Roald Hoffmann is an American theoretical chemist. His theory about how chemical reactions happen won him a share of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981. He used quantum mechanisms to study the ways in which chemical reactions work. Hoffmann was born in Poland, and as a child, he had to live in a labor camp during World War II. This was a very scary place for him. But he and his mother were able to escape, and after World War II, they moved to the United States. He did well in school and got scholarships that let him go to well-known colleges and universities like Columbia University and Harvard University. He got a master’s degree in physics and a doctorate in chemical physics. His work at Harvard University with Robert B. Woodward led to a set of rules in organic chemistry that are now called the Woodward-Hoffmann rules. He has worked at Cornell University since 1965 and is currently the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters Emeritus. He is also a good poet and playwright, and his work has been translated into many languages. His work has won him many awards, including the National Medal of Science and honorary degrees from more than 30 universities around the world.
Roald Hoffmann’s Childhood
Roald Hoffmann was born on July 18, 1937, in Zloczów, Poland. He was born into a Jewish family. Clara (Rosen), his mother, was a teacher, and Hillel Safran, his father, was a civil engineer.
His family had to go to a work camp when the Germans invaded Poland. Hoffmann, his mother, two uncles, and an aunt were able to get out of the camp by paying the guards. From January 1943 to June 1944, the family spent 18 months hiding in the attic and a storeroom of the local schoolhouse.
His father stayed at the work camp until the Germans killed him there. Paul Hoffmann was his stepfather after his mother got remarried.
In 1946, Hoffmann’s family moved from Poland to the country of Czechoslovakia. From there, they went to Austria, Germany, and Munich. In 1949, they finally moved to the United States.
In 1955, he graduated from high school in New York at Stuyvesant High School. The Westinghouse Science Scholarship went to him. After that, he went to Columbia University and got his B.A., summa cum laude, with a major in chemistry in 1958.
Roald Hoffmann went to Harvard University to get his graduate degree. In 1960, he got an M.A. in Physics, and in 1962, he got a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics.
In 1962, he joined the Society of Fellows at Harvard as a Junior Fellow. He stayed here for three years, during which time he changed his focus to organic chemistry and studied the problems with the structure and mechanics of organic molecules.
Between 1962 and 1965, he did research on the extended Hückel method and worked on making a method for figuring out the electronic structure of molecules that was partly based on experiments. At the end of his fellowship, he worked with chemist R. B. Woodward to learn more about the theory of concerted reactions.
Roald Hoffmann’s Career
He did a lot of research using qualitative, hypothetical, practical, and computational methods to learn about the electronic structure of stable and unstable molecules and how their states change when they react.
Beginning in 1963, he worked on the extended Hückel method, which is a quantum chemistry method that is partly based on experiments. It used the Hückel molecular orbital method, which Erich Hückel came up with within 1930. With the extended method, it would be possible to figure out molecular orbitals and the relative energy of different shapes.
In 1965, he and Robert Burns Woodward, an organic chemist, came up with a set of rules in organic chemistry that predicted the barrier heights of pericyclic reactions based on the fact that organic symmetry always stays the same.
The rules were first made to understand the stereospecificity of electrocyclic reactions under controlled thermal and photochemical conditions. They can also be used to understand sigmatropic reactions, group transfer reactions, electrocyclic reactions, and cycloadditions.
In 1965, Cornell University made him an Associate Professor in the Department of Chemistry. In 1968, he was given the title of Professor, and in 1974, he was given the title of John A. Newman Professor of Physical Science.
In 1990, he was the host of a TV show called “The World of Chemistry,” which looked at different areas of chemistry through experiments and interviews.
Roald Hoffmann is also a poet, and his works have been published in books like “The Metamict State” (1987), “Gaps and Verges” (1990), “Memory Effects,” and “Soliton.” His plays include “Should’ve” (2006) and “We Have Something That Belongs to You” (2009), which are based on his experiences during the Holocaust. The play “Oxygen” was written by him and Carl Djerassi.
He wrote the books “Roald Hoffmann on the Philosophy, Art, and Science of Chemistry,” “Beyond the Finite: The Sublime in Art and Science,” “The Same and Not the Same,” and “Chemistry Imagined.” In his books, he tries to figure out what science and art have in common.
The book Old Wine, New Flasks: Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition was published by W.H. Freeman in 1997. It was written by Shira Leibowitz Schmidt and Roald Hoffmann. Later, the book was written in Spanish.
Since 1996, he has worked at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, as the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Emeritus.
Works of note
Roald Hoffmann is a theoretical chemist who is best known for creating the “extended Hückel method” to study molecular orbitals and the “Woodward–Hoffmann rules” in organic chemistry.
Honors and Accomplishments
The American Chemical Society Award in Pure Chemistry was given to Roald Hoffmann in 1969.
In 1973, the Arthur C. Cope Award in Organic Chemistry was given to him.
Roald Hoffmann and Kenichi Fukui won the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry together “for their theories about how chemical reactions happen, which they came up with on their own.”
In 1983, the President of the United States gave him the National Medal of Science as a way to honor him.
He was made a Foreign Member of the Royal Society in 1984.
The Priestley Medal was given to him by the American Chemical Society in 1990. In 1994, he was chosen to receive the Harvard Centennial Medal, and in 1996, he won the Pimentel Award in Chemical Education.
In 1997, the E.A. Wood Science Writing Award was given to him.
Roald Hoffmann was given the American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal in 2006.
He won the James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Explaining Chemistry in 2009.
Personal History and Legacies
He got married to Eva Borjesson in 1960, and they have two kids, Hillel Jan and Ingrid Helena.
Estimated Net worth
Roald is one of the wealthiest chemists and is on the list of the most well-known chemists. Wikipedia, Forbes, and Business Insider all say that Roald Hoffmann is worth about $1.5 million.