Roald Hoffmann was born in Zloczow, Poland, in 1937. Having survived the Nazi occupation, he arrived in the U.S. in 1949, after several years of post-war wandering in Europe. He graduated from Stuyvesant High School, Columbia University, and proceeded to take his Ph.D. in 1962, at Harvard University, working with W. N. Lipscomb and Martin Gouterman. Dr. Hoffmann stayed on at Harvard University from 1962-1965, as a Junior Fellow in the Society of Fellows. Since 1965, he has been at Cornell University, where he is now the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters Emeritus.
Professor Hoffmann is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, The American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. He has been elected a Foreign Member of the Royal Society, the Indian National Science Academy, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters, the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Nordrhein-Westfällische Academy of Sciences, and the Leopoldina. He has received numerous honors, including over twenty-five honorary degrees. He is the only person ever to have received the American Chemical Society's awards in three different specific subfields of chemistry — the A. C. Cope Award in Organic Chemistry, the Award in Inorganic Chemistry, and the Pimentel Award in Chemical Education. As well as two other ACS awards. In 1981, he shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Kenichi Fukui.
"Applied theoretical chemistry" is the way Roald Hoffmann likes to characterize the particular blend of computations stimulated by experiment and the construction of generalized models, of frameworks for understanding, that is his contribution to chemistry. In more than 500 scientific articles and two books he has taught the chemical community new and useful ways to look at the geometry and reactivity of molecules, from organic through inorganic to infinitely extended structures.
Dr. Hoffmann participated in the production of a television course about chemistry. "The World of Chemistry" is a series of 26 half-hour programs developed at the University of Maryland and produced by Richard Thomas. Dr. Hoffmann is the Presenter for the series, which has been aired on PBS beginning in 1990, and has been shown widely abroad.
Roald Hoffmann has also written popular and scholarly articles on science and other subjects. His poetry has appeared in various literary magazines. Two collections, entitled "The Metamict State" (1987) and "Gaps and Verges" (1990), were published by the University of Florida Press; "Memory Effects," was published in 1999 by the Calhoun Press of Columbia College, Chicago. At the end of 2002 two poetry collections were published by Roald Hoffmann, “Soliton,” by Truman State University Press, and volume of selected poems translated into Spanish, “Catalísta.”
In 1993 the Smithsonian Institution Press published "Chemistry Imagined." A unique art/science/literature collaboration of Roald Hoffmann with artist Vivian Torrence, "Chemistry Imagined" reveals the creative and humanistic sparks of chemistry. A series of thirty collages by Torrence paired with short essays, personal commentary, and poems by Hoffmann evokes the magic of the molecular science. The book has been translated into Spanish and Chinese. In 1995, Columbia University Press published Hoffmann's "The Same and Not the Same." This book points to the dualities that lie under the surface of chemistry, and that endow this seemingly quiet central science with tension. There are German, Korean, Spanish, Portuguese (in press) and two Chinese translations of this book. In 1997, W.H. Freeman published "Old Wine, New Flasks; Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition," by Roald Hoffmann and Shira Leibowitz Schmidt. This book looks in a nonconfrontational (and witty) way at how science and religion, dealing with the mundane, are both led to eternal and important questions of authority, purity, identity, the natural and the unnatural. Spanish and Italian translations of this book will appear.
A play, "Oxygen," by Carl Djerassi and Roald Hoffmann premiered in the U.S. at the San Diego Repertory Theatre in 2001, and had productions in London, East Lansing, MI, Madison, WI, Columbus, OH, Germany, Korea, Japan and Toronto. “Oxygen” has been translated into many languages. A second play by Roald Hoffmann, "Should’ve," has had two workshop productions and several readings since 2006, and a new play, "We Have Something That Belongs to You," had its first production in 2009.