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Volume 89 Issue 13 | p. 48 | Newscripts
Issue Date: March 28, 2011

R. B. Woodward Caught On Film, Album Cover

Department: Newscripts
Keywords: R.B. Woodward, 4 Out of 5 Doctors
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Chalkboard chemist:
Woodward poses with a drawing of chlorophyll in 1960.
Credit: Walter Lwowski Collection
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Chalkboard chemist:
Woodward poses with a drawing of chlorophyll in 1960.
Credit: Walter Lwowski Collection

You never know what treasures an old filing cabinet holds. When Walter Lwowski, a longtime faculty member at New Mexico State University, passed away last April (C&EN, July 19, 2010, page 43), he left most of his belongings to the school’s chemistry department. As a postdoc at Harvard University from 1957 to 1960, Lwowski worked on the total synthesis of chlorophyll with renowned organic chemist Robert Burns Woodward, the 1965 Nobel Laureate in chemistry.

So it was only natural that William A. Maio, a self-described Woodward fan and assistant professor who joined New Mexico State’s faculty last August, was curious about what WOODWARDIAN TREATS might be behind Lwowski’s office door.

“I happened to walk into his office one day and was drawn to a file cabinet with a whole drawer dedicated to chlorophyll,” Maio tells Newscripts. Neatly placed on top of the file was a container of about a dozen photographic slides.

The doctor is in:
4 Out of 5 Doctors think Woodward helped sell albums.
Credit: Scott Severson
8913ns_albumcxd
 
The doctor is in:
4 Out of 5 Doctors think Woodward helped sell albums.
Credit: Scott Severson

Maio lifted one slide to the light, squinted, and with great delight immediately recognized Woodward, clad in a blue suit and tie, preparing to light a cigarette. Each slide, Maio recalls, held a new treasure: Woodward smoking in his office, posed in front of a chalkboard drawing of chlorophyll, or simply sitting at his meticulously tidy desk with a container of sharpened pencils and a single rose.

Maio believes that these were personal snapshots, never before published, taken by Lwowski. “Walter had a passion for photography, and the slides were labeled with his handwriting, but because he has since passed, there is no way of telling for sure,” he says.

Woodward’s photogenic appeal isn’t limited to the collections of chemistry connoisseurs. The famed chemist’s visage apparently also makes great album art, appearing on the 1980 record “4 OUT OF 5 DOCTORS,” by the power-pop band of the same name. Thanks to Robert M. Williams, a professor at Colorado State University, for bringing this to the Newscripts gang’s attention.

The album cover features Woodward holding aloft a molecular model. Distinguishing the precise molecule is something of a challenge because the artist who reproduced the photo in colored pencil took some liberties with the atom colors. “Somebody who knows science is going to look at that and say it’s wrong,” says Jeff Severson, one of the band’s guitarists.

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Click image for slideshow

One time in Boston, when the band was touring during the 1980s, Severson recalls, he was approached by a man who identified himself as a former student of Woodward’s. The concertgoer wanted to know why the band had changed the atom colors. Severson’s brother Scott is the artist responsible for the creative coloring, something he did just to make the picture look livelier.

“The band was looking for a representation of a doctor as a scientist as opposed to as a physician,” Scott Severson remembers. “Why? I have no idea. It was the ’80s. Someone ‘blinded them with science.’ I didn’t know who the person in the photo was at the time. He just had that nerdy Elvis Costello look that was popular then.”

“It helped sell a lot of records because people really liked the look of that album cover,” Jeff Severson adds.

 
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