Polanyi, John C.

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POLANYI, JOHN C. (1929– ), Canadian chemist and Nobel laureate. Born in Berlin, he moved to England in 1933 with his Hungarian parents, Michael and Magda. He graduated B.Sc. (1949) and obtained his Ph.D. (1952) in chemistry from Manchester University. After a post-doctoral research fellowship at the Canadian National Research Council Laboratories in Ottawa (1952–54) and Princeton University (1954–56) he joined the chemistry faculty at the University of Toronto where he was appointed professor in 1962 and continued to work there with his research group. Polanyi's research interests develop themes explored by his father, Michael *Polanyi, namely the atomic interactions that form the basis of chemical reactions. The theoretical basis for his earlier contributions was the computer integration of the classical equations of motion allied to the methodology of infrared chemiluminescence. In principle, this approach, termed "surface aligned photochemistry," analyzes the visible emission from a variety of molecules adsorbed to crystals in an ultra-high vacuum. He shared the 1986 Nobel Prize in chemistry with Dudley Herschbach and Yuan Lee. Subsequently Polanyi and his colleagues in their Toronto laboratory adapted laser techniques and reactive rather than inert adsorbing surfaces to analyze chemical reactions in even more detail occurring virtually instantaneously. Polanyi's many honors include the Centenary Medal of the British Chemical Society (1965), the Wolf Prize in Chemistry (1982), and the Royal Medal of the Royal Society of London (1989). He was appointed Officer of the Order of Canada (1974) and Companion of the Order of Canada (1979). He was elected to the Royal Society of Canada (1966), the Royal Society of London (1971), the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1976), the U.S. National Academy of Sciences (1978), and the Pontifical Academy of Rome (1986). He received an honorary doctorate from the Weizmann Institute (1989). He has played a prominent part in many national and international organizations concerned with scientific research and education.

[Michael Denman (2nd ed.)]