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George Andrew Olah

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This person won a Nobel Prize
George Andrew Olah
Born(1927-05-22)May 22, 1927
Budapest, Hungary
DiedMarch 8, 2017(2017-03-08) (aged 89)
Beverly Hills, California, U.S.
InstitutionsCase Western Reserve University University of Southern California
Alma materBudapest University of Technology and Economics
Known forcarbocations using superacids
Notable awardsNobel Prize in Chemistry 1994

George Andrew Olah (May 22, 1927 – March 8, 2017) was an Hungarian-born American chemist. His research involves the generation and reactivity of carbocations using superacids. For this research, Olah was awarded a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1994.[1] The American Chemical Society gave him its highest honor, the Priestley Medal.


Olah was born in Budapest, Hungary, on May 22, 1927. He studied high school at Budapesti Piarista Gimnazium (Scolopi fathers). He studied, then taught, at what is now Budapest University of Technology and Economics. Following the 1956 Hungarian Revolution, he and his family moved briefly to England, They then moved to Canada. He joined Dow Chemical in Sarnia, Ontario, with another Hungarian chemist, Stephen J. Kuhn. During Olah's eight years with Dow, he started to study carbocations.[2] In 1965, he left Dow for Case Western Reserve University. He joined the University of Southern California faculty in 1977. In 1971, Olah became a naturalized citizen of the United States.

Olah was a distinguished professor at the University of Southern California and the director of the Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute. In 2005, Olah wrote an essay promoting the methanol economy.[3]

The Olah family formed an endowment fund (the George A. Olah Endowment). It grants annual awards to outstanding chemists. The American Chemical Society selects and administers the awards.[4]

Olah died on March 8, 2017 at his home in Beverly Hills, California, aged 89.[5]


The search for stable carbocations led to the discovery of protonated methane. (Protonated methane is a methane molecule (CH4) with an extra proton giving it a positive charge.) Protonated methane was stabilized by superacids, like FSO3H-SbF5 ("Magic Acid").

CH4 + H+ → CH5+

Olah also studied how hydrocarbons are used as fuel.

Olah also disagreed for many years with Herbert C. Brown of Purdue University over the existence of so-called "nonclassical" carbocations – such as the norbornyl cation. They can be shown as cationic character shared (delocalized) over several bonds.

In recent years, his research has shifted from hydrocarbons (including hydrocarbon fuel) to the methanol economy. He joined Robert Zubrin, Anne Korin, and James Woolsey in calling for a Flexible-fuel vehicle mandate initiative.


  1. "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1994". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2008-12-22. 
  2. George A. Olah (1965). Friedel-Crafts and Related Reactions. New York: John Wiley and Sons. 
  3. 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 . 
  4. "George A. Olah Award in Hydrocarbon or Petroleum Chemistry", Chemical & Engineering News, January 19, 2009, p. 74
  5. "GEORGE OLÁH, NOBEL PRIZE WINNING HUNGARIAN-AMERICAN CHEMIST, DIES AT 89". Hungary Today. March 9, 2017. Retrieved March 9, 2017. 

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