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Robert Burns Woodward Edit Profile

chemist , researcher , scientist

Robert Burns Woodward was an American chemist, winner of the 1965 Nobel Prize in chemistry for his contributions to the art of organic synthesis. Woodward was the most outstanding synthetic organic chemist of his generation.


Woodward was born in Boston, Massachussets, on April 10, 1917.


After receiving his doctorate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1937, he joined Harvard College in 1941 and was appointed professor in 1950, a post he held until his death.


He was responsible for the synthesis of many complex natural products, including quinine, an alkaloid used in the treatment of malaria (1944); the medically important steroids cholesterol and cortisone (1951); strychnine, a potent nitrogen-containing poison of plant origin (1954); and chlorophyll, green pigments occurring in leaves, bacteria, and organisms capable of photosynthesis (1960). Among his other achievements were the synthesis of the tranquillizing drug reserpine, the synthesis of lysergic acid, which as lysergic acid diethylamide (LSD) is one of the most potent hallucinogens known, and contributions leading to the determination of the molecular structure of modern medical chemicals such as penicillin and terramycin. In 1972 Woodward and his colleagues completed the synthesis of B-12, the most complicated molecule to have been made in a laboratory to that time. His death at the age of 62 interrupted his work on the synthesis of the antibiotic erythromycin.


  • Woodward was best known for his syntheses of complex organic substances, including cholesterol and cortisone (1951), strychnine (1954), and vitamin B12 (1971).

    He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1965, “for his outstanding achievements in the art of organic chemistry. ”