Robert Burns Woodward Essay, Research Paper
Biography of Robert Burns Woodward
Robert Burns Woodward was born in Boston on April 10th, 1917, the only child
of Margaret and Arthur Woodward, of English antecedents. Robert’s father Arthur died in
October of 1918, at an early age of only thirty-three years old.
Robert Woodward was attracted to chemistry at a very early age, and indulged his
taste for the science in private activities throughout the period of his primary and
secondary education in the public schools of Quincy, a suburb of Boston. In 1933, he
entered the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, from which they excluded him because
of inattention to formal studies at the end of the Fall term in 1934. The Institute
authorities generously allowed him to re-enroll in the Fall term of 1935, and he took the
degrees of Bachelor of Science in 1936 and Doctor of Philosophy in 1937. Since that time
he has been associated with Harvard University, as Postdoctoral Fellow (1937-1938),
Member of the Society of Fellows (1938-1940), Instructor in Chemistry (1941-1944),
Assistant Professor (1944-1946), Associate Professor (1946-1950), Professor (1950-
1953), Morris Loeb Professor of Chemistry (1953-1960), and Donner Professor of
Science since 1960. After all of these things that he did, it’s no wonder why he was on his
way to a Nobel prize in the near future. In 1963 he assumed direction of the Woodward
Research Institute at Basel. In 1965 was when he recieved his Nobel prize for his
outstanding achievments in organic synthesis. His studies brought knowledge to the world
and opened doors for later scientists that were in his field of organic synthesis. He was a
member of the Corporation of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1966-1971),
and he was a Member of the Board of Governors of the Weizmann Institute of Science.
Robert Woodward has been very fortunate, (which was a little unusual), in the
outstanding personal qualities and scientific capabilities of a large proportion of his more
than two hundred and fifty collaborators in Cambridge, and latterly in Basel, of whom
more than half have assumed academic positions. He has also on numerous occasions
enjoyed exceptionally stimulating and fruitful collaboration with fellow-scientists in
laboratories other than his own. His interests in chemistry are wide, but the main arena of
his first-hand engagement has been the investigation of natural products, or organic
chemistry — a domain he regards as “endlessly fascinating in itself,” and one which
presents unlimited and unparalleled opportunities for the discovery, testing, development
and refinement of general principles.
Professor Woodward holds more than twenty honorary degrees of which only a
few I listed here: D.Sc. Wesleyan University, 1945; D. Sc. Harvard University, 1957; D.
Sc. University of Cambridge (England), 1964; D. Sc. Brandeis University, 1965; D. Sc.
Israel Institute of Technology (Haifa), 1966; D.Sc. University of Western Ontario
(Canada), 1968;D.Sc. University de Louvain (Belgium), 1970.
Some of the awards presented to him I listed here: John Scott Medal (Franklin
Institute and City of Philadelphia), 1945; Backeland Medal (North Jersey Section of the
American Chemical Society), 1955; Davy Medal (Royal Society), 1959; Roger Adams
Medal (American Chemical Society), 1961; Pius XI Gold Medal (Pontifical Academy of
Sciences), 1969; National Medal of Science (United States of America), 1964; Willard
Gibbs Medal (Chicago Section of the American Chemical Society), 1967; Lavoisier Medal
(Society Chimique de France), 1968; The Order of the Rising Sun, Second Class (His
Majesty the Emperor of Japan), 1970; Hanbury Memorial Medal (The Pharmaceutical
Society of Great Britain), 1970; Pierre Brnylants Medal (University de Louvain), 1970.
Robert Woodward is a member of the National Academy of Sciences; Fellow of
the American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Honorary Member of the German Chemical
Society; Honorary Fellow of The Chemical Society; Foreign Member of the Royal
Society; Honorary Member of the Royal Irish Academy; Corresponding Member of the
Austrian Academy of Sciences; Member of the American Philosophical Society; Honorary
Member of the Belgian Chemical Society; Honorary Fellow of the Indian Academy of
Sciences; Honorary Member of the Swiss Chemical Society; Member of the Deutsche
Academe der Naturforscher (Leopoldina); Foreign Member of the Academia Nazionale
dei Lincei; Honorary Fellow of the Weizmann Institute of Science; Honorary Member of
the Pharmaceutical Society of Japan.
Robert Woodward’s marriages include Irja Pullman in 1938, who he later divorced,
and then married Eudoxia Muller in 1946. He has three daughters: Siiri Anne (b. 1939),
Jean Kirsten (b. 1944), and Crystal Elisabeth (b. 1947), and a son, Eric Richard Arthur (b.
Organic Chemistry and the Modern Era
Organic chemistry developed extensively in the 19th cent., prompted in part by
Friedrich Wohler’s synthesis of urea (1828), which disproved the belief that only living
organisms could produce organic molecules. Other important organic chemists include
Justus von Liebig, C. A. Wurtz, and J. B. Dumas. In 1852 Edward Frankland introduced
the idea of valency (see valence), and in 1858 F. A. Kekule showed that carbon atoms are
tetravalent and are linked together in chains. Kekule’s ring structure for benzene opened
the way to modern theories of organic chemistry. Henri Louis Le Ch?telier, J. H. van’t
Hoff, and Wilhelm Ostwald pioneered the application of thermodynamics to chemistry.
Further contributions were the phase rule of J. W. Gibbs, the ionization equilibrium theory
of S. A. Arrhenius, and the heat theorem of Walther Nernst. Ernst Fischer’s work on the
amino acids marks the beginning of molecular biology.
At the end of the 19th cent., the discovery of the electron by J. J. Thomson and of
radioactivity by A. E. Becquerel revealed the close connection between chemistry and
physics. The work of Ernest Rutherford, H. G. J. Moseley, and Niels Bohr on atomic
structure (see atom) was applied to molecular structures. G. N. Lewis, Irving Langmuir,
and Linus Pauling developed the electronic theory of chemical bonds, directed valency,
and molecular orbitals (see molecular orbital theory). Transmutation of the elements, first
achieved by Rutherford, has led to the creation of elements not found in nature; in work
pioneered by Glenn Seaborg elements heavier than uranium have been produced. With the
rapid development of polymer chemistry after World War II a host of new synthetic fibers
and materials have been added to the market. A fuller understanding of the relation
between the structure of molecules and their properties has allowed chemists to tailor
predictively new materials to meet specific needs.