Olah, George A.

Olah, George A. (Andrew)

(1927–  ) chemist, educator; born in Budapest, Hungary. After taking his Ph.D. at the Technical University of Budapest (1949), he served on its faculty (1949–54), then became the associate director of the Central Chemistry Research Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences (1954–56). He immigrated to Canada where he became a research scientist with Dow Chemical of Canada Ltd. (1957–64) before immigrating to the U.S.A. in 1964 to work with Dow Chemical Co. (1964–65). He then became a professor of chemistry at Case Western Reserve University (1965–69), becoming that institution's C. F. Mabery Professor of Research (1969–77). In 1977 he joined the Hydrocarbon Research Institute at the University of Southern California as the Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. His major work in chemistry opened a new field of hydrocarbon research; in particular, he focused on efforts to stabilize, study, and recombine positively charged fragments of hydrocarbon molecules called "carbocations"; these had long been known to be involved in certain chemical reactions but were too short-lived for chemists to investigate until Olah developed the techniques to stabilize them. His discoveries were important for the development of new fuels and led to the technology that gives gasoline a higher octane rating; they are also applied in making plastics and pharmaceuticals. This work earned him the 1994 Nobel Prize in chemistry.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.