George Andrew Olah

George Olah
Born Oláh György
(1927-05-22) May 22, 1927
Budapest, Hungary
Citizenship dual, Hungarian and American
Fields Chemistry
Alma mater Budapest University of Technology and Economics
Known for Carbocations via superacids
Notable awards
Spouse Judith Lengyel (m. 1949)
Children two

George Andrew Olah (born Oláh György; May 22, 1927) is a Hungarian and American chemist. His research involves the generation and reactivity of carbocations via superacids. For this research, Olah was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1994.[3] He has also been awarded the Priestley Medal, the highest honor granted by the American Chemical Society and F.A. Cotton Medal for Excellence in Chemical Research of the American Chemical Society in 1996.[4][5][6][7]

Education and early life

Olah was born in Budapest, Hungary, on May 22, 1927, to Magda (Krasznai) and Julius Oláh, a lawyer.[8] After the high school of Budapesti Piarista Gimnazium (Scolopi fathers), he studied, then taught, at what is now Budapest University of Technology and Economics.

Career and research

As a result of the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, he and his family moved briefly to England and then to Canada, where he joined Dow Chemical in Sarnia, Ontario, with another Hungarian chemist, Stephen J. Kuhn. Olah's pioneering work on carbocations started during his eight years with Dow.[9] In 1965 he returned to academia at Case Western Reserve University and then to the University of Southern California in 1977. In 1971, Olah became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

As of April 2016, Olah is a distinguished professor at the University of Southern California[10] and the director of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute. In 2005, Olah wrote an essay promoting the methanol economy.[11]

The Olah family formed an endowment fund (the George A. Olah Endowment) which grants annual awards to outstanding chemists. The awards are selected and administered by the American Chemical Society.[12]

The search for stable carbocations led to the discovery of protonated methane which was stabilized by superacids, like FSO3H-SbF5 ("Magic Acid").

CH4 + H+ CH5+

Olah was also involved in a career-long battle with Herbert C. Brown of Purdue over the existence of so-called "nonclassical" carbocations – such as the norbornyl cation, which can be depicted as cationic character delocalized over several bonds.

In recent years, his research has shifted from hydrocarbons and their transformation into fuel to the methanol economy. He has joined with Robert Zubrin, Anne Korin, and James Woolsey in promoting a flexible-fuel mandate initiative.[13][14][15]

Awards and honours


  1. 1 2 "Professor George Olah ForMemRS Foreign Member". London: Royal Society. Archived from the original on 2015-10-05.
  3. "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1994". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2008-12-22.
  4. George A. Olah (2000). A Life Of Magic Chemistry: Autobiographical Reflections of a Nobel Prize Winner. Wiley-Interscience. ISBN 978-0-471-15743-4.
  5. Biography and Bibliographic Resources, from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information, United States Department of Energy
  6. Methanol as an alternative fuel Recording of a discussion with George Olah broadcast on NPR
  7. My Search for Carbocations and Their Role in Chemistry Nobel Lecture, December 8, 1994 by George A. Olah
  9. George A. Olah (1965). Friedel-Crafts and Related Reactions. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
  11. George A. Olah (2005). "Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy". Angewandte Chemie International Edition. 44 (18): 2636–2639. doi:10.1002/anie.200462121. PMID 15800867.
  12. "George A. Olah Award in Hydrocarbon or Petroleum Chemistry", Chemical & Engineering News, January 19, 2009, p. 74
  13. Olah, G. "Superacid Catalyzed Depolymerization and Conversion of Coals. Final Technical Report. [HF:BF{sub 2}/H{sub 2}]", University of Southern California, United States Department of Energy, (1980).
  14. Olah, G. A. "Superacid Catalyzed Coal Conversion Chemistry. 1st and 2nd Quarterly Technical Progress Reports, September 1, 1983-March 30, 1984.", University of Southern California, United States Department of Energy, (1984).
  15. Olah, G. A. "Superacid Catalyzed Coal Conversion Chemistry. Final Technical Report, September 1, 1983-September 1, 1986.", University of Southern California, United States Department of Energy, (1986).
  16. "Chemical Pioneer Award". American Institute of Chemists. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
  17. "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1994". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2008-12-22.
  18. "F.A. Cotton Medal for Excellence in Chemical Research- PREVIOUS RECIPIENTS". American Chemical Society. Retrieved 30 November 2015.
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