Roald Hoffmann, Frank H.T Rhodes Professor Emeritus of Humane Letters, was awarded the inaugural Primo Levi Prize from the German Chemical Society and the Italian Chemical Society in Berlin, Germany Sept. 10.
The prize, named after the great Italian writer who also was a chemist, honors chemists who promote human rights and improve the dialogue between chemistry and society. Hoffmann received the prize for upholding ethical standards in chemistry as well as poetry, plays, and essays that reach out from science to the arts while promoting responsibility and respect.
Hoffmann, born in Poland to a Jewish family, came to the United States in 1949 after surviving World War II, and received his Ph.D from Harvard in 1962. He began teaching at Cornell in 1965. In 1981, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Kenichi Fukui for “their theories, developed independently, concerning the course of chemical reactions.”
His research interests focused on the electronic structure of stable and unstable molecules and in the study of transition states in reactions. He is the recipient of more than 30 honorary degrees and has won many other awards, including the National Medal of Science in 1983.
Hoffmann is also an accomplished writer, poet, and playwright. His artistic interests explore the connections between art and science. His books, “ Chemistry Imagined,” “The Same and Not the Same and Old Wine,” and “New Flasks: Reflections on Science” merge science, poetry and philosophy. He began writing poetry in the 1970s, and his published collections include “The Metamict State,” “Gaps and Verges,” and “Chemistry Imagined.” His play entitled “Oxygen,” about the nature of discovery, as well as two other plays, have been performed worldwide.