Robert Robinson Biography

(British Organic Chemist Who Received Nobel Prize for His Research on Anthocyanins and Alkaloids)

Birthday: September 13, 1886 (Virgo)

Born In: Chesterfield, Derbyshire, England

Sir Robert Robinson was a British scientist who received the Nobel Prize and Knighthood for his work on the structure and synthesis of natural elements which included plant pigments and alkaloids. He was an authority on chemistry, synthesis, electronic theory and other scientific subjects. He was able to synthesize many flavones and anthocyanins from his initial study of plant pigments. He focused his research on alkaloids and their complex structures which occurred naturally and had biological and chemical effects on all living things. His studies on the chemical reactions that occur in plants to form alkaloids helped him discover the structures of morphine and strychnine in 1925 and 1946 respectively. His research led to the synthesis of penicillin and many other drugs which are used to fight malaria. He was also one of the proponents of the theory of electrons in organic chemistry which was related to the structure of organic molecules. He helped in creating many new dyes which are used in the textile industry. He was an inventor as well and invented an automatic lint cutting machine in his younger days. He received an Order of Merit for his research work in the field of organic chemistry.
Quick Facts

British Celebrities Born In September

Also Known As: Sir Robert Robinson

Died At Age: 88


Spouse/Ex-: Gertrude Maud Walsh, Stearn Sylvia Hillstrom

father: William Bradbury Robinson

mother: Jane Davenport

Chemists Organic Chemists

Died on: February 8, 1975

place of death: Great Missenden, England

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Chemistry

More Facts

education: University Of Manchester

awards: Davy Medal (1930)
Royal Medal (1932)
Copley Medal (1942)

Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1947)
Franklin Medal (1947)
Albert Medal (1947)

Childhood & Early Life
Sir Robert Robinson was born on September 13, 1886 on the Rufford Farm near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, United Kingdom. His father was William Bradbury Robinson and his mother was Jane Davenport who was the second wife of William.
His father had ten children from his first marriage while Robert was the eldest of the five children from his father’s second marriage.
He first attended a kindergarten school in a town in near Chesterfield.
After kindergarten he attended the ‘Chesterfield Grammar School’ as a weekly boarder where his interest in mathematics was first aroused.
When he was twelve-year-old, he attended the ‘Fulneck School’ near Leeds in West Yorkshire as a boarder.
In 1902 Robert was sent by his father to the ‘Manchester University’ to study chemistry as chemists were in great demand in the textile industry.
In 1905 he graduated at the top of his class (BSc) with honors in chemistry from ‘Manchester University’.
After graduation he joined Professor William H. Perkin’s organic chemistry.
He was able to earn his DSc degree from the ‘Victoria University of Manchester’ in 1910.
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In 1912 Sir Robert Robinson travelled to Australia to fill the chair in the ‘Department of Pure and Applied Chemistry’ at the ‘University of Sydney’. Here he did research on the synthesis of various ‘catechol’ derivatives, on C-alkylations of enolates, and on ‘eudesmin’, a component of the oil derived from Australian Eucalyptus trees.
In 1914 he was invited by the ‘British Association for the Advancement of Science’ to visit them where he met famous British chemists such as H. E. Armstrong, Nevil V. Sidgwick and others.
At the age of twenty-nine he was appointed to the chair of Organic Chemistry in the University of Liverpool, UK, and was the youngest candidate. He and his wife returned to England while the First World War was going on and resumed his duties at the university in January 1916.
Soon like all other chemists he was asked to contribute to the war effort and help in the manufacture of picric acid, TNT, Tropinone, morphine and odeine.
In 1917 he joined ‘Advisory Board’ with other famous chemists to develop natural resources where he developed a new method for producing synthetic ‘octanol’.
Once he was asked by the Liverpool Harbor authorities to help them put out a fire caused by burning oil. Instead of taking a personal fee he asked the authorities to donate the money to the university library.
In 1920 he resigned from the chair at the University of Liverpool and became the Director of Research for the ‘British Dyestuffs Corporation’.
In 1921 he decided to return to his academic life and applied for the just vacated chair at St. Andrews in Scotland and was selected.
The chair for the professorship of organic chemistry at the University of Manchester fell vacant in 1922 and he left St. Andrews after one year to fill this chair.
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He collaborated with many young researchers there and worked on pigments which were derived from plants.
From 1925 he started working with his wife Gertrude on the process of synthesizing fatty acids.
In 1928 he accepted professor’s post at the University of London.
In 1930 he was appointed to the ‘Waynflete Professor’ of chemistry of the Oxford University and held the post till 1955.
In 1947 he was sent as the UK delegate to the UNESCO conference and was asked to present the presidential address to the Royal Society the same year.
In 1955 he was appointed as the ‘Emeritus Professor and Honorary Fellow’ of the ‘Magdalen College’.
He was a Director of the ‘Shell Chemical Company’ from 1955.
Awards & Achievements
He was elected as a ‘Fellow of the Royal Society’ in 1920.
In 1921 he became a member of the council in the ‘Chemical Society’.
He received his knighthood in 1939.
The Nobel Prize for chemistry was awarded to him in 1947 for his research on alkaloids.
He received an Order of Merit in 1949.
Personal Life & Legacy
He married Gertrude Maud Walsh, a fellow student in Manchester, on August 7, 1912.
His first daughter was born in 1914 but died after one day. Their second daughter Marion was born in 1921 and a son later.
He married Stearn Sylvia Hillstrom in 1957 after Gertrude’s death in 1954.
Sir Robert Robinson died on February 8, 1975 in London, United Kingdom.
Sir Robert Robinson was an enthusiastic chess player and a mountaineer at heart. He had climbed many mountains in Europe and New Zealand.

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