George Porter

Location: Basement Floor, Elevator area, East Wall, Sequence 2

Source: Professor Lord Porter

Porter's name is inextricably associated with flash photolysis; in this technique a light flash of high intensity and short duration brings about the formation of species such as atoms, radicals, and excited molecules whose structures and subsequent reactions, though incredibly fast, can be studied by various spectroscopic methods. In early experiments processes that occur in milliseconds could be observed, but improvements allowed the times to be shortened to microseconds, nanoseconds, picoseconds and most recently femtoseconds (10-15 sec). Thus the rates of such processes as free radical combination, triplet and singlet excited state decay, electron transfer, singlet-to-triplet transitions and relaxation and energy distribution from vibrational states could be studied. Porter received the 1967 Nobel Prize in Chemistry [shared with R. G. W. Norrish, with whom the early flash photolysis experiments were done, and with Manfred Eigen (see portrait)].

George Porter was born in Yorkshire, England, attended Leeds University, then served as a radar officer during WW II. Graduate study at Cambridge University led to a staff position there, then a professorship at the University of Sheffield (1955-66). Most of his career was as director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain (London, 1966-85). He was President of the Royal Society (1985-90) and since 1990, Chairman of the Centre for Photochemical Sciences at Imperial College, London.

Aside from his research, Porter excels as a lecturer, with the ability to present complex subjects with great clarity and an entertaining manner even to non-scientists. In the 1960s his BBC broadcasts on "The Laws of Disorder" were very popular. He was knighted in 1972 and in 1990 was created Lord Porter of Luddenham.