Photo of John D. Roberts

John D. Roberts

  • National Medal of Science
  • Chemistry

For his pioneering studies in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and reaction mechanisms in organic chemistry.

Chemist John D. Roberts faced numerous detours on his path to success. Roberts is best known for his work with nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy and spent much of his career finding ways to apply that research to organic chemistry and biochemistry.

Growing up, Roberts visited open house events at the California Institute of Technology, which was near to his home. He hoped to one day attend the prestigious school, but his plans hit a snag in the 1930s.

Roberts’ father owned a business manufacturing furnaces, but lost it during the Great Depression. So when it came time for higher education, Roberts chose to attend the less expensive University of California, Los Angeles.

The change of plans worked in Roberts’ favor. Since UCLA didn’t have many graduate students, he had opportunities to spend one-on-one time with his professors.

After graduating from UCLA in 1941, Roberts spent a decade as an assistant professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In 1953, he finally ended up at his dream school — Caltech — where he remains as a professor emeritus in the chemistry department.

By Rachel Warren