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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

Nobel Prize Winner Roald Hoffmann to Deliver Keynote at Sept. 20 Conference

A Nobel Prize-winning chemist is the featured speaker for a Sept. 20 gathering of researchers at the University of Mississippi.

Roald Hoffmann, Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters Emeritus at Cornell University, delivers the keynote address at the 2011 Mississippi Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research Fall Research Forum. The free, public event at the Inn at Ole Miss begins at 9 a.m. Seating is limited and will be on a first-come, first-served basis.

“The lecture is on the strange things that happen under high pressure – such as that at the center of the Earth – where a cube of steel is compressed to a volume one-fifth of its size at the surface of the Earth,” Hoffmann said. “Remarkably, a chemical intuition helps one understand what happens.”

Although Hoffmann’s lecture, titled “The Chemical Imagination at Work in Very Tight Places,” is intended for a scientific audience, the discussion is fairly general and should be of interest to nonscientists, he said.

While this is the speaker’s first visit to Oxford and Ole Miss, it is not his first time in Mississippi.

“I have been in romantic Gulfport and the Gulf region one time before,” Hoffmann said. “As for many, my expectations are connected to reading Faulkner. I look forward to having them updated!”

University officials encourage the public to attend.

“Dr. Hoffman’s Nobel prize-winning work on the theory of chemical reactions is considered among the most important breakthroughs in chemistry,” said Alice Clark, vice chancellor for research and sponsored programs. “His visit to our campus gives our students and faculty – as well as those from other Mississippi universities – an extraordinary and unique opportunity to have a conversation with someone whose ideas quite literally changed the world of science.

“It will undoubtedly be a memorable and inspiring experience for all and, I expect, a challenge to our students to recognize and appreciate the value of creativity in both the sciences and the arts.”

“Opportunities to hear a lecture from or actually meet a Nobel laureate are quite rare,” said Greg Tschumper, UM associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “Professor Hoffmann’s visit is a tremendous opportunity for students and faculty at the University of Mississippi and even for the Oxford community.”

Hoffmann has tremendous insight into human nature, and his accomplishments as a teacher and ambassador of science are just as impressive, Tschumper said. “He has a gift for building bridges to the arts and humanities, as well as the general public, which was recognized at the national level when he received the 2009 Public Service Award from the National Science Board.”

In celebration of Hoffman’s presence on campus, some UM faculty and students will read from one of his plays at 7 p.m. Sept. 19 in the Studio Theater of the Gertrude Ford Center for the Performing Arts. That event is also free to the public with limited seating.

“I need more of an audience for my plays than for my science,” Hoffmann said.

A native of Poland, Hoffmann studied chemistry at Columbia and Harvard universities. On Cornell’s faculty for more than four decades, he has received numerous professional honors, including the 1981 Nobel Prize in chemistry (shared with Kenichi Fukui).

“Applied theoretical chemistry” is the way Hoffmann characterizes the particular blend of computations inspired by experiment and the construction of generalized models that is his contribution to chemistry.

Noted for his outreach to the general public, Hoffmann participated in the production of a television course in introductory chemistry titled “The World of Chemistry,” shown widely since 1990. The author has covered science, poetry and philosophy in many essays and three books: “Chemistry Imagined” with artist Vivian Torrence, “The Same and Not the Same and Old Wine” (translated into two languages) and “New Flasks: Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition” with Shira Leibowitz Schmidt.

Hoffmann is also an accomplished poet and playwright. His collections include “The Metamict State,” “Gaps and Verges,” “Memory Effects” and “Soliton.” A bilingual selection of his poems has appeared in Spanish, another in Russian. He has also co-written a play with fellow chemist Carl Djerassi titled “Oxygen,” which has been performed worldwide and translated into 10 languages. Hoffmann’s second play, “Should’ve,” has had several productions. His latest, “We Have Something That Belongs to You,” had its first workshop production in 2009. A monthly cabaret Hoffmann runs at the Cornelia Street Cafe in Greenwich Village, dubbed “Entertaining Science,” has become a hot cheap ticket in New York.