry published in two collections, The Metamict State (1987, ISBN 0-8130-0869-7) and Gaps and Verges (1990, ISBN 0-8130-0943-X), and of books explaining chemistry to the general public. Also, he co-authored with Carl Djerassi the play Oxygen, about the discovery of oxygen, but also about what it means to be a scientist and the importance of process of discovery in science.

Hoffmann stars in The World of Chemistry video series with Don Showalter.

Since the spring of 2001, Hoffmann has been the host of the monthly series Entertaining Science at New York City's Cornelia Street Cafe,[16] which explores the juncture between the arts and science.

Hoffmann and Brian Alan produced an English cover of Wei Wei's song "Dedication of Love", part of an international music project raising funds to help the victims of the Sichuan Earthquake.[17]


Roald Hoffmann with the AIC Gold Medal

Nobel Prize in Chemistry[edit]

In 1981, Hoffmann received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he shared with Kenichi Fukui "for their theories, developed independently, concerning the course of chemical reactions".[18][19]

Other awards[edit]

Hoffmann is member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science and is a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists[1].

In August 2007, the American Chemical Society held a symposium at its biannual national meeting to honor Hoffmann's 70th birthday. He also has served as a consultant with Eli Lilly and Company, a global pharmaceutical corporation.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Hoffmann's birth name was Roald Safran. Hoffmann is the surname adopted by his stepfather in the years after World War II
  2. ^ Hoffman, J. (2011). "Q&A: Chemical connector Roald Hoffmann talks about language, ethics and the sublime". Nature 480 (7376): 179. doi:10.1038/480179a.  edit
  3. ^ "Roald Hoffmann". HowStuffWorks. Retrieved October 4, 2013. 
  4. ^ The Long Ukrainian Winters featuring Roald Hoffman, lecture at the World Science Festival.
  5. ^ The Tense Middle by Roald Hoffmann, story on NPR. Retrieved September 29, 2006.
  6. ^ Holocaust monument dedicated in western Ukraine. Jewish Telegraphic Agency. July 20, 2009
  7. ^ "Roald Hoffmann's land between chemistry, poetry and philosophy". Retrieved October 31, 2007. 
  8. ^ Hoffmann, R.; Lipscomb, W. N. (1962). "Theory of Polyhedral Molecules. III. Population Analyses and Reactivities for the Carboranes". The Journal of Chemical Physics 36 (12): 3489. doi:10.1063/1.1732484.  edit
  9. ^ a b Hoffmann, R.; Lipscomb, W. N. (1962). "Theory of Polyhedral Molecules. I. Physical Factorizations of the Secular Equation". The Journal of Chemical Physics 36 (8): 2179. doi:10.1063/1.1732849.  edit
  10. ^ Hoffmann, R.; Lipscomb, W. N. (1962). "Boron Hydrides: LCAO—MO and Resonance Studies". The Journal of Chemical Physics 37 (12): 2872. doi:10.1063/1.1733113.  edit
  11. ^ Hoffmann, R.; Lipscomb, W. N. (1962). "Sequential Substitution Reactions on B10H10−2 and B12H12−2". The Journal of Chemical Physics 37 (3): 520. Bibcode:1962JChPh..37..520H. doi:10.1063/1.1701367.  edit
  12. ^ Hoffmann, R.; Lipscomb, W. N. (1963). "Intramolecular Isomerization and Transformations in Carboranes and Substituted Polyhedral Molecules". Inorganic Chemistry 2: 231. doi:10.1021/ic50005a066.  edit
  13. ^ Lipscomb WN. Boron Hydrides, W. A. Benjamin Inc., New York, 1963, Chapter 3.
  14. ^ Hoffmann, R. (1963). "An Extended Hückel Theory. I. Hydrocarbons". The Journal of Chemical Physics 39 (6): 1397. Bibcode:1963JChPh..39.1397H‎. doi:10.1063/1.1734456.  edit
  15. ^ Stellar Molecules. American Scientist. Retrieved on April 2, 2014.
  16. ^ "A Brief History". The Cornelia Street Café. Retrieved March 22, 2013. 
  17. ^ BoA sings for Sichuan's Earthquake ! « BoA’s Jewelry Box. June 7, 2008.
  18. ^ The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1981. Retrieved on April 2, 2014.
  19. ^ Roald Hoffmann at the Wayback Machine (archived April 22, 2008). Cornell Chemistry Faculty Research

External links[edit]