Schaefer was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and was educated in Syracuse, New York; Menlo Park, California; and East Grand Rapids, Michigan. He was awarded a B.S. degree in chemical physics by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1966 and a Ph.D. degree in chemical physics from Stanford University in 1969. He was professor of chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley from 1969 to 1987. In 1979-1980 he was Wilfred T. Doherty Professor of Chemistry and inaugural Director of the Institute for Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Texas, Austin. In 1987 he moved to the University of Georgia, where he is Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry and Director of the Center for Computational Chemistry. He is a member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science and for a long time was the chairman of WATOC (World Association of Theoretical and Computational Chemists). In 2004 he became Professor of Chemistry, Emeritus, at UC Berkeley. His other academic appointments include Professeur d'Echange at the University of Paris (1977), Gastprofessur at the Eidgenossische Technische Hochshule (ETH), Zurich (1994, 1995, 1997, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2010), and David P. Craig Visiting Professor at the Australian National University (1999). He is also a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Research within the Schaefer group involves the use of computational hardware and theoretical methods to solve problems in molecular quantum mechanics. His contributions to the field of quantum chemistry include a paper challenging, on theoretical grounds, the geometry of triplet methylene as assigned by Nobel Prize-winning experimentalist Gerhard Herzberg; the development of the Z-vector method simplifying certain calculations of correlated systems; and a wide body of work undertaken in his research group on the geometries, properties, and reactions of chemical systems using highly accurate ab initio quantum chemical techniques. Many of these papers have predicted, or forced a reinterpretation of, experimental results. He is the author of more than 1,500 scientific publications with 63,000 citations. A majority of his publications are in the Journal of Chemical Physics, the Journal of the American Chemical Society, or the Journal of Physical Chemistry.
Schaefer was awarded the American Chemical Society's ACS Award in Pure Chemistry in 1979 "for the development of computational quantum chemistry into a reliable quantitative field of chemistry and for prolific exemplary calculations of broad chemical interest". In 1983 he received the Leo Hendrik Baekeland award for the most distinguished North American chemist under the age of 40. In 1992, he was awarded the Centenary Medal of the Royal Society of Chemistry, London, with a citation that included "the first theoretical chemist successfully to challenge the accepted conclusion of a distinguished experimental group for a polyatomic molecule, namely methylene." In 2003, Schaefer received the American Chemical Society Award in Theoretical Chemistry and the Ira Remsen Award of Johns Hopkins University. In 2004, a six-day conference was convened in Gyeongju, Korea on the “Theory and Applications of Computational Chemistry: A Celebration of 1000 Papers of Professor Henry F. Schaefer III.” Schaefer was honored with the $10,000 Joseph O. Hirschfelder Prize in 2005 by the University of Wisconsin's Theoretical Chemistry Institute, joining a distinguished list of some of the best-known scientists in the field. In 2011 he received the prestigious Ide P. Trotter Prize of Texas A&M University. Previous recipients of the Trotter Prize include Nobelists Francis Crick, Charles Townes, Steven Weinberg, William Phillips, and Roald Hoffmann. (http://www.science.tamu.edu/trotter/) On April 5, 2013 at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, Schaefer received the Chemical Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Chemists.
Schaefer is also an active Protestant Christian educator who regularly speaks to university audiences (over 400 to date), Christian groups and the public on science/faith issues. In 2003, he published Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence?, a collection of essays and talks on the subject. A second edition appeared in 2016. He is a member of the Christian Faculty Forum at the University of Georgia.
In 2012 Professor Schaefer received the Alexander von Humboldt Award, and on March 29, 2012 he received the $20,000 SURA Distinguished Scientist Award, given to the outstanding scientist in any field in the 17 southern states of the USA, for fulfilling SURA's mission of fostering excellence in scientific research.
On March 18, 2014, Professor Schaefer received the American Chemical Society Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry.
In March 2015, Professor Schaefer was elected as an Honorary Fellow of the Chemical Research Society of India. He returned to India to give his CRSI Honorary Fellow award lecture on February 6, 2016, at Panjab University in Chandigahr.
On January 25. 2008, Schaefer was invited to present a lecture entitled 'The Big Bang, Stephen Hawking and God' at the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, during TECHFEST, Asia's largest technology festival. This evoked a response from a group of six atheist students in the form of handbills. Dr. Schaefer was, however, invited to return to IIT Bombay to present a highly prestigious Institute Lecture in February 2014. In 2016, Professor Schaefer was again invited to present a plenary lecture at TECHFEST. His lecture on December 17, "The Life of a Scientist," was presented to a large audience without incident. Security was provided.
There has been some controversy concerning the designation of Schaefer as a "five-time nominee for the Nobel Prize." The names of nominees and other information about the nominations cannot be revealed until 50 years later. The original source of this estimate is a December 23, 1991 cover article in U.S. News & World Report. In October 2012 The Best Schools proposed a list of "Seven Chemists Who Deserve a Nobel Prize," with a 100-200 word description of the science of each. The Best Schools list includes Allen J. Bard, Mildred Dresselhaus, Jean Fréchet, Martin Karplus, Henry F. Schaefer, James Tour, and George M. Whitesides. Martin Karplus did, in fact, receive the 2013 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.Science and Christianity : Conflict or Coherence? Apollos Trust, (2003) ISBN 0-9742975-0-X. Second edition, (2016) ISBN 0-9742975-1-8.
Scientists and Their Gods (2001)
Quantum Chemistry: The Development of Ab Initio Methods in Molecular Electronic Structure Theory Dover Publications (February 20, 2004) ISBN 0-486-43246-7