Robert Robinson (chemist)

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Robert Robinson
48th President of the Royal Society
In office
Preceded bySir Henry Hallett Dale
Succeeded byEdgar Adrian
Personal details
Born(1886-09-13)13 September 1886
Derbyshire, England
Died8 February 1975(1975-02-08) (aged 88)
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England
Alma materUniversity of Manchester
Known forDevelopment of Organic synthesis[1]
Arrow pushing
Biomimetic synthesis
Cholesterol total synthesis
Robinson annulation
Robinson–Gabriel synthesis
Allan–Robinson reaction
SpouseGertrude Maud Robinson
AwardsLongstaff Prize (1927)
Davy Medal (1930)
Royal Medal (1932)
Copley Medal (1942)
Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1947)
Franklin Medal (1947)
Albert Medal (1947)
Faraday Lectureship Prize (1947)
Scientific career
FieldsOrganic chemistry[1]
InstitutionsUniversity of Sydney
University of Liverpool
British Dyestuffs Corporation
University of Manchester
University College London
University of Oxford
Doctoral advisorWilliam Henry Perkin, Jr.
Doctoral studentsSir Edward Abraham[2]
Arthur John Birch
William Sage Rapson
John Cornforth
Rita Harradence
K. Venkataraman[3]

Sir Robert Robinson OM FRS FRSE[4] (13 September 1886 – 8 February 1975) was a British organic chemist[1] and Nobel laureate recognised in 1947 for his research on plant dyestuffs (anthocyanins) and alkaloids. In 1947, he also received the Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm.


Early life[edit]

He was born at Rufford House Farm, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire[5] the son of James Bradbury Robinson, a maker of surgical dressings, and his wife, Jane Davenport.[6]

Robinson went to school at the Chesterfield Grammar School and the private Fulneck School. He then studied chemistry at the University of Manchester, graduating BSc in 1905. In 1907 he was awarded an 1851 Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851[7] to continue his research at the University of Manchester.

He was appointed as the first Professor of Pure and Applied Organic Chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney in 1912.[8] He was briefly at St Andrews University (1920–22) and then was offered the Chair of Organic Chemistry at Manchester University. In 1928 he moved from there to be a professor at University College London where he stayed only two years. He was the Waynflete Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University from 1930 and a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Robinson was elected an International Member of the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1934,[9] an International Member of the American Philosophical Society in 1944,[10] and an International Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1948.[11]

Robinson Close, in the Science Area at Oxford, is named after him,[12] as is the Robert Robinson Laboratory at the University of Liverpool, the Sir Robert Robinson Laboratory of Organic Chemistry at the University of Manchester[13] and the Robinson and Cornforth Laboratories at the University of Sydney.

Robinson was a strong amateur chess player. He represented Oxford University in a friendly match with a team from Bletchley Park in December 1944;[14] in which he lost his game to pioneering computer scientist I. J. Good.[15] He was president of the British Chess Federation from 1950 to 1953,[16] and with Raymond Edwards he co-authored the book The Art and Science of Chess (Batsford, 1972).[17]


His synthesis of tropinone (a precursor for atropine & benztropine) in 1917 was not only a big step in alkaloid chemistry but also showed that tandem reactions in a one-pot synthesis are capable of forming bicyclic molecules.[18] [19]

Tropinone synthesis
Tropinone synthesis

He invented the symbol for benzene having a circle in the middle whilst working at St Andrews University in 1923.[20] He is known for inventing the use of the curly arrow to represent electron movement,[21] and he is also known for discovering the molecular structures of morphine and penicillin.[22][23] Robinson annulation has had application in the total synthesis of steroids.

Alongside Edward Charles Dodds, Robinson had also been involved in the original synthesis of diethylstilboestrol.[24]

In 1946 he determined the structure of strychnine.[25][26][27]

In 1957 Robinson founded the journal Tetrahedron with fifty other editors for Pergamon Press.[citation needed]


  • The Structural Relationship of Natural Products (1955)


He married twice. In 1912 he married Gertrude Maud Walsh. Following her death in 1954, in 1957 he married a widow, Mrs Stern Sylvia Hillstrom (née Hershey).[28]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Saltzman, M. D. (1987). "The development of Sir Robert Robinson's contributions to theoretical organic chemistry". Natural Product Reports. 4: 53. doi:10.1039/NP9870400053.
  2. ^ "Some substituted peptides and Experiments with lysozyme". University of Oxford. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  3. ^ Anand, Nitya (22 May 2018). "Krishnaswami Venkataraman (1901–1981)" (PDF). Indian National Science Academy. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  4. ^ Todd, L.; Cornforth, J. W. (1976). "Robert Robinson. 13 September 1886 – 8 February 1975". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 22: 414–527. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1976.0018. JSTOR 769748. S2CID 73166960.
  5. ^ "Former RSE Fellows 1783–2002" (PDF). Royal Society of Edinburgh. Archived from the original (PDF) on 28 August 2008. Retrieved 31 March 2010.
  6. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0-902-198-84-X. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 9 April 2018.
  7. ^ 1851 Royal Commission Archives
  8. ^ "Nobel Laureates - Chemistry - The University of Sydney". Archived from the original on 28 November 2007.
  9. ^ "Robert Robinson". Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  10. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  11. ^ "Robert Robinson". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. 9 February 2023. Retrieved 6 April 2023.
  12. ^ "Science Area". Retrieved 12 June 2009.
  13. ^ In Burlington Street and opened in 1950: Charlton, H. B. (1951) Portrait of a University. Manchester University Press; plan facing p. 172; since demolished.
  14. ^ Nicholas Metropolis (ed.), History of Computing in the Twentieth Century; chapter Pioneering Work on Computers at Bletchley (I. J. Good), p38
  15. ^ British Chess magazine, February 1945, p36
  16. ^ Nobel Prize bio
  17. ^ Chemical and Engineering news
  18. ^ Robinson, R. (1917). "LXIII. A Synthesis of Tropinone". Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions. 111: 762–768. doi:10.1039/CT9171100762.
  19. ^ Birch, A. J. (1993). "Investigating a Scientific Legend: The Tropinone Synthesis of Sir Robert Robinson, F.R.S". Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London. 47 (2): 277–296. doi:10.1098/rsnr.1993.0034. JSTOR 531792. S2CID 143267467.
  20. ^ Armit, James Wilson; Robinson, Robert (1925). "Polynuclear heterocyclic aromatic types. Part II. Some anhydronium bases". Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions. 127: 1604–1618. doi:10.1039/ct9252701604.
  21. ^ Kermack, William Ogilvy; Robinson, Robert (1922). "An explanation of the property of induced polarity of atoms and an interpretation of the theory of partial valencies on an electronic basis". Journal of the Chemical Society, Transactions. 121: 427–440. doi:10.1039/CT9222100427.
  22. ^ Gulland, J.M.; Robinson, R. (1925). "Constitution of codeine and thebaine". Memoirs and Proceedings of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Manchester. 69: 79–86.
  23. ^ Abraham, E. P. (1987). "Sir Robert Robinson and the early history of penicillin". Natural Product Reports. 4 (1): 41–46. doi:10.1039/np9870400041. PMID 3302773.
  24. ^ Dodds, E. C. (2008). "Synthetic œstrogens in treatment". The Irish Journal of Medical Science. 25 (7): 305–314. doi:10.1007/BF02950685. ISSN 0021-1265. S2CID 58062466.
  25. ^ Robinson, R. (1946). "The constitution of strychnine". Experientia. 2 (1): 1946. doi:10.1007/BF02154708. PMID 21012825.
  26. ^ Briggs, L. H.; Openshaw, H. T.; Robinson, Robert (1946). "Strychnine and brucine. Part XLII. Constitution of the neo-series of bases and their oxidation products". Journal of the Chemical Society. London: 903. doi:10.1039/JR9460000903.
  27. ^ Openshaw, H. T.; Robinson, R. (1946). "Constitution of Strychnine and the Biogenetic Relationship of Strychnine and Quinine". Nature. 157 (3988): 438. Bibcode:1946Natur.157..438O. doi:10.1038/157438a0. PMID 21024272.
  28. ^ Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783–2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0-902-198-84-X. Archived from the original (PDF) on 4 March 2016. Retrieved 9 April 2018.

External links[edit]

Professional and academic associations
Preceded by 48th President of the Royal Society
Succeeded by