Nobel Prize-winning Chemist Roald Hoffman to Speak at Ithaca College

ITHACA, NY — Roald Hoffman, winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, will give a free public talk at Ithaca College on Thursday, Feb. 13. Hoffman will present “Protochemistries are a Bridge” at 4 p.m. in room 112, Center for Natural Sciences.

Hoffman is the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters, Emeritus, at Cornell University. He shared the Nobel with Japanese chemist Kenichi Fukui for their theories, developed independently, concerning the course of chemical reactions.

Hoffman joined the Cornell faculty in 1965 after earning his Ph.D. from Harvard, where he worked under the direction of future Nobel–winning chemist William N. Lipscomb Jr. He describes his particular blend of computations stimulated by experiment and the construction of generalized models as “applied theoretical chemistry.”

In his talk, Hoffman will discuss how people did chemistry before there were ever chemists, as the need to transform matter is inherent in the human condition.

“In winning metals from their ores, using them in weapons and decorative objects; in preparing and preserving food; in cosmetics, medicines and ceramics; in tanning leather and in dyes; and in cleansing and mummification, craftsmen and women in every culture came up with some superb experimental chemistry,” says Hoffman. “These stories of protochemistry, some of which I will relate, to this day form a natural bridge between chemists and nonchemists, between chemistry and culture.”

Hoffmann is recognized for his extensive contributions to increasing public understanding of science. He cohosted “The World of Chemistry,” a series of videos that explored various topics in chemistry; published two collections of poetry; coauthored the play “Oxygen,” about the importance of the process of discovery in science; and hosts the monthly cabaret “Entertaining Science” at New York City’s Cornelia Street Cafe.

The presentation is sponsored by the Department of Chemistry in the School of Humanities and Sciences. For more information, contact Maria Russell at

Nobel Prize winner Roald Hoffman will present "Protochemistries are a Bridge" at Ithaca College. Photo by Gary Hodges.