Chemistry’s Essential Tensions: Three Views of a Science in Culture
with Roald Hoffmann
Offered in partnership with The New York Hall of Science
Monday, November 3, 2014

Chemistry is, as it has always been, the art, craft, and business of substances and their transformations. It is now also the science of microscopic molecules, both simple and complex. And then there are people’s perceptions of chemistry – alternating between seeing the healing and the hurting aspects of this truly anthropic science. The underlying psychological tensions will be explored, as will the strong element of creation or synthesis in chemistry, which brings chemistry close to the arts. This Master Class will also explore protochemistries, the transformations of matter that people did before there were chemists. In winning metals from their ores, using them in weapons and decorative objects, in preparing and preserving food, in cosmetics, medicines, ceramics, in tanning leather, in dyes, in cleansing and mummification, craftsmen and women in every culture came up with some darn good experimental chemistry. Their achievements form a natural bridge between chemists and non-chemists, and between chemistry and culture. Protochemistries connect our world.

Roald Hoffmann was born in 1937 in Złoczów, Poland. Having survived the war, he came to the U. S. in 1949, and grew up in New York (P.S. 93 Queens, P.S. 16 Brooklyn, Stuyvesant High School!). At Cornell University since 1965, he is now the Frank H.T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters Emeritus. In chemistry he has taught his colleagues how to think about electrons influencing structure and reactivity, and won most of the honors of his profession, including the Nobel Prize. Hoffmann is also a writer – of poetry, essays, non-fiction, and plays — carving out his own land between poetry, philosophy, and science.