WASHINGTON, March 22, 2009 — The American Chemical Society (ACS) will present the James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, one of the most prestigious in science journalism, to noted chemist and author Roald Hoffmann, Ph.D. He will receive the award at the ACS’ 237th National Meeting in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 24, for his contributions in interpreting chemistry for the public. The ACS is also planning an award celebration at the Society’s fall national meeting in Washington, D.C., Aug. 16-20.
In addition to sharing the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Hoffmann has made numerous contributions to public understanding of chemistry and science. In describing Hoffmann's ability to communicate chemistry to the public, Ben Patrusky, executive director of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing, calls Hoffmann "a troubadour of science in general, and chemistry in particular."
Currently the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor Emeritus of Humane Letters in Cornell University's department of chemistry and chemical biology, Hoffmann considers his major contribution to be what he conveys as a teacher. He is the author of two science books, two plays and more than 500 journal articles. His poems have been published in five books and many magazines and have been translated into 10 languages.
"The World of Chemistry," a public television course in introductory chemistry with 26 half-hour episodes hosted by Hoffmann, aired in the 1990s. The back cover of "The Same and Not the Same," published by Columbia University Press, proclaims, "Hoffmann does for chemistry what Stephen Hawking did for cosmology; he illuminates a science that for many has been shrouded in mystery."
As an 11-year-old arriving in the United States after having survived the Nazi occupation of his native Poland, Hoffmann embraced life with the few surviving members of his family. Perhaps the war induced him to work too hard to please people, he says, but if so, the outcome has been very positive.
Hoffmann says he got to chemistry "sideways, so to speak." Parental pressure nudged him toward pre-med. He claims not to have had the courage to go into the humanities — a world that opened up to him as an undergraduate at Columbia University. By 1961, something had clicked, and he knew that chemistry was his science. Commenting on having won the award 48 years later, Hoffmann, 71, says “I think chemistry is just plain fun. I would like to tell people the stories of chemistry."
The Grady-Stack Award is an annual award named for James T. Grady and James H. Stack, two former managers of the ACS News Service. Established in 1955, the award recognizes and stimulates outstanding reporting that promotes the public’s understanding of chemistry, chemical engineering and related fields. The award consists of $3,000, a gold medallion and a bronze replica.