OLAH, GEORGE A. / Chemistry / Researchers

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Chemistry / OLAH, GEORGE A.



Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Distinguished Professor of Organic Chemistry, Director of Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute, University of Southern California, CA, U.S.A.

1994 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry "for revolutionizing the study of hydrocarbons and uncovering new ways to use them in the petroleum industry."

Research interests

Synthetic and Mechanistic Organic Chemistry

Professor Olah's research spans a wide range of synthetic and mechanistic organic chemistry. But most notably, his work on the chemistry of carbocations earned him the 1994 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Carbocations and Onium Ions

Olah and his group have developed a wide variety of superacids which possess such low nucleophilicity toward carbocations that they can be prepared and directly observed as long lived species in these media. Higher valency Lewis acid fluorides such as SbF5, TaF5, combined with Brønsted acids such as HF or FSO3H results in superacids that are billions of times stronger than sulfuric acid. When they are used as solvents in ion-generating reactions, the lifetimes of carbocations and onium ions (halonium, oxonium, etc.) are sufficiently long to allow them to be examined by a variety of chemical and spectroscopic techniques (13C NMR 1H NMR, IR, ESCA, etc.).

Ionic Organic Reactions and Their Intermediates

As a continuation of earlier work on carbocations and their reactions, newer studies emphasize the investigation and reactions of onium ions and ylides. New types of oxonium, halonium and other onium ions were prepared and studied. The role of electrophilic (protic) solvation of the non-bonded electron pairs in oxonium ions (superelectrophilic activation) is widely explored, allowing new applications in alkylation, acylation and related reactions. The structures of the intriguing dicationic interemediates are also explored using ab initio and DFT calculational methods.

Hydrocarbon Chemistry - Methane Conversion

Acid catalyzed conversion of hydrocarbons, such as cracking, isomerization, alkylation, oligo-and polycondensation, etc. are of fundamental significance. Their fundamental chemistry is systematically studied using methods developed in connection with studies of carbocations and their reactions. Novel environmentally benign catalyst systems are developed to overcome difficulties connected with acids such as hydrofluoric or sulfuric acid. New chemical additives are explored to improve diesel fuels and make them cleaner burning and less polluting. The use of methane and its oxygenates is studied in superacidic direct oxidation fuel cell systems. The direct electrophilic conversion of methane to higher hydrocarbons and derived products offers a viable alternative to Fischer-Tropsch chemistry. Until recently, the utilization of methane as a chemical building block was limited to free radical reactions (combustion, nitration, chlorination, etc.) and various stoichiometric organometallic insertion reactions. Studies are carried out on the superacid- catalyzed oxidative condensation of methane to higher hydrocarbons, as well as the selective, electrophilic catalytic conversion of methane to its monosubstituted derivatives including methyl halides and methyl alcohol. Further condensation to ethylene, propylene and derived hydrocarbons over bifunctional acidic-basic catalysts gives easy access to the whole range of hydrocarbons essential to our everyday life. Mechanistic aspects of the above chemistry of methane, particularly the importance of pentacoordinate CH5+-type carbocation intermediates, are now being evaluated. Environmentally benign alkylation methods have also been developed. New direct oxidation fuel cell technology using methanol and related fuels are also being explored.

Synthetic Reagents and Methods

A continued research program centers on developing new, more selective and more convenient synthetic reagents and methods. Representative reagents already developed include: nitronium tetrafluoroborate (for nitration), pyridinium polyhydrogen fluoride and cyanuric fluoride (for fluorinations), dialkylhalonium salts, alkyl fluoride-Lewis acid halide complexes (for alkylation), formyl fluoride and formic anhydride (for formylation), UF6 (for oxidation), carbocation salts (for Friedel-Crafts reactions and initiation of polymerization), iodotrimethylsilane (for various organic transformations) and perfluoroalkyltrimethylsilanes (for perfluoroalkylations).

Nitration and Nitro-compounds

In continuation of long standing studies on aromatic nitration, research is carried out into new methods of preparation of aliphatic nitro compounds as well as to study nitrated carbocationic, carbanionic and carbene intermediates and their chemistry. Studies are directed toward the electrophilic nitration of aliphatic and cycloaliphatic hydrocarbons as well as the conversion of organometallics by suitable, selective methods to nitroaliphatic compounds, including polynitro derivatives.

Prizes and awards

Recipient of National or International Prize in Discipline : American Chemical Society Award in Petroleum Chemistry 1964

Leo Hendrick Baekeland Award 1967

Recipient of National or International Prize in Discipline : Morley Medal 1970

Guggenheim Fellowship: 1972 and 1988

Fellow of the Society for the Promotion of Science, Japan 1974

National Academy Member: Member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences 1976

Centenary Lectureship, British Chemical Society 1977

Alexander von Humbolt Fellowship: Alexander von Humbolt-Stiftung Award for Senior U.S. Scientists 1979

Endowed Chair: Donald P. and Katherine B. Loker Chair in Organic Chemistry 1980

USC Associates Award For Creativity In Research And Scholarship: 1985

Honorary Degree, D.Sc. Honoris Causa, University of Durham, UK 1988

Member, European Academy of Arts, Sciences & Humanities 1989

Honorary Degree, Technical University of Budapest 1989

Honorary Degree, University of Munich 1990

Honorary Member, Hungarian Academy of Sciences 1990

Nobel Prize : Chemistry (unshared) 1994

Honorary Degree, University of Crete 1994

Honorary Degree, University of Jozsef Attila, Szeged, Hungary 1995

Honorary Degree, University of Veszprem, Hungary 1995

Honorary Degree, University of Southern California 1995

Honorary Degree, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio 1995

George Washington Award, American Hungarian Foundation 1995

USC Presidential Medallion: 1995

USC Raubenheimer Outstanding Senior Faculty Award: 1995

Cotton Medal, American Chemical Society, Texas A&M 1996

Kapitsa Gold Medal, Russian Academy of Natural Sciences 1996

Honorary Degree, University of Montpellier, Montpellier, France 1996

Honorary Degree, State University of New York 1998

Honorary Degree, University of Pecs, Hungary 2001

Arthur C. Cope Award, American Chemical Society 2001

USC Distinguished Professor: 2001

American Academy of Arts and Sciences: Fellow 2002

American Philosphical Society: Member 2002

Albert Einstein Medal, Russian Academy of Natural Sciences 2002

Bolyai Prize, Hungarian Academy of Sciences 2002

Royal Academy of Sciences and Arts, Barcelona, Spain 2003

Honorary Degree, University of Debrecen, Hungary 2003

Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun of Japan 2003

Kunsho Medal: Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun from the Japanese Chamber of Commerce of Southern California 2004

Recipient of National or International Prize in Discipline: Priestley Medal, The American Chemical Society 2005


Olah, G.A., Prakash, G.K.S. Across Conventional Lines-Selected Papers of George A. Olah, World Scientific Publishing Company, 2003

Olah, G.A., Molnár A. Hydrocarbon Chemistry, 2nd Editor, Wiley Interscience, New York, 2003

Olah, G.A., A Life of Magic Chemistry, Wiley Interscience, New York, 2001

Olah, G.A. 100 Years of Carbocations and their Significance in Chemistry, J. Org. Chemistry, 66, 5943, 2001

Olah, G.A., Laali, K. K., Wang, Q., Prakash, G. K. S. Onium Ions, Wiley Interscience, New York, 1998

Olah, G. A. Oil and Hydrocarbons in the 21st Century, a chapter in Chemical Research-200 and Beyond: Challenge and Visions, Barkan, P. Editors, Oxford University Press, New York, 1997

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