John Charles Polanyi

Physical Chemistry

Won the 1986 Nobel Prize in chemistry for using chemi-luminescence of molecules to explain energy relationships in chemical reactions

"The most exciting thing in the twentieth century is science. Young people ask me if this country is serious about science. They aren’t thinking about the passport that they will hold, but the country that they must rely on for support and encouragement."


So You Want to Be a Physical Chemist

A few years ago, in a German magazine, Polanyi described his life as a research chemist. “I have had a life in which I have been paid to play. I haven’t been paid much, but my toys continue to be the best.” However, he went on to point out that the very expensive, fancy scientific instruments he gets to “play with” can be temperamental, and sometimes they don’t work at all. “That is worrying, since I have to make new discoveries if I am to be allowed to continue doing science, which is what I love to do,” he said. “So you can imagine the delight when finally that wretched machine for looking at molecules works, and I and my students get a glimpse of something nobody has ever seen before. We share for a moment in the relief and wonder that Christopher Columbus must have felt when, just at the moment that all seemed to be lost, a smudge of land appeared on the horizon. At that moment we are united with all the discoverers of history and are proud to call ourselves scientists.”
And what is Polanyi’s secret for succeeding as a scientist? “Above all, I would say, by wishing to do so,” he says. People of many different talents have succeeded in science, but nobody has succeeded who did not passionately want to do so.

 

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