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George Andrew Olah

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George Andrew Olah
Olah in 2009
Oláh András György

(1927-05-22)May 22, 1927
DiedMarch 8, 2017(2017-03-08) (aged 89)
  • Hungary
  • U.S.
Alma materBudapest University of Technology and Economics
Known forCarbocations via superacids
Judit Lengyel
(m. 1949)
Scientific career

George Andrew Olah (born Oláh András György; May 22, 1927 – March 8, 2017) was a Hungarian-American chemist. His research involved the generation and reactivity of carbocations via superacids. For this research, Olah was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1994 "for his contribution to carbocation chemistry."[3] He was also awarded the Priestley Medal, the highest honor granted by the American Chemical Society and F.A. Cotton Medal for Excellence in Chemical Research of the American Chemical Society in 1996.[4][5][6]

After the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, he emigrated to the United Kingdom, which he left for Canada in 1964, finally resettling in the United States in 1965. According to György Marx, he was one of The Martians.[7]

Early life and education


Olah was born in Budapest, Hungary, on May 22, 1927, into a Jewish couple, Magda (Krasznai) and Gyula Oláh, a lawyer.[8][9] After the high school of Budapesti Piarist Gimnazium,[10] he studied under organic chemist Géza Zemplén at the Technical University of Budapest, now the Budapest University of Technology and Economics, where he earned M.S. and Ph.D degrees in chemical engineering.[11] From 1949 through 1954, he taught at the school as a professor of organic chemistry.[12] In the subsequent two years, from 1954 to 1956, he worked at the research institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, where he was associate scientific director and head of the department of organic chemistry.[12]

Career and research


As a result of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, he and his family moved briefly to England and then to Canada, where he joined Dow Chemical in Sarnia, Ontario, with another Hungarian chemist, Stephen J. Kuhn. Olah's pioneering work on carbocations started during his eight years with Dow.[13] In 1965, he returned to academia at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, chairing the department of chemistry from 1965 to 1969, and from 1967 through 1977 he was the C. F. Maybery Distinguished Professor of Research in Chemistry.[12] In 1971, Olah became a naturalized citizen of the United States.[11] He then moved to the University of Southern California in 1977.[11]

At USC, Olah was a distinguished professor and the director of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute.[14] Starting in 1980, he served as the Distinguished Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Professor of Chemistry and later became a distinguished professor in USC's school of engineering.[11] In 1994, Olah was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for his contribution to carbocation chemistry".[15] In particular, Olah's search for stable nonclassical carbocations led to the discovery of protonated methane stabilized by superacids, like FSO3H-SbF5 ("Magic Acid").

CH4 + H+ → CH5+

Because these cations were able to be stabilized, scientists could now use infrared spectroscopy and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to study them in greater depth, as well as use them as catalysts in organic synthesis reactions.[16]

Olah, with Canadian chemist Saul Winstein, was also involved in a career-long battle with Herbert C. Brown of Purdue over the existence of so-called "nonclassical" carbocations – such as the norbornyl cation, which can be depicted as cationic character delocalized over several bonds.[17] Olah's studies of the cation with NMR spectroscopy provided more evidence suggesting that Winstein's model of the non-classical cation, "featuring a pair of [delocalized] electrons smeared between three carbon atoms," was correct.[18]

In 1997, the Olah family formed an endowment fund (the George A. Olah Endowment) which grants annual awards to outstanding chemists, including the George A. Olah Award in Hydrocarbon or Petroleum Chemistry, formerly known as the ACS Award in Petroleum Chemistry. The awards are selected and administered by the American Chemical Society.[19]

Later in his career, his research shifted from hydrocarbons and their transformation into fuel to the methanol economy, namely generating methanol from methane.[20] He joined with Robert Zubrin, Anne Korin, and James Woolsey in promoting a flexible-fuel mandate initiative.[21][22][23] In 2005, Olah wrote an essay promoting the methanol economy in which he suggested that methanol could be produced from hydrogen gas (H2) and industrially derived or atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), using energy from renewable sources to power the production process.[24]

Personal life


He married Judit Ágnes Lengyel (Judith Agnes Lengyel) in 1949, and they had two children, György (George), born in Hungary in 1954, and Ronald, born in the U.S. in 1959.[11] Olah died on March 8, 2017, at his home in Beverly Hills, California.[25][26] After his death, the Hungarian government said that the "country has lost a great patriot and one of the most outstanding figures of Hungarian scientific life."[25]

Awards and honours

Olah in 2010

See also



  1. ^ a b "Professor George Olah ForMemRS Foreign Member". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on October 5, 2015.
  2. ^ "George A. Olah – A Superstar of Science". Archived from the original on August 10, 2014. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  3. ^ a b "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1994". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved December 22, 2008.
  4. ^ George A. Olah (2000). A Life Of Magic Chemistry: Autobiographical Reflections of a Nobel Prize Winner. Wiley-Interscience. ISBN 978-0-471-15743-4.
  5. ^ "Exploring the Methanol Economy". NPR. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  6. ^ My Search for Carbocations and Their Role in Chemistry Nobel Lecture, December 8, 1994, by George A. Olah
  7. ^ A marslakók legendája Archived 2022-04-09 at the Wayback MachineGyörgy Marx
  8. ^ GEORGE OLÁH, NOBEL PRIZE WINNING HUNGARIAN-AMERICAN CHEMIST, DIES AT 89 Archived March 9, 2017, at the Wayback Machine, Hungary Today, March 9, 2017
  9. ^ "George A. Olah – Biographical". Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  10. ^ Náray-Szabó, Gábor; G, Palló (2012), The Hungarian Gymnasium Educational Experience and Its Influence on the Global Power Shift, Global Science & Technology Forum, ISBN 9780615573106, retrieved 6 June 2023
  11. ^ a b c d e Mathew, Thomas; George Andrew Olah (April 24, 2015). "Curriculum Vitae of George Andrew Olah". A Life of Magic Chemistry: Autobiographical Reflections Including Post-Nobel Prize Years and the Methanol Economy. Hoboken, NJ, USA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc. pp. 300–305. doi:10.1002/9781118840108.oth. ISBN 978-1-118-84010-8.
  12. ^ a b c d e f "1991 George Olah, USC". Southern California Section of the American Chemical Society. 1992. Retrieved March 9, 2017.
  13. ^ George A. Olah (1965). Friedel-Crafts and Related Reactions. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
  14. ^ "Department of Chemistry". Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  15. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1994". Nobelprize.org. Retrieved March 11, 2017.
  16. ^ Stoye, Emma (March 10, 2017). "Chemistry Nobel laureate George Olah dies aged 89". Chemistry World. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  17. ^ "The Non-classical Cation: A Classic Case of Conflict". UCLA Chemistry & Biochemistry. July 11, 2013. Retrieved March 9, 2017.
  18. ^ Peplow, Mark (July 10, 2013). "The nonclassical cation: a classic case of conflict". Chemistry World. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  19. ^ "George A. Olah Award in Hydrocarbon or Petroleum Chemistry", Chemical & Engineering News, January 19, 2009, p. 74
  20. ^ "Nobel Prize winner of 1994 George Andrew Olah dies at 89". Chem Europe. March 10, 2017. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  21. ^ Olah, G. "Superacid Catalyzed Depolymerization and Conversion of Coals. Final Technical Report. [HF:BF{sub 2}/H{sub 2}]", University of Southern California, United States Department of Energy, (1980).
  22. ^ Olah, G. A. "Superacid Catalyzed Coal Conversion Chemistry. 1st and 2nd Quarterly Technical Progress Reports, September 1, 1983 – March 30, 1984.", University of Southern California, United States Department of Energy, (1984).
  23. ^ Olah, G. A. "Superacid Catalyzed Coal Conversion Chemistry. Final Technical Report, September 1, 1983 – September 1, 1986.", University of Southern California, United States Department of Energy, (1986).
  24. ^ George A. Olah (2005). "Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 44 (18): 2636–2639. doi:10.1002/anie.200462121. PMID 15800867.
  25. ^ a b Rogers, John (March 9, 2017). "George A. Olah, who won Nobel Prize in chemistry, dies at 89". ABC. Archived from the original on March 9, 2017. Retrieved March 10, 2017.
  26. ^ "Hungarian-American Nobel winner George A. Olah dies aged 89". The Washington Post. Archived from the original on March 9, 2017. Retrieved March 15, 2017.
  27. ^ "Chemical Pioneer Award". American Institute of Chemists. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  28. ^ "F.A. Cotton Medal for Excellence in Chemical Research- PREVIOUS RECIPIENTS". American Chemical Society. Retrieved November 30, 2015.
  29. ^ "Golden Plate Awardees of the American Academy of Achievement". www.achievement.org. American Academy of Achievement.
  30. ^ "APS Member History". search.amphilsoc.org. Retrieved 2021-07-13.
  • George Andrew Olah on Nobelprize.org Edit this at Wikidata including the Nobel Lecture, December 8, 1994 My Search for Carbocations and Their Role in Chemistry