Dr. Farnsworth received his degree in pharmacy from the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in 1953 and his PhD in pharmacognosy from the University of Pittsburgh in 1959. At Pitt, he helped to institute a pharmacognosy PhD program at the university and was the first to chair it.
In 1970, Professor Farnsworth left the University of Pittsburgh for a post in the College of Pharmacy at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) where he served as Head of the Department of Pharmacognosy and Pharmacology from 1970-1982. At UIC, he was also Research Professor of Pharmacognosy, the Director of the Pharmacognosy Graduate Program, and Director of the World Health Organization Program for Collaborative Research in the Pharmaceutical Sciences—a multidisciplinary program that brought together, for the first time, scientists in numerous fields of medicinal plant research to collaborate on drug discovery from medicinal plants.
Prof. Farnsworth was an internationally-recognized scholar and initiator or co-initiator of many significant projects in the fields of pharmacognosy and medicinal plant research. Among other accomplishments, he was a founding member of the American Society of Pharmacognosy (ASP) in 1959 and a founding member of the Society for Economic Botany (1959).
The author or co-author of hundreds of research papers published in peer-reviewed journals, Prof. Farnsworth co-founded the peer-reviewed journal Phytomedicine, the International Journal of Phytotherapy and Phytopharmacology, along with Professor Hildebert Wagner, PhD, at the University of Munich, who remains the journal's editor-in-chief. This journal is now acknowledged as one of the leading scientific journals in this field.
Among many other organizations and publications with which he was involved, Prof. Farnsworth was also a co-founder of the American Botanical Council (ABC), an independent non-profit research and education organization, and the longest-serving member of its Board of Trustees.
In 2005, the ASP renamed its annual Research Achievement Award in honor of Prof. Farnsworth in his name, given to outstanding members of the medicinal plant research community. And, in 2005, ABC established its Norman R. Farnsworth Excellence in Botanical Research Award, given to medicinal plant researchers who have made significant contributions to the field of medicinal plants and herbal dietary supplements. In 2010, UIC also established the Norman R. Farnsworth Professor in Pharmacognosy Endowed Professorship, which is chaired by Prof. Chuan-Tao Che, PhD, one of Prof. Farnsworth's former doctoral students.
Prof. Farnsworth was the recipient of numerous awards from around the world, including the SEB's Distinguished Economic Botanist Award in 1983, as well as numerous other awards and honorary degrees. In the 1990s, he was a member of the Commission on Dietary Supplement Labels, a commission established by President Bill Clinton as part of the provisions of the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) to develop recommendations for the review of the quality, safety, benefits and appropriate labeling of dietary supplements.