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Airdate: Feb 09, 2001
Scientist: Roald Hoffmann

Renaissance Chemist

Renaissance Chemist
Chemistry doesn't necessarily mean working with bubbling concoctions and bunsen burners. Some chemists work in the realm of ideas.


When you picture a chemist, it's typically someone wearing a white coat and goggles, in a laboratory full of glass tubes and beakers. But some chemists don't necessarily deal with bubbling concoctions and bunsen burners -- they work with ideas. I'm Jim Metzner, and this is the Pulse of the Planet, presented by Dupont.

"I'm a theoretician. I calculate, using computers, how electrons move in molecules. And then I think very hard about those calculations, and try to reason out from them why they came out the way they did, but also try to reason, through them, to give simple arguments that are of use to other chemists."

Roald Hoffmann is a theoretical chemist at Cornell University , where he works hand in hand with experimental chemists.

"The questions that I work on, of structure and reactivity in molecules interest me because they are there to be asked and answered and they are problems that bother experimentalists. So they make a molecule and they determine its shape or structure and they find that one piece of it is bent and another one is stretched out linear and they don't really know why. So I'm there as a theoretician to answer that question, to also make some predictions. In the larger scope, these principles that we derive theoretically will be of use to experimentalists who are making all the chemical things that are useful -- new pharmaceuticals, catalysts, but my direct concern is really a curiosity."

Roald Hoffman is a not only a chemist -- he is also an accomplished poet and writer. We'll hear what it's like to move between the worlds of art and science, in our next program. Pulse of the Planet is presented by Dupont, bringing you the miracles of science, with additional support provided by the National Science Foundation. I'm Jim Metzner.