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Who said: “As far as the laws of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality.”
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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index W > Robert Burns Woodward Quotes

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Robert Burns Woodward
(10 Apr 1917 - 8 Jul 1979)

American chemist who is regarded as a star of 20th-century organic chemistry. An MIT graduate by age 19, Woodward's ingenious notions about organic synthesis and his artful methodology were already astounding. He was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1965.


Science Quotes by Robert Burns Woodward (8 quotes)

I have always been very fond of mathematics—for one short period, I even toyed with the possibility of abandoning chemistry in its favour. I enjoyed immensely both its conceptual and formal beauties, and the precision and elegance of its relationships and transformations. Why then did I not succumb to its charms? … because by and large, mathematics lacks the sensuous elements which play so large a role in my attraction to chemistry.I love crystals, the beauty of their forms and formation; liquids, dormant, distilling, sloshing! The fumes, the odors—good or bad, the rainbow of colors; the gleaming vessels of every size, shape and purpose.
— Robert Burns Woodward
In Arthur Clay Cope Address, Chicago (28 Aug 1973). In O. T. Benfey and P. J. T. Morris (eds.), Robert Burns Woodward. Architect and Artist in the World of Molecules (2001), 427.
Science quotes on:  |  Bad (99)  |  Beauty (248)  |  Color (99)  |  Crystal (53)  |  Distillation (9)  |  Dormant (4)  |  Form (314)  |  Formation (59)  |  Fume (6)  |  Gleam (12)  |  Good (345)  |  Liquid (25)  |  Love (224)  |  Odor (7)  |  Purpose (194)  |  Rainbow (10)  |  Shape (70)  |  Size (60)  |  Vessel (28)

It is well to remember that most arguments in favor of not trying an experiment are too flimsily based.
— Robert Burns Woodward
Quoted in a lecture published in Experientia, Supplementum II (1955), 226.
Science quotes on:  |  Argument (82)  |  Base (71)  |  Experiment (602)  |  Favor (30)  |  Flimsy (2)  |  Remember (82)  |  Trying (19)

Organic chemistry has literally placed a new nature beside the old. And not only for the delectation and information of its devotees; the whole face and manner of society has been altered by its products. We are clothed, ornamented and protected by forms of matter foreign to Nature; we travel and are propelled, in, on and by them. Their conquest of our powerful insect enemies, their capacity to modify the soil and control its microscopic flora, their ability to purify and protect our water, have increased the habitable surface of the earth and multiplied our food supply; and the dramatic advances in synthetic medicinal chemistry comfort and maintain us, and create unparalleled social opportunities (and problems).
— Robert Burns Woodward
In 'Synthesis', in A. Todd (ed.), Perspectives in Organic Chemistry (1956), 180.
Science quotes on:  |  Bacteria (34)  |  Food (154)  |  Insect (64)  |  Medicine (344)  |  Microscopic (11)  |  Organic Chemistry (33)  |  Purification (6)  |  Soil (64)  |  Synthesis (44)  |  Water (293)

That Brobdingnagian molecule, tobacco mosaic virus.
— Robert Burns Woodward
In 'Synthesis', in A. Todd (ed.), Perspectives in Organic Chemistry (1956), 175.
Science quotes on:  |  Brobdingnag (2)  |  Molecule (133)  |  Tobacco (16)

The structure known, but not yet accessible by synthesis, is to the chemist what the unclimbed mountain, the uncharted sea, the untilled field, the unreached planet, are to other men … The unique challenge which chemical synthesis provides for the creative imagination and the skilled hand ensures that it will endure as long as men write books, paint pictures, and fashion things which are beautiful, or practical, or both.
— Robert Burns Woodward
In 'Art and Science in the Synthesis of Organic Compounds: Retrospect and Prospect', in Maeve O'Connor (ed.), Pointers and Pathways in Research (1963), 41.
Science quotes on:  |  Beauty (248)  |  Book (257)  |  Challenge (61)  |  Chemist (89)  |  Climbing (4)  |  Creativity (70)  |  Field (171)  |  Imagination (275)  |  Mountain (145)  |  Picture (77)  |  Planet (263)  |  Practicality (6)  |  Science And Art (181)  |  Sea (188)  |  Structure (225)  |  Synthesis (44)

The synthesis of substances occurring in Nature, perhaps in greater measure than activities in any other area of organic chemistry, provides a measure of the conditions and powers of science.
— Robert Burns Woodward
Synthesis', in A. Todd (ed.), Perspectives in Organic Chemistry (1956), 155.
Science quotes on:  |  Activity (135)  |  Organic Chemistry (33)  |  Substance (87)  |  Synthesis (44)

We all know that enforced propinquity often leads on to greater intimacy.
— Robert Burns Woodward
In 'Recent Advances in the Chemistry of Natural Products', Pure and Applied Chemistry (1968), 17, 545.
Science quotes on:  |  Intimacy (6)

Why can the chemist not take the requisite numbers of atoms and simply put them together? The answer is that the chemist never has atoms at his disposal, and if he had, the direct combination of the appropriate numbers of atoms would lead only to a Brobdingnagian potpourri of different kinds of molecules, having a vast array of different structures. What the chemist has at hand always consists of substances, themselves made up of molecules, containing defined numbers of atoms in ordered arrangements. Consequently, in order to synthesize anyone substance, his task is that of combining, modifying, transforming, and tailoring known substances, until the total effect of his manipulations is the conversion of one or more forms of matter into another.
— Robert Burns Woodward
In 'Art and Science in the Synthesis of Organic Compounds: Retrospect and Prospect', in Maeve O'Connor (ed.), Pointers and Pathways in Research (1963), 28.
Science quotes on:  |  Atom (280)  |  Brobdingnag (2)  |  Chemist (89)  |  Conversion (14)  |  Manipulation (14)  |  Matter (343)  |  Modification (35)  |  Molecule (133)  |  Structure (225)  |  Substance (87)  |  Synthesis (44)


See also:
  • 10 Apr - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Woodward's birth.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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