George Olah won the 1994 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

George Olah of the University of Southern California has won the 1994 Nobel Prize in chemistry "for revolutionizing the study of hydrocarbons and uncovering new ways to use them in the petroleum industry." Much of his late work was on cage molecules, particularly fullerenes:
  author =       "G. A. Olah and I. Bucsi and R. Aniszfeld et al.",
  title =        "Chemical Reactivity and Functionalization of
                 C60 and C70 Fullerenes",
  journal =      "Carbon",
  volume =       "30",
  number =       "8",
  year =         "1992",
  pages =        "1203--1211",
  abstract =     "This account discusses the chemical reactivity and
                 various functionalizations of C60 and C70
                 fullerenes with emphasis on results derived from the
                 authors' laboratory."}

  author =       "G. Olah",
  title =        "Fullerenes: Synthesis, Properties, and Chemistry of
                 Large Carbon Clusters",
  journal =      "Science",
  volume =       "256",
  number =       "5059",
  year =         "1992",
  pages =        "1050--1050"}

The citation:
For his contributions to carbocation chemistry.

The announcement:
Hydrocarbons constitute a very large and important group of organic compounds -- for example most products from natural mineral oil are hydrocarbons. Although some hydrocarbons prepared by chemists around the turn of the century were thought to be ionic -- e.g., a group of compounds formed from benzene and methane ("triarylmethane derivatives") these were largely regarded as curiosities.

When some chemists in Britain (Ingold and Hughes) and Germany (Meerwein) in the 1920s and 1930s started detailed studies of how chemical reactions between organic molecules took place it, however, became apparent that positively charged hydrocarbons -- what chemists call "carbocations" -- actually could occur as very shortlived (lifetimes of microseconds to nanoseconds) intermediates in the reactions.

Since these postulated "carbocation intermediates" were likely to be not only very shortlived but also very reactive, it was generally assumed that one would never be able to prepare them in some quantities. Nor be able to study their properties with different physical techniques -- e.g., NMR and infrared (IR) spectroscopy or X-ray diffraction -- like one could do with normal unchanged hydrocarbons. But the direction of this field did change completely through the original and imaginative work by this year's Nobel Prize laureate in chemistry Professor George A. Olah.

Reuter Story

LOS ANGELES (Reuter) - University of Southern California scientist George Olah said he was "overwhelmed" to learn that he had won the 1994 Nobel Prize in chemistry, but has no intention of "sitting on past glories.

"I'm going to continue to be very active and push on with my work," the Hungarian-born professor, who was honored for his contributions to the field of chemistry, said in an interview.

Olah's research centers on the study of hydrocarbons, a major component of oil and natural gas.

"Hydrocarbons are the raw materials of many things we use in daily life," he said. "They are used for making gasoline, pharmaceuticals and plastic, so it is very important to understand the process by which hydrocarbons are transformed," he said.

Olah said he was trained in chemistry in his native Hungary but left for the United States in 1956 soon after a failed popular revolt against communist rule.

"I was a young researcher at the time," he said. "I was sympathetic to the cause. I then started a new career and found a new beautiful country."

On learning of the honors bestowed upon him Wednesday by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Olah said: "I'm overwhelmed and gratified for this recognition. I'm just trying to get shaved and dressed to go celebrate with my colleagues."

Olah said he had been conducting studies on hydrocarbons for many years and that his work continues, focusing on practical as well as basic scientific research.

"There is no way I will end up sitting on past glories," he said.

Olah, the university's first Nobel winner in any category, had won widespread recognition for his work among organic chemists and is given prominence in modern textbooks on organic chemistry.

Olah holds an endowed chair in the science department and is director of the university's Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute. His areas of expertise include hydrocarbon chemistry, synthetic fuels, theoretical organic chemistry and synthetic organic chemistry.

Asked what he planned to do with the monetary prize that is given along with the chemistry honors, he said: "I'm going to give it to my wife."

Olah is the father of adult sons, one a physician and the other a businessman.