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Kenichi Fukui

Kenichi FukuiBorn: 4-Oct-1918
Birthplace: Nara, Japan
Died: 9-Jan-1998
Location of death: Kyoto, Japan
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Race or Ethnicity: Asian
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Chemist

Nationality: Japan
Executive summary: Frontier orbitals

Military service: Japanese Army, Fuel Laboratory (1941-45)

Japanese chemist Kenichi Fukui said that he had no interest in chemistry as a child, but was pressured by his father to pursue that field. He studied at Kyoto Imperial University and spent most of his career there. Beginning in 1952, he developed a theory suggesting that as chemical reactions occur, loosely bonded electrons are shared between molecules occupying what Fukui called frontier orbitals, which are either of a pair of orbitals of two molecules or fragments that overlap to form a bond. As his "frontier electrical theory" or "frontier orbit theory" came to be accepted, it altered the scientific understanding of the mechanics of chemical reactions in the production of organic compounds. His papers helped bridge the gap between practical chemistry and the theories of mathematics and physics governing the behavior of atoms molecules and atoms.

The same gap, however, delayed recognition for his work, since many chemists found the math in his papers daunting, and most American and European mathematicians and physicists were not reading the Japanese-language chemistry journals where his articles were first published. In 1965 his findings were largely duplicated by two American scientists, Roald Hoffmann at Cornell and Robert B. Woodward of Harvard, and in 1981 Fukui and Hoffmann shared the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. He was Japan's first Nobel laureate in chemistry. Woodward, excluded from the honor because he had died two years earlier, won the Nobel in 1965 for unrelated work.

Father: Ryokichi Fukui (merchant)
Mother: Chie Fukui
Wife: Tomoe Horie (m. 1947, one son, one daughter)
Son: Tetsuya
Daughter: Miyako

    University: BS Industrial Chemistry, Kyoto Imperial University (1941)
    Professor: PhD Engineering, Kyoto Imperial University (1948)
    Lecturer: Chemistry, Kyoto Imperial University (1943-45)
    Teacher: Chemistry, Kyoto Imperial University (1945-51)
    Professor: Physical Chemistry, Kyoto Imperial University (1951-82)
    Administrator: Dean of Engineering, Kyoto Imperial University (1971-73)
    Administrator: Kyoto Institute of Technology (President, 1982-88)

    The Imperial Prize of the Japan Academy 1962
    Japanese Order of Culture 1981
    Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1981 (with Roald Hoffmann)
    Person of Cultural Merit 1981
    Order of the Rising Sun 1988
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences Foreign Member, 1983
    Chemical Society of Japan President, 1983-84
    European Academy of Arts, Sciences, and Humanities 1981
    International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science 1970
    The Japan Academy 1983
    National Academy of Sciences Foreign Associate, 1981
    National Science Foundation Foreign Member, 1970
    Pontifical Academy of Sciences 1985
    Royal Institution of Great Britain Foreign Member, 1989
    Royal Society Foreign Member, 1989

Author of books:
Theory of Orientation and Stereoselection (1970)
Frontier Orbitals and Reaction Paths (1997, selected papers)
The Science and Technology of Carbon Nanotubes (1999, with K. Tanaka and Tokio Yamabe)


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