Talk:Robert Burns Woodward

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Errors ID'd by Nature, to correct[edit]

The results of what exactly Nature suggested should be corrected is out... italicize each bullet point once you make the correction. -- user:zanimum

Reviewer: Roald Hoffmann, Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, USA.

  • Roald Hoffmann was not a student of Robert Burns Woodward, but an independent researcher at Harvard
  • Misleading: Wilkinson was British but working at Harvard.
  • Omission: Co-winner of Nobel Prize with Wilkinson, EO Fisher is not mentioned.

Other Comments and Errors[edit]

  • The main article says, "Woodward also proposed [emphasis added] the correct structure of penicillin as a beta-lactam, as opposed to the thiazolidine-oxazolone structure proposed by Robert Robinson, the then leading organic chemist of his generation." The beta-lactam structure was originally proposed by chemists at Merck who were working on the penicillin project. Assessing the available data, Woodward agreed with and approved of the beta-lactam structure (over Robinson's proposed structure) which was subsequently shown to be correct.
  • The quinine controversy, partially reviewed in "The Woodward-Doering/Rabe-Kindler Total Synthesis of Quinine: Setting the Record Straight." Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2007, 46(9) (February 19), 1378-1413 by Jeffrey I. Seeman, appears to have been settled with the publication of "Rabe Rest in Peace: Confirmation of the Rabe-Kindler Conversion of d-Quinotoxine Into Quinine: Experimental Affirmation of the Woodward-Doering Formal Total Synthesis of Quinine." Angewandte Chemie International Edition, 2008, 47(9) (February 15), 1736-1740 by Aaron C. Smith and Robert M. Williams.
  • The main article says, "[Woodward] neglected his formal studies badly enough to be expelled [from MIT] the next year." I have read accounts explicitly saying that he was not expelled but came near to flunking out, in particular, for ignoring the physical education requirement. Woodward was well protected by his department and professors and the claim regarding expulsion should be authenticated and referenced.
  • The main article says, "Some of his best-known students include Harry Wasserman (Yale), Yoshito Kishi (Harvard), Stuart Schreiber (Harvard), William Roush (Scripps-Florida), Steven A. Benner (UF), Christopher S. Foote (UCLA), Kendall Houk (UCLA), and porphyrin chemist Kevin M. Smith." Should post-doctoral researchers be distinguished from graduate students? Kishi and Smith were post-docs; Wasserman, Schreiber, Roush, Benner, Foote, and Houk were Ph.D. students. The list, of course, is rather incomplete. As former Woodward post-doc David Dolphin put it in his partial list in his Woodward biography in Aldrichimica Acta, 1977, 10(1), 3-9, "It is inevitable, in preparing a list of this type, that some of the more famous colleagues should have been left out. These names I have appended below.9 [...] Footnote 9: David Dolphin." AdderUser (talk) 09:07, 6 September 2008 (UTC)

Free Picture[edit]

There is a free picture of Robert Burns Woodward on Commons [1], but the image-name is already taken in WP:en, maybe someone with better knowledge about renaming images could take care of this. --Sionnach 10:29, 18 July 2008 (UTC)

Incorrect Patent Count due to Incorrect Search[edit]

The main article provides a link to Woodward's Patents via ( The link lists only four (4) patents. Woodward did not include his full middle name "Burns" on all patent applications. He is often listed as Woodward; Robert B.

Thus, a more thorough but still incomplete search of the patent literature reveals that Woodward is inventor or co-inventor on almost 100 patents (US and international), beginning with:

US 1943-514458 (1943) Patent Application issued as:
US 2441019 (1948) Light-polarizing material. Georgian, Vlasios; Amon, William F., Jr.; Gofstein, Ralph; Land, Edwin H.; West, Cutler D.; Woodward, Robert B.. (Polaroid Corp.)

and including:

US 2701807 (1955) Woodward, Robert B.. The total synthesis of steroid aldehydes. (Research Corp.)

and the most recent being:

AU 544572 (1985) Thioazetidinones. Gosteli, Jacques; Ernst, Ivan; Woodward, Robert Burns. (Ciba-Geigy A.-G., Switz.).

US 4952690 (1990) 6-substituted thia-aza compounds. Ernest; Ivan. Gosteli; Jacques. Lang; Marc. Woodward; Robert B. (Ciba-Geigy Corporation, Ardsley, NY)

Some of the patents are amendments to earlier patents but there are still many more than just four Woodward patents. AdderUser (talk) 23:25, 1 January 2009 (UTC)

Needs additional citations[edit]

I've just tagged this, to highlight the need for better referencing; I'm sorry, this is a 'drive-by tagging' - I don't have the time to try and resolve the problem; I'm concerned because many sections are entirely unreferenced (although possibly info is in some of the named 'sources'), and particularly wanted to note the problem because, in biographies, vandalism of various kinds if a frequent issue. It is very difficult to check if edits are valid, if the existing information is so poorly annotated with footnotes. Chzz  ►  14:13, 4 February 2011 (UTC)

I would be happy to take a shot at the citations if you point out specific concerns — Preceding unsigned comment added by Ashujo (talkcontribs) 18:57, 25 May 2011 (UTC)

Some Source Material: The Enchanted Ring: The Untold Story of Penicillin (1984) is John C. Sheehan's personal account of penicillin research and makes the point that Merck, Peoria, and Shell proposed the beta-lactam structure and Woodward agreed with their interpretation of their data (not his original proposal nor his own data). In the section Early Work, it says "Woodward's particular insight [...]" with reference to recognizing quinotoxine as a relay to quinine based on Rabe's claim. This was not an insight particular to Woodward. Rabe and Kindler recognized it (1918), ipso facto! Proštenik and Vladimir Prelog (Helv. Chim. Acta 1943, 26, 1965) published the same insight before Woodward. Woodward's synthesis was a "double relay" in that he synthesized Prelog's homomeroquinene relay to prepare quinotoxine, Rabe's relay. In the section Early life and education, there is a claim that Woodward entered MIT in 1933 (when he was 16) but was "expelled the next year." I have not read that claim any place other than in this Wikipedia article. Other sources mention "almost flunked out" (often with reference to his neglect of the Physical Education requirement). I would like to see the "expelled" claim authenticated or removed. AdderUser (talk) 07:32, 29 January 2012 (UTC)

The claim about MIT is supported by his biography on the Nobel website, except that the word used is excluded (for academic failure) rather than expelled (which might suggest misconduct, and so is the wrong word), and the dates make clear that the exclusion was for one term and not a whole year. I have made these changes and added the source. Dirac66 (talk) 01:13, 7 July 2012 (UTC)
I suppose there are some things we'll never know. The Nobel bio makes no mention of his brief stint at Illinois and says that he went from MIT to Harvard with nothing in between. The stories that I read and heard strongly implied that "inattention to formal studies" was by NO means anything to do with a lack of academic ability or achievement in the courses he did take (and easily breeze through or place out of) but rather a lack of respect for FORMAL requirements. Most prominent was his avoidance of MIT's formal physical education requirement. At this time, I have to no specific reference but a vague recollection that RBW might have declined to take other required courses that he felt were irrelevant to his interest in organic chemistry. (Without access to reference materials, I can only state that other famous chemists also had issues with what they, themselves, considered to be irrelevant requirements but made it through their undergraduate programs, sometimes with special allowances.) AdderUser (talk) 19:25, 3 September 2012 (UTC)

Not included as author on other publications[edit]

The Publications section mentions 200 publications, etc.. At least towards the end of his career, RBW's graduate students were publishing their work as sole authors (or with another student or post-doc as co-author), without the inclusion of RBW as co-author but almost always acknowledged. Since RBW was alive at the time, I assume this was done with his permission or even encouragement (to help to accelerate the students' independent careers?). Many other PIs, even if their students were working very independently, might insist that they be named as co-author. Basically, I want this note to inform those not familiar with the "culture" of organic chemistry that RBW's publication count of 200 might be considered to be artificially low and to look for his influence on other work coming from his labs. AdderUser (talk) 13:18, 20 August 2013 (UTC)