John D. Roberts

John D. Roberts
Receiving the AIC Gold Medal, 2013
Born John Dombrowski Roberts
(1918-06-08)June 8, 1918
Los Angeles, California
Died October 29, 2016(2016-10-29) (aged 98)
Pasadena, California
Nationality American
Alma mater UCLA

ACS Award in Pure Chemistry (1954)
Roger Adams Award in Organic Chemistry (1967)
Tolman Award (1974)
Willard Gibbs Award (1983)
Priestley Medal (1987)
Welch Award (1990)
National Medal of Science (1990)
Glenn T. Seaborg Medal (1991)
Arthur C. Cope Award (1994)
Linus Pauling Legacy Award (2006)

American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal (2013)
Scientific career
Fields Chemistry
Institutions Penn State

John Dombrowski Roberts (June 8, 1918 – October 29, 2016) was an American chemist. He made contributions to the integration of physical chemistry, spectroscopy, and organic chemistry for the understanding of chemical reaction rates. Another characteristic of Roberts' work was the early use of NMR, the concept of spin-spin coupling.[1]


Roberts received both a B.A. (1941) and Ph.D. (1944) from the University of California, Los Angeles. He has held several positions at the California Institute of Technology, including Division Chairman of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering from 1963–68, Dean of the Faculty and Provost from 1980–83 and Institute Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus (1988- ) in the Division of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering.[2] He is credited with bringing the first female graduate student, Dorothy Semenow, to Caltech when he moved from MIT.[3][4] He was a consultant for DuPont Central Research (1950-2008)[5] and for Oak Ridge.[2]

He published his autobiography in 1990, The Right Place at the Right Time.[6][7] Roberts died on October 29, 2016 at the age of 98 from a stroke.[8][9]

Awards and honors

Roberts was elected a Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1952.[10] He was elected Member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1956 at 38 years old.[11] In 1978, he was elected a Fellow of The Explorers Club. He was awarded the Priestley Medal in 1987,[12] the National Medal of Science in 1990,[13] the Glenn T. Seaborg Medal in 1991,[14] the NAS Award in Chemical Sciences in 1999,[15] the Nakanishi Prize in 2001,[16] the NAS Award for Chemistry in Service to Society in 2009,[17] the Linus Pauling Legacy Award in 2006[18] and the American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal in 2013.[5] He has received honorary degrees from the University of Munich (1962), Temple University (1964) and the University of Notre Dame.[2] In 1998 he was named by Chemical & Engineering News as one of the 75 most influential chemists in the last 75 years.[19]


  1. "Early Ideas in the History of Quantum Chemistry". U. Anders, Ph.D. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  2. 1 2 3 Center for Oral History. "John D. Roberts". Science History Institute.
  3. "Interview with John D. Roberts (b. 1918)" (PDF). Caltech Oral History Project, Caltech Archives, Caltech. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  4. Bell, Brian (July 29, 2013). "Caltech's John D. Roberts Awarded Gold Medal". Pasadena Now. Archived from the original on July 12, 2016. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
  5. 1 2 "American Institute of Chemists Gold Medal". Science History Institute. 19 February 2018.
  6. "John D. Roberts (1918– )". National Science Foundation. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
  7. "The Right Place at the Right Time". WorldCat. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  8. Fleur, Nicholas St (2016-11-06). "John D. Roberts Dies at 98; He Revolutionized the Field of Organic Chemistry". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  9. "John D. Roberts, 1918-2016 | Caltech". The California Institute of Technology. Retrieved 2016-11-08.
  10. "Book of Members, 1780-2010: Chapter R" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
  11. "National Academy of Sciences, Member Directory". National Academy of Sciences. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  12. "Prieslty Medal winners". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  13. "John D. Roberts (1918– )". National Science Foundation. Retrieved 10 June 2014.
  14. "Past Seaborg Medal Recipients". Glenn T. Seaborg Medal. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
  15. "NAS Honors 17 For Contributions To Science". The Scientist. April 26, 1999. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
  16. "Nakanishi Prize". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 2016-01-03.
  17. "Academy Honors 18 for Major Contributions to Science". News from the National Academies. January 28, 2009. Retrieved 5 February 2015.
  18. ""Useful Knowledge about Magnetic Resonance Imaging," Dr. John D. Roberts (video and transcript)". Special Collections and Archives, Oregon State University. Retrieved 11 June 2014.
  19. "Contributors to the Chemical Enterprise: C&EN's Top 75". Chemical & Engineering News. January 12, 1998. Retrieved 5 February 2015.


  • Roberts, John D. "ABCs of FT-NMR." University Science Books, Sausalito, California, 2000.
  • "JDR." Engineering & Science 1980, 44(2), p. 10.


  • John D. Roberts; Marjorie C. Caserio (1977). Basic Principles of Organic Chemistry (2nd ed.). W. A. Benjamin. ISBN 0805383298.
  • John D. Roberts (1961). An Introduction to the Analysis of Spin-Spin Splitting in High-Resolution Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Spectra. W. A. Benjamin.
  • John D. Roberts (1961). Notes on Molecular Orbital Calculations. W. A. Benjamin. ISBN 0805383018.
  • John D. Roberts (1959). Nuclear Magnetic Resonance : Applications to Organic Chemistry. McGraw-Hill Book Company. ISBN 9781258811662.
  • John D. Roberts; Ross Stewart; Marjorie C. Caserio (1971). Organic Chemistry: Methane to Macromolecules. W. A. Benjamin. ISBN 0805383328.
  • Center for Oral History. "John D. Roberts". Science History Institute.
  • Mangravite, Andrew. "Finding Aid to the papers of John D. Roberts, 1940-1992 (bulk 1960-2000)". Science History Institute. Retrieved 19 February 2018. Click on 'Papers of John D. Roberts Finding Aid (2013)' to go to full document.
  • Caltech faculty page
  • Biography in E&S
  • A Video interview of Professor Roberts

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