© The Nobel Foundation
Roald Hoffman

American Jewish Recipients of the Nobel Prize

Roald Hoffman: Nobel Prize in Chemistry Recipient-1981
by Seymour “Sy” Brody

Roald Hoffmann is an American Jewish recipient of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, in 1981, which he shared with Kenichi Fukui, for their theories, developed independently, concerning the course of chemical reactions.

He was born on July 18, 1937, to Clara and Hillel Safran, in Zioczow, Poland. He was named after Roald Amundsen, an explorer, who was the first to reach the South Pole. His father was a civil engineer and his mother was a school teacher.

From 1939-1941 they were under Russian rule until Hitler’s German Armies captured Poland. His family and the other Jews, were sent to a German concentration camp. His father smuggled out his mother and him and he remained and was killed. A sympathetic Ukrainian looked after them as they lived in an attic in a school house in another village. The Russian Army liberated his mother and him in June of 1944.

His mother married Paul Hoffmann, who was very caring to his mother and himself. They finally immigrated to America in February 1949. Elinor, his half-sister, was born in 1954. He married Eva Borjesson, in 1960. They had two children: Hillel, in 1963, and Ingrid Helena, in 1965.

He graduated Stuyvesant High School, in New York City, 1955. He earned his BA. at Columbia University, 1958, He then went to Harvard University earning a Master’s Degree, 1960, and a PHD, 1962. He then went to Cornell University as a Professor of Physical Science, 1965--.

Roald Hoffmann received many awards and recognitions in his career;
• Eli Lilly, Consultant
• Kodak, Consultant
• American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1971
• American Chemical Society
• American Physical Society
• National Academy of Sciences, 1971
• National Science Foundation
• Royal Society, 1984
• Guggenheim Fellowship, 1978
• National Medal of Science
• Priestly Medal, 1990
• American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal, 2006

He was the author of two books of poetry: “The Metamict,” 1987 and “Gaps and Verges,” 1991. He was involved in the production of a television course about the world of Chemistry in 26 half-hour programs developed by the University of Maryland for PBS, in 1990.

Other books to his credit are: “Chemistry Imagined,” with the artist Vivian Torrence, 1993, and “The Same and Not the Same,” 1995.

In 1997, he wrote with Shira Leibowitz Schmidt, “Old Wine, New Flasks, Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition.” This book was about the relationship of how science and religion react to the mundane issues of life.

Hoffmann with Carl Djerassi wrote a play, “Oxygen.” It premiered in 2001, at the San Diego Repertory Theater. It also was performed in the Riverside Theater, in London, and in Munich, Germany.

Roald Hoffmann is currently teaching at Cornell University, in Ithaca, New York.

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