Saturday, December 28, 2013

The Incredibly Consistent R.B. Woodward

Fans of the blog know of my playful hero-worship of R.B. Woodward. A man so well-known for both his chemical triumphs and signature eccentricities (blue suits, cigarettes, slow lectures) should expect nothing less.

Recently, the ACS Division of Organic Chemistry gave me good reason to go goof around on their newly-designed site. I became especially intrigued with their collection of old National Organic Symposium brochures. Among male contemporaries, only E.J. Corey spoke at more NOS meetings (8) than RBW (tied with six others at 6 apiece).

Check out my slow-mo time-lapse photography, culled from appearances in the NOS brochures:

First, E.J. Corey, over a 52-year NOS span:

Next, RBW, over 28 years:

Wow. Same suit, same glasses, same haircut, same expression, far as I can tell!
(He really favored that left side, huh?)

Check out the titles of Woodward's talks:
  • 1977 - "Recent Advances in the Chemistry of Natural Products"
  • 1967 - "Recent Advances in the Chemistry of Natural Products"
  • 1957 - "Recent Advances in the Chemistry of Natural Products"
  • 1953 - "Recent Advances in the Chemistry of Natural Products"
  • 1949 - "Recent Studies on the Structure of Natural Products"
(P.S. All of E.J.'s talk titles were completely different!)


  1. Neat! Just gives credence to the suspicion that R B was actually an immortal Martian disguised as a human. Interestingly there's one prominent chemist whose photo you will find exactly once in the NOCS - Carl Djerassi. For all his major accomplishments the man has always been regarded by many of his peers as an outsider, an industrial scientist who just happened to make his his way into academia.

  2. Your comments and your culling of pictures is quite cool. I had noticed the consistent RBW NOS titles, but never thought much about it. I figured this gave him the flexibility to show up and talk about the most interesting chemistry of the moment. Ed Fenlon and I were quite pleased with ourselves when we got our hands on all the the NOS program books in the fall of 2011. At that time, no one knew if the entire collection existed and there was not a complete list of the locations of the NOS let alone the list of speakers.

    While the DOC site was redesigned in 2010, I am glad that someone is noticing things. I/we are always looking for ways to improve the site to make it better for organic chemists. Send your comments via the Contact Us form...we do listen...although right now I somehow feel like an NSA agent. Best wishes for a great 2014.

  3. The Iron ChemistJanuary 02, 2014 9:30 AM

    I guess EJC got Lasiked sometime between 1999 and 2007.

  4. This is a useful guide. However, I wish you had started with infant gifts. I have had a terrible time buying items for my granddaughter that aren’t a) pink and/or b) ridiculous. And please don’t get me started on why every single piece of boy’s clothing seems to have a sports-related design. Why on earth are baby toys gender-specific?

  5. prof premraj pushpakaran writes -- 2017 marks the 100th birth year of Robert Burns Woodward !!!!!!