1956 Hungarian refugee chemist awarded one of the highest American science honours

March 29. 2023. – 02:33 PM



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US President Joe Biden honored two researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, on Tuesday: Darleane C. Hoffman and Gabor A. Somorjai, with one of the oldest and most prestigious US scientific awards, the Enrico Fermi Presidential Award, Berkeley Lab announced on Twitter.

According to the university's website, Gabor A Somorjai and his research team study the structure, bonding and reactivity of solid-gas, solid-liquid and solid-solid interfaces at the molecular scale. This knowledge is then utilized to understand macroscopic surface phenomena, the rate and product selectivity in multi-path catalytic reactions.

The Somorjai-led research team has found, among other things, that small metal nanoparticles heterogenize homogeneous solution phase catalytic reactions and studies of correlating heterogeneous and enzyme catalytic reactions are in progress.

"Professor Somorjai has nurtured a new generation of leading scientists in the field," the university's website states.

Gábor A. Somorjai was born on 4 May 1935 in Budapest, Hungary. He was a fourth-year chemical engineering student at the Budapest University of Technology when the revolution broke out in 1956. He then left Hungary and emigrated to the United States, where he earned a doctorate in chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1960. In 1962 he became a US citizen.

In 1964, he was appointed Assistant Professor of Chemistry at UC Berkeley, and in 1967 he was promoted to Associate Professor, and in 1972 to Professor. Concurrent with his faculty appointment, he became Faculty Senior Scientist in the Materials Sciences Division, and Group Leader of the Surface Science and Catalysis Program at the Center for Advanced Materials, at the E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Somorjai has taught more than 130 doctoral students and 250 postdoctoral fellows at the university. He is the author of more than 1200 scientific publications in the fields of surface chemistry, heterogeneous catalysis and solid state chemistry. He has also written four textbooks on surface chemistry: Principles of Surface Chemistry, Chemistry in Two Dimensions: Surfaces, Introduction to Surface Chemistry and Catalysis, and Adsorbed Monolayers on Solid Surfaces.

Somorjai's scientific work has been recognized with numerous awards, the Enrico Fermi Presidential Award being one of the most prestigious in the long line.

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