Nobel Prize-winning chemist Hoffmann to speak

Poet and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann will present the William C. Ferguson Memorial Lecture, titled “One Culture or the Commonalities and Differences Between the Arts and Sciences,” at 4 p.m. April 13 in Graham Chapel.

Though he is best known as a chemist, Hoffmann also is a published poet. In his talk, he will use examples from chemistry, poetry, painting and ceramics to make a case for an underlying unity of science and the arts.

He explores the similarities in the creative processes of the two disciplines. There also are differences between the two, but he does not believe “scientists have some greater insight into the workings of nature than poets.”

Hoffmann was born in Poland in 1937. His father was killed by the Nazis, but he and his mother and a few relatives survived. He came to the United States in 1949.

He graduated from Columbia University in 1958 and went on to earn a master’s degree in physics in 1960 and a doctorate in chemical physics in 1962, both from Harvard. He joined the faculty at Cornell University in 1965 and now holds the Frank H.T. Rhodes Professorship in Humane Letters.

Hoffmann’s published research is highly influential and is frequently cited by other scientists, but he feels his major contribution is teaching. He primarily teaches undergraduates.

Among his many honors are the American Chemical Society’s A.C. Cope Award in Organic Chemistry, which he received jointly with Nobel laureate R.B. Woodward in 1973.

In 1972, he was elected to the National Academy of Science.

Hoffmann shared the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1981 with Kenichi Fukui of Japan for work they did independently in applying the theories of quantum mechanics to predict the course of chemical reactions. At the time, it was considered by many chemists to be the most important conceptual advance in the field in 25 years.

The lecture is co-sponsored by Arts & Sciences, Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi. Assembly Series lectures are free and open to the public.

For more information, call 935-4620 or go online to

Leave a Comment

Comments and respectful dialogue are encouraged, but content will be moderated. Please, no personal attacks, obscenity or profanity, selling of commercial products, or endorsements of political candidates or positions. We reserve the right to remove any inappropriate comments. We also cannot address individual medical concerns or provide medical advice in this forum.