1927-

George Andrew Olah

Location: Fifth Floor, East Wing, South Wall, Sequence 4

Source: Professor Olah


Olah received the 1994 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering research on carbocations and their role in the chemistry of hydrocarbons. In particular, he developed superacids (a term he coined) that are much stronger than ordinary acids, are non-nucleophilic, and are fluid at low temperatures. In such media (examples include HF-SbF5 and SbF5-SO2ClF-SO2F2) carbocations are stable and their physical properties, such as NMR spectra, can be observed, thus allowing details of their structures to be determined. Besides trivalent ions, of which CH3+ is the parent, Olah demonstrated the existence of higher coordinate carbocations such as CH5+. These species do not violate the octet rule, but involve 2-electron 3-center bonding.

Using these methods Olah was able to show that the 2-norbornyl cation has the non-classical structure originally postulated by Winstein, thus resolving a long-standing debate in physical organic chemistry. More practical, Olah invented new hydrocarbon chemistry involving electrophilic reactions at C-C and C-H bonds. Other Olah research interests included Friedel-Crafts chemistry, organofluorine chemistry and new synthetic methods.

Olah was born and educated in Hungary, moved to Canada (Dow Chemical) after the 1956 Hungarian uprising, and ultimately to the U.S.A. He was professor and chairman of chemistry at Case Western Reserve University before moving to the University of Southern California, where he is distinguished professor at USC's Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute. Olah's many honors besides the Nobel include the ACS awards in Petroleum Chemistry(1964) and for Creative Work in Synthetic Organic Chemistry (1979), and the Roger Adams Award in Organic Chemistry (1989).