B.R.S.M. When all you have is a hammer everything looks like a nail


Announcing: Woodward Wednesdays

It's been suggested that I need a few more (semi-) regular features, and a number of people seem to have enjoyed some of the work from the older literature I've highlighted (my posts on Eaton's synthesis of cubane and Hoffmann's use of TNT are among the most popular I've written). I considered a few possible ways of combining these two and, after chatting to a wise coworker, I have decided to launch Woodward Wednesdays. Basically, I'll post something about work done by R. B. Woodward on roughly one Wednesday a month until you or I get bored. I'm not going to write a long justification of this - the man was a genius and hopefully we can learn something from him.

The inspiration for this series was probably the recent appearance of Woodward's notes on organic superconductors being published in the current issue of tetrahedron (Tet., 2011, 67, 6771-6797) with a wonderful accompanying article in C&En, which just reminded me what a remarkable individual he was, with an enviable breadth of research interests far beyond organic synthesis. Bits of the tetrahedron article are way over my head, but the C&En article is a very enjoyable read. The latter contains a number of recollections from Woodward's son, including this one from his teenage years:

“My father arrived punctually at home at 6:25 every night for dinner. One night we sat down and he said, ‘I’ve had an inspiration. I think I can make a room-temperature superconductor.’ He described how that would be a material that loses no energy as it conducts electricity over large distances and how that would change the world,” Eric remembers. “He rarely would say anything about chemistry, but this day he was particularly inspired.”

Wow, nothing like setting your sights high! From talking to a few physicists I know, I get the impression we're still nowhere near this goal 40 years later. But Woodward gave it serious thought, producing 699 pages (or around 8") of notes on everything from scraps of paper to hotel stationary and napkins, all bearing his characteristic beautiful hand drawn structures.

Another piece on Woodward's involvement with the Woodward Research Institute in Basel, Switzerland and the work done there appeared in Helvetica Chemica Acta back in June, further illustrating the continued interest in the life and work of this amazing chemist (HCA, 2011, 94, 923-946). So, I'm getting on the Woodward bandwagon. First post next Wednesday. Look forward to it!


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