1929-

John Charles Polanyi

Location: Basement Floor, East Wing, North Wall, Sequence 2

Source: Professor Polanyi


For developing "the method of infrared chemiluminescence, in which the extremely weak infrared emission from a newly formed molecule is measured and analyzed"; and for using "this method to elucidate the detailed energy disposal during chemical reactions" Polanyi received (with D. R. Herschbach and Y. T. Lee; see their portraits for their particular contributions to the field of reaction dynamics) the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In another area, Polanyi first detected a transition state species (F...Na...Na in the reaction of F with Na2) as a consequence of emission that is substantially altered in wavelength by the effect of the reactive collision. Polanyi has made seminal contributions in yet a third research area, surface aligned photochemistry where, for example, photoinduced reactions between co-adsorbed molecules have been observed.

Polanyi was born in Berlin (his father, Michael Polanyi, was a distinguished professor of physical chemistry there) but in 1933 (Hitler era) moved to England where he was educated in the Manchester Grammer School and later the University of Manchester (Ph.D. 1952). In 1956 he joined the faculty of the University of Toronto, Canada. In addition to the Nobel he has received many honors, including membership in the U.S. Academy of Sciences and the Royal Medal from the Royal Society of London (1989). Polanyi has an active social conscience, and has written many articles on public affairs. He is an outspoken critic of the arms race and has been a powerful advocate of nuclear disarmament.