Writer and Nobel Prize-winning chemist Roald Hoffmann to speak at Assembly Series

Hoffmann to speak on unity of science and the arts

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. on Tuesday, April 13 in Graham Chapel. The chapel is located just north of Mallinckrodt Center (6445 Forsyth Blvd.) on the Washington University campus. The lecture is co-sponsored by Arts & Sciences, Phi Beta Kappa and Sigma Xi. Assembly Series lectures are free and open to the public.

Though he is best known as a chemist, Hoffmann is also 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 are also differences between the two, but he does not believe that “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 College in 1958 and went on to receive his master’s degree in physics in 1960 and his Ph.D. 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 thinks his major contribution is teaching. He teaches primarily 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 1982, he received the Society’s Award in Inorganic Chemistry, the only person to receive these two awards in different subfields. 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 their field in the previous 25 years.

For more information, call (314) 935-4620 or visit the Assembly Series web page (http://assemblyseries.wustl.edu).