George Porter, Baron Porter of Luddenham, b. 1920

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George Porter was born in Stainforth in Yorkshire on 6 December 1920. He was educated at Thorne Grammar School, 1931-1938, and Leeds University, 1938-1941 where he was Ackroyd Scholar. The teaching of M.G. Evans at Leeds was influential in inspiring an interest in physical chemistry and chemical kinetics. During his final honours year he took a special course in radio physics which led to service, 1941-1945, as a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Radar Officer in the Western Approaches and the Mediterranean. His wartime training in electronics and pulse techniques was to prove useful later in suggesting new approaches to chemical problems.

In 1945 he went to the University of Cambridge to undertake postgraduate research with R.G.W. Norrish in the field of chemical kinetics and photochemistry. His research involved the study, by flow techniques, of free radicals produced in gaseous photochemical reactions. The idea of using short pulses of light, of shorter duration than the lifetime of the free radicals, occurred to Porter, and he began the construction of an apparatus for this purpose in the early summer of 1947 and, together with Norrish, applied this to the study of gaseous free radicals and to combustion. Their collaboration continued until 1954 when Porter left Cambridge. His subsequent work was mainly concerned with showing how the flash-photolysis method could be extended and applied to a great variety of problems in physics, chemistry and biology. He has made contributions to other techniques, particularly that of radical trapping and matrix stabilisation.

After nine years at Cambridge Porter spent a year as Assistant Director of the British Rayon Research Association in Manchester where he applied the new methods to practical problems of dye fading and the phototendering of fabrics. He then moved to the University of Sheffield where he was Professor of Physical Chemistry, 1955-1963 and Firth Professor of Chemistry, 1963-1966. Between 1963 and 1966 he was also Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution. Following the retirement of Sir Lawrence Bragg in 1966 Porter became Director of the Royal Institution and Fullerian Professor of Chemistry. Here his research group in the Davy Faraday Research Laboratory applied flash photolysis to the problem of photosynthesis and extended these techniques into the nanosecond and picosecond regions. Porter continued as Director until 1985.

Porter published extensively in leading scientific journals and Chemistry in the Modern World, 1962 and Chemistry in Microtime, 1996. He held many positions of leadership in the scientific community culminating in the Presidency of the Royal Society, 1985-1990. In 1990 he became Chairman of the Centre for Photomolecular Sciences, Imperial College London.

One of Porter's particular interests was scientific education and the interpretation of science to non-specialists, a field in which the Royal Institution has been famous for many years, making his appointment as Director especially appropriate. He spoke on scientific topics to the widest range of audiences from school children to scientific colleagues at specialised symposia. He was a successful science broadcaster on television including the 1965 BBC series of lectures entitled 'The Laws of Disorder: an introduction to chemical change and thermodynamics' and his Royal Institution Christmas Lectures: 'Time Machines', 1969-1970 and 'Natural History of a Sunbeam', 1976-1977. His principal relaxation was sailing.

Porter received many awards and honours in recognition of his scientific achievements. He was elected FRS in 1960 (Medals: Davy, 1971; Rumford, 1978; Michael Faraday, 1991; Copley, 1992; Lectures: Bakerian, 1977; Humphry Davy, 1985). He was awarded the 1967 Nobel Prize for Chemistry (with M. Eigen and R.G.W. Norrish) 'for their studies of extremely fast chemical reactions, effected by disturbing the equilibrium by means of very fast pulses of energy'. He was knighted in 1972, awarded the Order of Merit in 1989 and made a life peer in 1990.

From the guide to the Papers and correspondence of George Porter, Baron Porter of Luddenham, b.1920., 1938 to 1999, (Archives, Royal Institution)

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Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Papers and correspondence of George Porter, Baron Porter of Luddenham, b.1920., 1938 to 1999 Archives, Royal Institution
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith British Broadcasting Corporation corporateBody
associatedWith Laithwaite Eric Roberts b 1921 person
associatedWith Norrish Ronald George Wreyford 1897-1978 person
associatedWith Porter George b 1920 person
associatedWith Royal Institution of Great Britain corporateBody
associatedWith Royal Society of London corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Science education


Birth 1920

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