Polish-born American chemist, corecipient, with Fukui Kenichi of Japan,
of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1981 for their independent investigations
of the mechanisms of chemical reactions.
Hoffmann undertook the research leading to his share of the prize when
he and Woodward sought an explanation of the unexpected course taken
by a reaction that Woodward and his colleagues had hoped to use in the
synthesis of the complicated molecule of vitamin B12. Hoffmann and Woodward
discovered that many reactions involving the formation or breaking of
rings of atoms take courses that depend on an identifiable symmetry
in the mathematical descriptions of the molecular orbitals that undergo
the most change. Their theory, expressed in a set of statements now
called the Woodward-Hoffmann rules, accounts for the failure of certain
cyclic compounds to form from apparently appropriate starting materials,
though others are readily produced; it also clarifies the geometric
arrangement of the atoms in the products formed when the rings in cyclic
compounds are broken.
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