William Nunn Lipscomb, Jr. (born December 9, 1919) is an American inorganic chemist, working in experimental and theoretical chemistry and biochemistry.
Lipscomb was born in Cleveland, Ohio, but his family moved to Lexington, Kentucky when he was an infant, and he lived there until he received his Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry at the University of Kentucky in 1941. He went on to earn his Doctor of Philosophy degree in Chemistry from the California Institute of Technology in 1946.
From 1946 to 1959 he taught at the University of Minnesota. Since 1959, he has been a professor of chemistry at Harvard University.
Lipscomb currently resides in Cambridge, MA.
Lipscomb has worked in three main areas, which overlap in time and share some scientific techniques. In at least the first two of these areas Lipscomb gave himself a grand challenge likely to fail, and then plotted a course of intermediate goals.
Nuclear Magnetic Resonance and the Chemical Shift
In this area Lipscomb gave himself this grand challenge: "I thought then that progress in structure determination, for new polyborane species and for substituted boranes and carboranes, would be greatly accelerated if the 11B nuclear magnetic resonance spectra, rather than X-ray diffraction, could be used."  This grand challenge was not successful, as X-ray diffraction is still necessary to determine many such atomic structures, but intermediate goals were achieved:
Lipscomb's group developed calculation methods, both empirical  and from quantum mechanical theory.   Calculations by these methods produced accurate self-consistent field molecular orbitals and were used to study boranes (compounds of boron and hydrogen) and carboranes (compounds of carbon, boron, and hydrogen). Lipscomb and Pitzer used these methods to carry out an ab initio calculation that produced the first accurate value of the barrier to internal rotation in ethane .
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