William Nunn Lipscomb

Prof. Dr. William Nunn Lipscomb

Nationality
United States 
Institution
Harvard University, Cambridge 
Award
1976 
Discipline
Chemistry 
Co-recipients
 

Biography on the Official Web Site of the Nobel Prize

CURRICULUM VITAE

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 9, 1919, Lipscomb began his studies at the University of Kentucky, where he obtained his B.Sc., and then entered graduate school at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, where he received his Ph.D. in 1946. Subsequently he joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota, at first as assistant professor, then as head of the Physical Chemistry Division and from 1954 as professor and head of the Department of Chemistry. His work focused on boron-hydrogen compounds (boranes), which were considered a particularly sensitive issue because of their toxicity, aggressiveness and tendency to explode. By the time he followed a call to Cambridge in 1959, where he became full professor and head of the Chemistry Department of Harvard University, he had already solved quite a few of the mysteries associated with boranes.

The award of the Nobel Prize in 1976 in recognition of his pioneering work on boranes hardly came as a surprise to experts of the field, since Lipscomb had over the past ten years gained new insights into the particular spatial ("topographical") conditions prevailing in these unstable molecules. Amongst other things he discovered unusual fluctuations of the bonds and the electrons responsible for them. He developed a theory that allowed him to define rules governing linkages between boron and hydrogen atoms as well as between boron atoms. Such molecules can no longer be regarded as firmly organised entities because all their atoms are, so to speak, linked with each other equivalently. Finally, Lipscomb even developed a technique for using boranes as source materials for an entire family of innovative synthetic materials. Another field in which he has worked most successfully is enzyme chemistry.

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William Nunn Lipscomb

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