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Roald Hoffmann's lecture on the idea of The One Culture


Roald Hoffmann's Chemistry Imagined
Oliver Sacks Scientist
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It was at that time, also, that I read a remarkable book called Chemistry Imagined [Reflections on Science]. This was by a chemist, a great chemist, a great theoretical chemist, Roald Hoffmann and his collaborator, Vivian Torrence. There are lovely illustrations in the book. I was deeply fascinated by this because it was really an amazing portrait of the chemical imagination, the creative imagination of chemists. Roald himself had this to a supreme degree. If Neils Bohr and others had come to understand the structure of the atom, Roald Hoffmann had worked out the nature of the chemical bond and how molecules are kept together for which he got a Nobel Prize. And so, he was well equipped to speak from the inside about the chemical imagination but also, himself being a considerable historian and knowing all his forerunners and precursors, he could speak about them. And so I wrote a letter. I... I often write letters to people if I read a book by them and love it. And I... I wrote to him: Dear... Dear Dr Hoffmann, Dear Professor Hoffmann. We had some correspondence and then I met him when he came to New York. I think in '95.

Oliver Sacks (1933-2015) was born in England. Having obtained his medical degree at Oxford University, he moved to the USA. There he worked as a consultant neurologist at Beth Abraham Hospital where in 1966, he encountered a group of survivors of the global sleepy sickness of 1916-1927. Sacks treated these patients with the then-experimental drug L-Dopa producing astounding results which he described in his book Awakenings. Further cases of neurological disorders were described by Sacks with exceptional sympathy in another major book entitled The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat which became an instant best seller on its publication in 1985. His other books drew on his rich experiences as a neurologist gleaned over almost five decades of professional practice. Sacks's work was recognized by prestigious institutions which awarded him numerous honours and prizes. These included the Lewis Thomas Prize given by Rockefeller University, which recognizes the scientist as poet. He was an honorary fellow of both the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and held honorary degrees from many universities, including Oxford, the Karolinska Institute, Georgetown, Bard, Gallaudet, Tufts, and the Catholic University of Peru.

Listeners: Kate Edgar

Kate Edgar, previously Managing Editor at the Summit Books division of Simon and Schuster, began working with Oliver Sacks in 1983. She has served as editor and researcher on all of his books, and has been closely involved with various films and adaptations based on his work. As friend, assistant, and collaborator, she has accompanied Dr Sacks on many adventures around the world, clinical and otherwise.

Tags: Chemistry Imagined, Roald Hoffman, Vivian Torrence, Niels Bohr

Duration: 1 minute, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2011

Date story went live: 02 October 2012