Robert Burns Woodward

Robert Burns Woodward ( born April 10, 1917 in Boston, Massachusetts, USA;. † July 8, 1979 in Cambridge, Mass. ) was an American chemist and Nobel laureate. His field was organic chemistry.


Woodward was born in 1917 in Boston, the only child of English immigrants Arthur Woodward and the native Scottish Margarett Burns. In 1938 he married Irja Pullman, with whom he had two daughters, in 1946 Eudoxia Muller. From this marriage a son and a daughter were born.

Scientific career

Woodward developed age of 12, a first synthesis of quinine. From 1933 to 1937 he studied chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge / Massachusetts and graduated in 1937 (20 years) with a doctorate. He then worked briefly at the University of Illinois. In the same year he moved to Harvard University; first as a postdoctoral fellow and assistant professor from 1944. In 1950 he became a full professor there and remained there until his death. Since 1963, he headed beyond the by Ciba- Geigy AG financed Woodward Research Institute in Basel, Switzerland.

For his scientific work Woodward was awarded numerous honorary doctorates, honorary memberships and awards, including the 1965 Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1978 and the Copley Medal of the Royal Society.

Scientific Importance

Woodward was one of the most important natural product synthetic chemists of the 20th century. Woodward sat the first chemist systematically physical methods, such as UV and IR spectroscopy for structure elucidation of organic compounds. Another significant achievement was the application of the theory of electrons in reaction mechanisms for solving structural and synthetic problems.

Very complex natural product syntheses of organic molecules presented at that time still new territory dar. On the basis of its excellent synthesis of natural products between 1937 - 1950 was later followed by many other scientists and built from this area. His syntheses he planned very carefully, used here in a special way as a first U.S. chemist stereochemical and spatial configuration of the molecules and the protecting groups used. He recognized the advantages of the Diels -Alder reaction for stereoselective syntheses (eg, reserpine, estrone ) and the importance of the Claisen rearrangement, as a result, he developed from these findings, the Woodward -Hoffmann rules.

In 1965 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on the synthesis of natural products. Among others, he conducted research on antibiotics and developed total syntheses of quinine, cholesterol, cortisone, strychnine, lysergic acid, reserpine, chlorophyll, colchicine, estrone, tetracycline, erythromycin, prostaglandin, and together with Albert Eschenmoser in the years 1960-1972 vitamin B12.

Also in 1965, he developed together with his staff Roald Hoffmann, the Woodward -Hoffmann rules, which explain the stereochemistry of the products of certain organic reactions. For this work, Hoffmann got the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Numerous academic student of Robert B. Woodward gained influential academic positions around the world. In addition, he became a member of the German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina 1968 - elected National Academy of Sciences.