Remembering George A. Olah: His Top Contributions to Chemistry

George Andrew Olah, a pioneer in the American chemistry industry, passed away on March 8, 2017, at the age of 89. Both a Nobel Prize winner and a recipient of the prestigious Priestly Medal, Olah and his many contributions to chemistry cannot be understated.

What do we owe to the Hungarian-American chemist? Here are a few of George A. Olah’s crowning achievements in science.

Carbocation and Superacids
Of all Olah’s research, his work with carbons and superacids in the 1960s and 70s is most well-known. In searching for a stable non-classical carbocation (an ion with a positively charged carbon atom), Olah discovered protonated methane which could be stabilized by so-called ‘superacids.’ The resulting stabilization of these carbocations allowed for NMR study at close-range (to prove their existence) as well as further use as catalysts in organic synthesis reactions. This discovery was so important to the advancement of carbon science that Olah was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1994. Over time, this discovery and resulting research led to the development of styrene, a precursor to polystyrene plastic.

Methane and Methanol
In his later years, Olah became particularly interested in turning methanol into methane, an alternative to fossil fuels. An ardent proponent of renewable energy, Olah suggested that methane could actually be produced from hydrogen gas or carbon dioxide. The chemist became an outspoken advocate for sustainable fuel sources and he and his compatriots even published a well-respected book on the subject called Beyond Oil and Gas: The Methanol Economy. Olah believed so strongly in the power of methane that he even hypothesized that the byproduct was actually the “origin of life,” a building block of our base biological components.

Synthetic Reagents
As a faculty member at the University of Southern California, Olah left behind a burgeoning research program centered on developing sustainable, affordable synthetic reagents. A few of the reagents developed by the department at the time of Olah’s death include nitronium tetrafluoroborate, pyridinium polyhydrogen fluoride and cyanuric fluoride, dialkylhalonium salts, formyl fluoride and UF6, and carbocation salts. The team’s research is ongoing.

 

George A. Olah was a brilliant chemist. His work led to some of the most fascinating, useful discoveries of 20th century chemistry and much of it is still used today in labs and educational facilities across the world.

Olah’s work with reagents is of particular interest to the chemists here at Noah Chemicals, a manufacturer of high-quality reagents. For more information on our selection of reagents, visit Our Products page or contact us directly.

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