RSC honours photochemistry pioneer Lord Porter

A decade after his death, the Royal Society of Chemistry will honour the man who revolutionised the study of high-speed, light-driven chemical reactions with the presentation of an RSC Chemical Landmark at Imperial College London today.

George Porter's work under the supervision of Professor Ronald Norrish at Cambridge University has enormously enhanced scientific knowledge over the last 50 years, enabling scientists to provide pictures of molecular change in chemical reactions lasting only a few millionths of a second, or even less. 

Lord Porter was captivated by chemistry at an early age, being given his first chemistry set and an old bus in which to experiment by his father when he was just 9 years old.

This passion carried him through school and university at Leeds straight into the top secret Hankey Scheme (a project providing the UK war effort with radio physicists), which saw him keeping vital radar equipment on naval destroyers operational during World War II.

Discovering, aboard the destroyers, that the black and yellow resistors known as "tigers" could be repaired with boot polish was impressive enough, but by devising in just half an hour a new method for observing short-lived free radicals, George Porter changed the landscape of British chemistry forever.

After visiting a Siemens lamp factory in Preston on an errand for his supervisor, Porter came up with the idea, which would become known as "flash photolysis" and earn him the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1967, of using a flash bulb to initiate a chemical reaction.

Porter's method enabled researchers to study light-induced processes in organic molecules, polymers, nanoparticles, semiconductors, photosynthesis in plants, signalling and light-induced conformational changes in biological systems.

South Kensington became the new home for Lord Porter's laboratory in 1987 when he relocated to Imperial College London. He took up the position of Professor of Photochemistry and was the inaugural Chairman of the Centre for Photomolecular Sciences. He remained a Visiting Professor from 1990 until 2001, the year before his death.

As well as his contributions to chemistry and his championing of the importance of communicating science to the young and to the public, Porter campaigned tirelessly for improvements in British education and the vital place held by fundamental science in the nation's future prosperity. 

He spoke passionately in his 1988 Dimbleby lectures of the dangers of failing to fund 'curiosity-driven' research generously and support young scientists in their early careers, an issue that is still under debate today.

Contact and Further Information

Dr Izzie Radford
Media and Communications Project Officer
The Royal Society of Chemistry Thomas Graham House, Science Park, Milton Road, Cambridge CB4 0WF, UK Burlington House, Piccadilly, London W1J 0BA, UK
Tel: +44 (0) 1223 432350