Roald Hoffmann

Roald Hoffmann

Roald Hoffmann
Roald Hoffmann
Born Roald Safran
(1937-07-18) July 18, 1937
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)
NAS Award in Chemical Sciences (1986)
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 has also published plays and poetry. He is the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Emeritus, at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York.[2]


  • Early life 1
    • Escape from the Holocaust 1.1
    • Academic credentials 1.2
  • Chemistry interests 2
  • Artistic interests 3
    • The World Of Chemistry with Roald Hoffmann 3.1
    • Entertaining Science 3.2
    • Non-fiction 3.3
    • Poetry 3.4
    • Plays 3.5
    • Music 3.6
  • Honors and awards 4
    • Nobel Prize in Chemistry 4.1
    • Other awards 4.2
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Escape from the Holocaust

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 Mykola 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 on the troop carrier Ernie Pyle in 1949.[6]

Hoffmann married Eva Börjesson in 1960. They have two children, Hillel Jan and Ingrid Helena.[7] 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.[8]

Academic credentials

Hoffmann graduated in 1955 from New York City's Stuyvesant High School,[9][10] 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[11][12][13][14][15] under joint supervision of Martin Gouterman and subsequent 1976 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner William N. Lipscomb, Jr. Hoffman worked on the molecular orbital theory of polyhedral molecules.[9] Under Lipscomb's direction the Extended Hückel method was developed by Lawrence Lohr and by Roald Hoffmann.[12][16] This method was later extended by Hoffmann.[17] He went to Cornell in 1965 and has remained there, becoming professor emeritus.

Chemistry interests

External video
“Chemistry's Essential Tension”, Roald Hoffman, Dartmouth College
“Roald Hoffmann Shares Discovery Through Chemistry”, Roald Hoffman, National Science Foundation

Hoffmann is interested in the electronic structure of stable and unstable molecules, and in the study of transition states in reactions. He has investigated the structure and reactivity of both

  • Hoffmann's web site
  • Nobel Prize Biography
  • Photograph of Roald Hoffman
  • Roald Hoffmann profile, NNDB

External links

  1. ^ Hoffmann's birth name was Roald Safran. Hoffmann is the surname adopted by his stepfather in the years after World War II
  2. ^
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  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. ^ a b c d
  7. ^ a b
  8. ^ Holocaust monument dedicated in western Ukraine. Jewish Telegraphic Agency. July 20, 2009
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  12. ^ a b
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  16. ^ Lipscomb WN. Boron Hydrides, W. A. Benjamin Inc., New York, 1963, Chapter 3.
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  18. ^ a b c
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  21. ^ a b c The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1981. Retrieved on April 2, 2014.
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  26. ^ a b
  27. ^ BoA sings for Sichuan's Earthquake ! « BoA’s Jewelry Box. June 7, 2008.
  28. ^ Roald Hoffmann at the Wayback Machine (archived April 22, 2008). Cornell Chemistry Faculty Research
  29. ^ a b c
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See also

In August 2007, the American Chemical Society held a symposium at its biannual national meeting to honor Hoffmann's 70th birthday.[50]

Hoffmann is a member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science [48] and the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.[49]

Hoffmann has won many other awards,[29] and is the recipient of more than 25 honorary degrees.[30]

Other awards

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".[21][28]

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Roald Hoffmann with the AIC Gold Medal

Honors and awards

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 2008 Sichuan earthquake.[27]


He co-authored with Carl Djerassi the play Oxygen, about the discovery of oxygen and the experience of being a scientist. Hoffman's play, "Should’ve" (2006) about ethics in science in art, has been produced in workshops; as has a play based on his experiences in the holocaust, "We Have Something That Belongs to You" (2009).[23]


Hoffmann is also a writer of poetry.[24] His collections include The Metamict State (1987, ISBN 0-8130-0869-7),[25] Gaps and Verges (1990, ISBN 0-8130-0943-X),[18] and Chemistry Imagined, co-produced with artist Vivian Torrence.[18][26]


He has published books on the connections between art and science: Roald Hoffmann on the Philosophy, Art, and Science of Chemistry and Beyond the Finite: The Sublime in Art and Science.[23]


Since the spring of 2001, Hoffmann has been the host of the monthly series Entertaining Science at New York City's Cornelia Street Cafe,[22] which explores the juncture between the arts and science.

Entertaining Science

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

The World Of Chemistry with Roald Hoffmann

Artistic interests

"What gives me the greatest joy in this work? That as we tease apart what goes on in hydrogen under pressures such as those that one finds at the center of the earth, two explanations subtly contend with each other... [physical and chemical] ... Hydrogen under extreme pressure is doing just what an inorganic molecule at 1 atmosphere does!"[6]

Some of Hoffman's most recent work, with Neil Ashcroft and Vanessa Labet, examines bonding in matter under extreme high pressure.[6]

[21], who had independently resolved similar issues. (Woodward was not included in the prize, which is given only to living persons.)Kenichi Fukui For this work Hoffmann received the 1981 Nobel Prize in chemistry, sharing it with Japanese chemist [20] With

[7] for determining molecular orbitals, which he proposed in 1963.extended Hückel method tools and methods such as the computational Hoffman has developed semiempirical and nonempirical [6]