University of Kentucky

Hall of Distinguished Alumni

William Nunn Lipscomb Jr.

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, on December 9, 1919. Abbott and James Lawrence Professor of Chemistry, Harvard University. Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1976. University of Kentucky, B.S., 1941.

The Nobel Prize in chemistry awarded Dr. Lipscomb in 1976 was the culmination of four decades of honors and citations for achievements in his profession.

Beginning with the Bausch and Lomb Honorary Science Award in 1937, followed by the Sullivan Medallion given in 1941 upon his graduation from the University, he received the Harrison Howe Award in Chemistry in 1958, the American Chemical Society Award for Distinguished Service in the Advancement of Inorganic Chemistry in 1958, the George Ledlie Prize (Harvard University) in 1971, and the Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry (American Chemical Society) in 1973. In 1978, he was given a certificate of distinguished merit by the UK Sepha chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

During World War II, 1942-46, he served with the Office of Scientific Research & Development, at the same time pursued a doctorate at the California Institute of Technology. He received his Ph.D. degree from that institution in the latter year.

Dr. Lipscomb joined the faculty of the University of Minnesota in 1946 as an Assistant Professor of Chemistry, becoming an Associate Professor in 1950 and Professor in 1954. He was Acting Chief of the Physical Chemistry Division, 1952-54, and Chief, 1954-59.

He left Minnesota for Harvard in 1959, serving as Professor until 1971, when he was named Abbott and James Lawrence Professor. From 1962 to 1965, he was the Chairman of the Department of Chemistry at Harvard.

His honorary degrees include an M.A. from Harvard (1959), D.Sc., University of Kentucky (1963), Doctor, honoris causa, University of Munich (1976), and D.Sc., Long Island University (1977).

In addition to the Distinguished Alumni Centennial Award given by the University of Kentucky in 1965, he received the Distinguished Alumni Award from California Institute of Technology in 1977.

Dr. Lipscomb's research interests have been in the relationship between structure and function, including the relationship of three-dimensional structure and mechanisms of enzymes and other proteins, and the relationship of geometric and electronic structures in theoretical inorganic and organic chemistry.

His lectures and seminars have been taken to nearly two score universities in the United States and he has lectured in Moscow, Switzerland, England, Paris, Stockholm, The Netherlands, Sicily, Munich and Hamburg, Germany, many of them resulting in return invitations for participation in seminars and special lectures.

The name lipscomite was given by J. W. Gruner to an iron phosphate mineral, in 1953. He has served as editor of at least two noted professional journals, and chaired a number of conferences and study groups. He was a member of the Board of Trustees, Museum of Science, Boston, 1965-68, and has served on several other advisory committees.

William Nunn Lipscomb Jr. was named to the Hall of Distinguished Alumni in February, 1965.