John C. Polanyi

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John C. Polanyi

John Charles Polanyi , PC , CC , O.Ont , FRSC , FRS (born January 23, 1929 in Berlin ) is a German- born Canadian chemist and physicist of Hungarian descent.

Polanyi received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986 together with Dudley R. Herschbach and Yuan T. Lee "for his contribution to the dynamics of elementary chemical processes".

John C. Polanyi is the son of the scientist and philosopher Michael Polanyi .


Polanyi moved with his parents to Great Britain in 1933 after the handover of power to the National Socialists and studied from 1946 (in the same year his father gave his last chemistry lecture there and turned to philosophy) at Manchester University , where he obtained his bachelor's degree in 1949 and 1952 received his PhD from a former student of his father's, Ernest Warhurst. As a post-doctoral student he was then 1952 to 1954 at the National Research Council Laboratories in Ottawa with Edgar William Richard Steacie and Gerhard Herzberg and 1954 to 1956 at Princeton University at the invitation of Hugh Taylor . In 1956 he became a lecturer at the University of Toronto , where he became an assistant professor in 1957, an associate professor in 1960 and a professor in 1962. Since 1974 he was a university professor there . In 1959 he became a Sloan Research Fellow .

Polanyi was - since he recognized the inadequacies of the Eyring Theory (TST) in his time in Ottawa - a pioneer in the detailed study of the mechanisms of chemical reactions with the infrared chemiluminescence method developed by him and his students. Around the same time, Herschbach and his students and colleagues (such as Y. Lee) investigated the chemical reaction mechanisms using the crossed molecular beam method. Polanyi and his students also pursued the numerical computer simulation of chemical reactions parallel to the experimental procedures.

In 1960 he also published an early work on lasers ( An infrared maser dependent on vibrational excitation ) in the Journal of Chemical Physics , after the work was initially rejected by Physical Review Letters.

In 1989 he was awarded the Royal Medal of the Royal Society . In 1965 he received the Centenary Medal of the British Chemical Society, in 1982 the Wolf Prize in Chemistry and in 1962 the Marlow Medal of the Faraday Society. In 1974 he became Officer of the Order of Canada and 1979 Companion of the Order of Canada. In 2012 Polanyi received the Helmholtz Medal from the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences . He has multiple honorary doctorates, including from Harvard, Manchester and the Weizmann Institute.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences (1978), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences , the Royal Society of Canada (1966), the Royal Society (1971), the Russian Academy of Sciences (1999), the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society of Edinburgh . He is an Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry and a Fellow of the American Physical Society .

Polanyi was also involved in disarmament issues and was a founding member of the Canadian Pugwash group . In 1978 he chaired an international symposium on the threat from nuclear weapons.

He has been married to Sue Davidson since 1958, with whom he has a daughter and a son.


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