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George Olah (1927–2017)

by Legacy Staff

The Hungarian-born U.S. chemist was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1994 for his research into unstable carbon molecules.

George Olah, a Hungarian-born U.S. chemist who was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1994 for his research into unstable carbon molecules, died Wednesday, March 8, 2017, according to multiple news sources. He was 89.

The Hungarian Academy of Sciences announced that he died in Beverly Hills, California. The cause of death was not announced. Olah was made an honorary member of the academy in 1990.


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According to Olah’s biography at the official website of the Nobel Prize, the Holocaust survivor was born May 22, 1927, in Budapest, Hungary, “the son of Julius Olah and Magda Krasznai.”

“My father was a lawyer and to my best knowledge nobody in my family before had interest in science,” Olah wrote.

Olah escaped Hungary after the anti-Soviet revolution in 1956.

The Nobel website said Olah’s research involved chemical reactions “in which molecules composed of atoms collide and form new compounds … one of nature’s fundamental processes.”
Carbocations are electrically charged—unstable—molecules that “play an important role as intermediate stages in chemical reactions and have very short life spans. At the beginning of the 1960s, George Olah used very strong acids to produce carbocations in solution with life spans long enough so they could be studied,” the Nobel website states.

The Nobel organization credited Olah’s work with leading to new ways to produce more easily biodegradable hydrocarbons.

In 1971, Oláh became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

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