Chemist Sir Robert Robinson: Biography, Research & Nobel Prize

Instructor: Grace Pisano

Grace has a bachelor's degree in history and a master's degree in teaching. She previously taught high school in several states around the country.

Sir Robert Robinson was a British chemist whose research on alkaloids won him the Nobel Prize. In this lesson, learn about his life, accomplishments and research.

Work for the Greater Good

If you met Sir Robert Robinson at a cocktail party or event, and you asked him what he did for a living, it may seem insignificant at first. The intricacies of what Robinson did in his lab are difficult to comprehend. However, when you realize that his work was foundational in creating penicillin and antimalarial drugs, you would understand the significance of his life's work! In this lesson, we will discuss his biography, accomplishments and most significant research. At the end of the lesson, you will be an expert on Sir Robert Robinson!

Biography and Education

Sir Robert Robinson (1886 - 1975)

Robert Robinson was born near Chesterfield, Derbyshire England on September 13, 1886. His father, William Robinson, was a surgical dressing manufacturer and invented many machines to expedite the production process. Being around an inventor and innovative thinker surely had an impact on Robert Robinson!

In 1906, Robinson graduated from Manchester University with a Bachelors in Science. Four years later, he graduated with his Doctorate of Science from Victoria University of Manchester. After graduating, Robinson spent most of his life in-and-out of university settings as a professor and researcher. In addition to his work, Robinson was passionate about mountaineering, photography and chess. In fact, he made time in his busy schedule to serve as the president of the British Chess Federation from 1950 until 1953! He died on February 8, 1975 in England.

Now that we know the basic overview of his life, let's talk about the specific accomplishments Robinson achieved throughout the course of his life!


Shortly after graduating with his doctorate, Robinson moved to Sydney, Australia and became the first professor of Pure and Applied Organic Chemistry at the University of Sydney. He stayed there for a few years, but returned to England in 1915 to serve as the chair of the Organic Chemistry Department at the University of Liverpool. In 1920, he left the university setting to work at Dyestuffs Corporation as the director of research.

In 1928, he returned to academia as the chair of organic chemistry at the University of Manchester (his alma mater). In 1930, he made his final university leap, landing at Oxford University as a chemistry professor. He stayed at Oxford until he retired until 1955. At Oxford, he was appointed an emeritus professor and Honorary Fellow of Magdalen College.

Upon retirement, he became director of Shell Chemical Company and worked as a chemical consultant. He was a busy man!

In addition to his constant work in academia and the corporate world, Robinson held many other roles. In 1939, he was knighted for his contributions to society. He served on many government committees and was the United Kingdom's delegate to the first UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) Conference in 1947. Throughout the course of his life, Robinson received over twenty honorary doctorates from British universities.

Research and Nobel Prize

Are you dying to know what Robinson researched that made him so famous? Let's discuss it now!

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