Robert Robinson (chemist) (Redirected from Robert Robinson (organic chemist))

Robert Robinson
48th President of the Royal Society
In office
Preceded bySir Henry Hallett Dale
Succeeded byEdgar Adrian
Personal details
Born(1886-09-13)13 September 1886
Derbyshire, England
Died8 February 1975(1975-02-08) (aged 88)
Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, England
Alma materUniversity of Manchester
Known forDevelopment of Organic synthesis
Arrow pushing
Biomimetic synthesis
Cholesterol total synthesis
Robinson annulation
Robinson–Gabriel synthesis
Allan–Robinson reaction
SpouseGertrude Maud Robinson
AwardsLongstaff Prize (1927)
Davy Medal (1930)
Royal Medal (1932)
Copley Medal (1942)
Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1947)
Franklin Medal (1947)
Albert Medal (1947)
Faraday Lectureship Prize (1947)
Scientific career
FieldsOrganic chemistry
InstitutionsUniversity of Sydney
University of Liverpool
British Dyestuffs Corporation
University of Manchester
University College London
University of Oxford
Doctoral advisorWilliam Henry Perkin, Jr.
Doctoral studentsSir Edward Abraham
Arthur John Birch
William Sage Rapson
John Cornforth
Rita Harradence
K. Venkataraman

Sir Robert Robinson OM FRS FRSE (13 September 1886 – 8 February 1975) was a British organic chemist and Nobel laureate recognised in 1947 for his research on plant dyestuffs (anthocyanins) and alkaloids. In 1947, he also received the Medal of Freedom with Silver Palm.


Early life

He was born at Rufford House Farm, near Chesterfield, Derbyshire the son of James Bradbury Robinson, a maker of surgical dressings, and his wife, Jane Davenport.

Robinson went to school at the Chesterfield Grammar School and the private Fulneck School. He then studied chemistry at the University of Manchester, graduating BSc in 1905. In 1907 he was awarded an 1851 Research Fellowship from the Royal Commission for the Exhibition of 1851 to continue his research at the University of Manchester.

He was appointed as the first Professor of Pure and Applied Organic Chemistry in the School of Chemistry at the University of Sydney in 1912. He was briefly at St Andrews University (1920–22) and then was offered the Chair of Organic Chemistry at Manchester University. In 1928 he moved from there to be a professor at University College London where he stayed only two years. He was the Waynflete Professor of Chemistry at Oxford University from 1930 and a Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford.

Robinson was elected an International Member of the United States National Academy of Sciences in 1934, an International Member of the American Philosophical Society in 1944, and an International Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1948.

Robinson Close, in the Science Area at Oxford, is named after him, as is the Robert Robinson Laboratory at the University of Liverpool, the Sir Robert Robinson Laboratory of Organic Chemistry at the University of Manchester and the Robinson and Cornforth Laboratories at the University of Sydney.

Robinson was a strong amateur chess player. He represented Oxford University in a friendly match with a team from Bletchley Park in December 1944; in which he lost his game to pioneering computer scientist I. J. Good. He was president of the British Chess Federation from 1950 to 1953, and with Raymond Edwards he co-authored the book The Art and Science of Chess (Batsford, 1972).


His synthesis of tropinone (a precursor for atropine & benztropine) in 1917 was not only a big step in alkaloid chemistry but also showed that tandem reactions in a one-pot synthesis are capable of forming bicyclic molecules.

Tropinone synthesis
Tropinone synthesis

He invented the symbol for benzene having a circle in the middle whilst working at St Andrews University in 1923. He is known for inventing the use of the curly arrow to represent electron movement, and he is also known for discovering the molecular structures of morphine and penicillin. Robinson annulation has had application in the total synthesis of steroids.

Alongside Edward Charles Dodds, Robinson had also been involved in the original synthesis of diethylstilboestrol.

In 1957 Robinson founded the journal Tetrahedron with fifty other editors for Pergamon Press.


  • The Structural Relationship of Natural Products (1955)


He married twice. In 1912 he married Gertrude Maud Walsh. Following her death in 1954, in 1957 he married a widow, Mrs Stern Sylvia Hillstrom (née Hershey).

See also

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