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24 June 2004

Nobel Prize Laureate Roald Hoffmann New Honorary Senator of the University of Heidelberg

Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff: "It is an indication of Roald Hoffmann's personal stature that, although his family was almost completely wiped out by the National Socialists, he has not allowed resentment to prevent him from cultivating a special relationship with university chemists in Germany" — Long and close contacts with Heidelberg's Institute of Chemistry — A committed friend and supporter of the University of Heidelberg

At its latest meeting (22 June), the Senate of the University of Heidelberg resolved to confer the status of Honorary Senator on Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Roald Hoffmann. He is Frank H. T. Rhodes professor of humane letters and professor of chemistry, a Nobel Prize chemistry laureate (1981) and works at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology of Cornell University, Ithaca, USA. "It is an indication of Roald Hoffman's personal stature, "said Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff, speaking before the Senate, "that, although his family was almost completely wiped out by the National Socialists, he has not allowed resentment to prevent him from cultivating a special relationship with Germany university scientists, up to 1989 in both German states. He has entertained long and close professional and personal contacts with the University of Heidelberg and has always been a committed friend and supporter of the Faculty of Chemistry and hence of our University as a whole."

Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Roald Hoffman was born in 1937 to Jewish parents in Zloczow (then eastern Poland). After studying physics and obtaining his doctorate in chemistry (with William N. Lipscomb, Nobel Prize for chemistry 1976), he became a member of the staff of Cornell University, where he was initially John A. Newman professor of physical science, later becoming Frank H. T. Rhodes professor of humane letters and chemistry in 1996.

Prof. Hoffmann survived the holocaust and after periods in the displaced persons camps in Linz, Wasseralfingen and Munich arrived in the United States at the age of 11. In later years, he sought and cultivated close and wide-ranging contacts with scientists from Germany. Countless personal and professional friendships have linked him with a large number of German colleagues for many years. In the last three decades, many of his co-workers have hailed from Germany, so that his activities as a mentor and an academic teacher have been of ongoing benefit to younger scientists from this country. This is borne out by the fact that today about a dozen chairs of chemistry in Germany are occupied by former members of the Hoffmann Group.

"Roald Hoffmann's scientific achievement is unique in terms of the influence it has had on modern chemistry and has made him one of the most internationally renowned chemists of our time," said Prof. Dr. Peter Hofmann, Dean of the Heidelberg Faculty of Chemistry and Earth Sciences. His specialty is quantum chemistry, which he has had a decisive impact on over the last 35 years and more. Peter Hofmann went on to say that only very few "pure theoreticians" can claim to have had such a formative effect on the thinking of experimental chemists and on the development of practical and industrial chemistry. At present his scientific oeuvre encompasses over 500 articles and several books. The number of visiting professorships and lectureships conferred on him all over the world easily tops the 100 mark. He has received over 30 honorary doctorates and has been awarded more or less all the significant scientific prizes in chemistry, including the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1981, which he shared with K. Fukui from Japan.

Roald Hoffmann's work is profoundly marked by his commitment as an academic teacher and researcher. More recently, this commitment has been equalled by his activities for the common weal. There is probably no other contemporary scientist who, alongside his immense scientific reputation and productivity, has devoted so much of his time and energy to furthering public and social understanding of the role played by the sciences in the present-day world. Two instances of this commitment are the television series "The World of Chemistry" broadcast in a large number of countries and his intensive activities as a columnist in magazines and newspapers (American Scientist, New York Times, Times), where he has regularly addressed himself to the scientifically interested public over a long period of years.

So far he has authored some 150 publications (articles and essays in newspapers, journals, magazines, etc.) focussing on general scientific subjects, nature philosophy, the history of science and social policy. They are significant contributions to bridging the gap between the sciences and the humanities and are notable for their stylistic brilliance and logical clarity. Hoffmann's commitment to a form of general scientific education that is both relevant to with the concerns of the day and based on the principles of democracy has brought him acclaim far beyond the borders of his home country.

Since about 1980, his keen interest above all in German and Russian literature has made itself felt in his own publications as a poet and writer. Alongside his scientific and socio-political publications Roald Hoffmann has created a significant literary oeuvre. Instances of his artistic activities are a large number of poems and essays published in literary journals or in book form, public exhibitions on the subject of chemistry and art (e.g. at the Deutsches Museum in Munich) and a play by the name of "O2 Oxygen", written in collaboration with Carl Djerassi (the inventor of the "pill") and first staged in 2001. Since then it has been successfully performed in the United States, London, Würzburg and Munich, as well as on West German radio. His book "Chemistry Imagined: Reflections on Science" earned him the literature prize of the Confederation of German Chemical Industries in 1997. He has written several volumes of poetry and some 120 of his poems have been published, many of them translated into other languages and some of them even set to music.

Dean Peter Hofmann: "Conferring the status of Honorary Senator of the University of Heidelberg on Roald Hoffmann is not only a token of his worldwide reputation as a scientist and a truly universal mind. It is also a fitting appreciation of what he has done for chemistry in Heidelberg and Germany in general and will cement intensive new links for the future."

Please address any inquiries to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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