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A Life of Magic Chemistry: Autobiographical Reflections of a Nobel Prize Winner

A Life of Magic Chemistry: Autobiographical Reflections of a Nobel Prize Winner

George A. Olah

ISBN: 978-0-471-22040-4

Jan 2002

296 pages



The fascinating autobiographical reflections of Nobel Prize winner George Olah

How did a young man who grew up in Hungary between the two World Wars go from cleaning rubble and moving pianos at the end of World War II in the Budapest Opera House to winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry? George Olah takes us on a remarkable journey from Budapest to Cleveland to Los Angeles-with a stopover in Stockholm, of course. An innovative scientist, George Olah is truly one of a kind, whose amazing research into extremely strong acids and their new chemistry yielded what is now commonly known as superacidic "magic acid chemistry."

A Life of Magic Chemistry is an intimate look at the many journeys that George Olah has traveled-from his early research and teaching in Hungary, to his move to North America where, during his years in industry, he continued his study of the elusive cations of carbon, to his return to academia in Cleveland, and, finally, his move to Los Angeles, where he built the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute to find new solutions to the grave problem of the world's diminishing natural oil and gas resources and to mitigate global warming by recycling carbon dioxide into hydrocarbon fuels and products. Professor Olah invites the reader to enjoy the story of his remarkable path-marked by hard work, imagination, and never-ending quests for discovery-which eventually led to the Nobel Prize. Intertwining his research and teaching with a unique personal writing style truly makes A Life of Magic Chemistry an engaging read. His autobiography not only touches on his exhilarating life and pursuit for new chemistry but also reflects on the broader meaning of science in our perpetual search for understanding and knowledge.

Preface ix

Chapter 1. Introduction 1

Chapter 2. Perspectives on Science 4

Chapter 3. Chemistry: The Multifaceted Central Science 21

Chapter 4. Growing up in Hungary and Turning to Chemistry 38

Chapter 5. Early Research and Teaching: Departing the Shadow of Emil Fischer 51

Chapter 6. Move to North America: Industrial Experience While Pursuing the Elusive Cations of Carbon 64

Chapter. 7. Return to Academia—The Cleveland Years: Carbocations, Magic Acid, and Superacid Chemistry 84

Chapter 8. Moving to Los Angeles: Building the Loker Institute—Hydrocarbons and Hydrocarbon Research 108

Chapter 9. "Every Scientist Needs Good Enemies": The Nonclassical Ion Controversy and Its Significance 137

Chapter 10. From Kekule's Four-Valent Carbon to Five- and Higher-Coordinate Hypercarbon Chemistry 153

Chapter 11. The Nobel Prize: Learning to Live with It and Not Rest on Laurels 169

Chapter 12. Post-Nobel Years: From Superacids to Superelectrophiles 188

Chapter 13. Societal and Environmental Challenges of Hydrocarbons: Direct Methane Conversion, Methanol Fuel Cell, and Chemical Recycling of Carbon Dioxide 205

Chapter 14. Gone My Way 222

Appendix My Previous Books for References and Additional Reading 259

Index 261

"Olah...won the 1994 Nobel Prize in chemistry...he recounts his life journey from Hungary between the wars, his menial work after World War II, and movement from Budapest to Cleveland to Los Angeles." (SciTech Book News, Vol. 25, No. 2, June 2001)

"When one of the most important and interesting chemists of the 20th century pauses to reflect on his career, the results deserve attention. . . [the book] can be recommended to a wide readership and is must reading..." (Chemical & Engineering News, March 19, 2001)

"Olah's chemistry is as magical as his life..." (New Scientist, 3rd March 2001)

"The book exceeds expectations" "The reader is richly rewarded by the lessons in A Life of Magic Chemistry." (Angewandte Chemie - International Edition, Vol.40 No. 16, 2001)

"I can wholeheartedly recommend this book to everybody who want to know how hard work and perseverance can bring results -- and how one can enjoy life" (Chromatographia (Germany), August 2001)

"Overall, this is an excellent book, and the enthusiasm for chemistry that permeates it makes it recommended reading for all readers of Education in Chemistry." (Education in Chemistry, November 2001)

"highly recommended reading for those wishing to read Olah's scientific reflections." (Times Higher Educational Supplement, 4 January 2002)

A feature story on the life and accomplishments of George Olah: "'Certainly one's stamina and tolerance developed through these experiences,' Olah wrote in A Life of Magic Chemistry" (Investor's Business Daily, January 8, 2002)