Woodward, R. B. (Robert Burns), 1917-1979

Alternative names
Birth 1917-04-10
Death 1979-07-08

Biographical notes:

Robert Burns Woodward (1917-1979) joined the Chemistry Department at Harvard University in 1938. He was appointed Morris Loeb Professor of Chemistry in 1958 and held the Donner Professorship of Science from 1960 until his death. Woodward was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1965 for his work in organic chemistry.

From the description of Papers of Robert Burns Woodward, 1873-1980 (inclusive), 1930-1979 (bulk). (Harvard University). WorldCat record id: 76973225

Robert Burns Woodward (1917-1979), American chemist, Harvard professor, and 1965 Nobel Prize winner, is noted most for his work in organic synthesis.

Woodward was born in Quincy, Massachusetts, on April 10, 1917, the son of Arthur and Margaret Woodward. He received his elementary and high school education in Quincy public schools, and was graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1937 with both B.S. and Ph.D. degrees. In 1938 Woodward came to Harvard as private assistant to Professor E. P. Kohler and was soon thereafter appointed to the Society of Fellows. In 1941, he became an instructor in chemistry, progressing to an appointment as full professor in 1950. Woodward was appointed Morris Loeb Professor of Chemistry in 1953, and held the Donner Professorship of Science from 1960 until his death on July 8, 1979.

The following chronology of his work was adapted from that provided by his daughter Crystal Woodward in Art and Elegance in the Synthesis of Organic Compounds: Robert Burns Woodward published in Creative Peogle at Work , Oxford University Press, 1989.

  • 1934: Publishes first scientific paper
  • 1940 - 1942 : Publishes four papers on rules for the correlation of ultraviolet spectroscopy with molecular structure; known as the Woodward Rules
  • 1942: Writes early paper on the Diels-Alder reaction
  • 1944: Completes synthesis of quinine
  • 1945 - 1956 : Determines the structure of penicillin, patulin, strychnine, terramycin, aureomycin, and magnamycin
  • 1951: Synthesis of the steroids cholesterol and cortisone
  • 1954: Synthesis of strychnine and lysergic acid
  • 1956: Synthesis of reserpine
  • 1960: Completes synthesis of chlorophyll, which took four years
  • 1963: Begins work at the Woodward Research Institute Synthesis of cephalosporin C
  • 1965 - 1969 : Development of the laws of the conservation of orbital symmetry, with Roald Hoffman
  • 1972: Synthesis of vitamin B12 completed with A. Eschenmoser

From the guide to the Papers of Robert Burns Woodward, 1873-1980, 1930-1979, (Harvard University Archives)


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Ark ID:


  • Chemistry, organic--Research
  • Vitamin B12--Motion pictures
  • Chemistry, organic--Study and teaching (Higher)


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  • Massachusetts--Cambridge (as recorded)