George A. Olah, Carbocation and Hydrocarbon Chemistry

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George A. Olah
Courtesy Rand Larson,
Morningstar Productions

George Olah received the 1994 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for his contribution to carbocation chemistry" and his 'role in the chemistry of hydrocarbons. In particular, he developed superacids … that are much stronger than ordinary acids, are non-nucleophilic, and are fluid at low temperatures. In such media … carbocations are stable and their physical properties … can be observed, thus allowing details of their structures to be determined. Besides trivalent ions … Olah demonstrated the existence of higher coordinate carbocations … . These species do not violate the octet rule, but involve 2-electron 3-center bonding. '1

Olah thus 'devised a way to keep the transient carbocations around long enough to study their properties. What he found revolutionized the understanding of organic chemistry, leading to new discoveries and improvements in the production of gasoline, plastics and pharmaceuticals, to name a few.

His seminal contributions to the technologies of hydrocarbons and energy conversion led to the concept of the "methanol economy," which has the potential of mitigating society's reliance on fossil fuel sources for energy and materials.

Methanol and dimethyl ether, which can be produced from carbon dioxide using renewable sources of energy, are excellent combustion fuels and feedstocks for ethylene and propylene production. The chemistry behind the "methanol economy" is now being commercially developed.'2

'Olah ... was professor and chairman of chemistry at Case Western Reserve University before moving to the University of Southern California, where he is distinguished professor at USC's Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute.'1

1 Edited excerpt from George Andrew Olah
2 Edited excerpt from Olah, Scholtz Named to National Academy


Resources with Additional Information

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