Oral history interview with George A. Olah

Oral history interview with George A. Olah

  • 2000-Feb-03

George A. Olah begins the interview with a description of his family and childhood years in Budapest, Hungary. Olah first developed an interest in chemistry after taking a chemistry course at the Technical University of Budapest. While a laboratory assistant at the Zemplen Institute, Olah received his first patent on digoxin under the mentorship of Geza Zemplen, a carbohydrate chemist and former student of Hermann Emil Fischer. With Zemplen's approval, Olah began his work on organofluorine compounds. In 1949, Olah received his Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Technical University. That same year, he married Judith Lengyel.

Olah joined the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in 1954 as the head of the department of organic chemistry and associate scientific director of the Central Research Institute. During a momentary collapse of the Iron Wall in 1956, Olah, his wife, and young son fled Hungary to take refuge with family members in London, England. Finally settling in Sarnia, Ontario, Canada in 1957, Olah became a senior research scientist at the Sarnia laboratory of Dow Chemical Company. Impressed by the work of Christopher Kelk Ingold, Olah turned his research towards Friedel-Crafts reactions, alkylations, and nitrations.

After moving to a Dow facility in Massachusetts, Olah was offered the position of professor and chemistry department chair at Western Reserve University. Shortly after starting at Western Reserve, Olah aided in the coalescence of Western Reserve University and Case Institute of Technology, which now form Case Western Reserve University. Following twelve years of service at Case Western, Olah decided that he wanted to apply his chemistry to the broader area of hydrocarbons, so he accepted an offer from the University of Southern California in Los Angeles as a professor of chemistry and scientific director of the Hydrocarbon Research Institute, which was later named Loker Hydrocarbon Research Institute. Olah is currently the director of this institute. Olah concludes the interview with a discussion of the future of environmental chemistry, reflections on winning the 1994 Nobel Prize in chemistry, and thoughts on his family.

Place of interview
Original file type MP3, PDF
  • 83 pages
Rights In Copyright - Non-Commercial Use Permitted
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  • Science History Institute
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  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

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Cite as

Olah, George A. (George Andrew), interviewed by Arnold Thackray in University of Southern California on February 3, 2000. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0190. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/wm117p92f.

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Transcript (Published Version)

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

8 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads