Kenichi Fukui Biography

(Japanese Chemist and Winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry)

Birthday: October 4, 1918 (Libra)

Born In: Nara, Japan

Kenichi Fukui was a Japanese theoretical chemist. He was joint recipient of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His works helped in reducing the gap between practical chemistry and physics and mathematical theories that influence the behavior of atoms and molecules. After completing his graduation in Industrial Chemistry from Kyoto Imperial University, he began his career at the Army Fuel Laboratory in Japan. Later, in 1943 he joined the Kyoto Imperial University where he worked until 1982. He then served as the President of the Kyoto Institute of Technology after which he took up the position of Director at the Institute for Fundamental Chemistry. In 1952 he presented the molecular orbital theory of reactivity. He also coined the term ‘frontier orbitals’. Though the theory was initially criticized, it was later accepted by scientists and his theory assisted in the better understanding of the process on chemical reactions in the formation of organic compounds. Kenichi Fukui was known to use complex mathematics to support his studies and research. He was the first scientist from Japan to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He authored numerous articles in Japanese and English on topics related to chemical relations, experimental organic chemistry, organic synthesis by inorganic salts, catalytic engineering, catalysts, polymerization kinetics, and the statistical theory of gelation.
Quick Facts

Died At Age: 79


Spouse/Ex-: Tomoe Horie

father: Ryokichi Fukui

mother: Chie Fukui

children: Miyako, Tetsuya

Chemists Japanese Men

Died on: January 9, 1998

place of death: Kyoto, Kyoto, Japan

Notable Alumni: Kyoto Imperial University

Grouping of People: Nobel Laureates in Chemistry

More Facts

education: Kyoto Imperial University

awards: Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1981)
Order of Culture (1981)
Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun (1988)
ForMemRS (1989)

Childhood & Early Life
Kenichi Fukui was born on 4 October 1918 at Nara City in Japan to foreign trader Ryokichi Fukui and his wife Chie Fukui. He had two younger brothers.
During his childhood he was not particularly interested in Chemistry. However, following the advice of Professor Gen-itsu Kita of Kyoto Imperial University, he enrolled in the Department of Industrial Chemistry at the Kyoto Imperial University. He completed his graduation in 1941.
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After his graduation, he was involved in experimental research at the Army Fuel Laboratory, Japan during the World War II. He was engaged in the studies regarding synthetic fuel chemistry.
In 1943 he was appointed a lecturer at the department of fuel chemistry at Kyoto Imperial University. He was later promoted as Assistant Professor in 1945 and Professor in 1951. He retained his position as Professor until 1982.
Initially his research was focused on quantum chemistry, physical chemistry and chemical reaction theory. However, in the 1950s he began developing theories regarding the role of electron orbitals in molecular reactions.
In 1952 he presented the Frontier molecular orbital theory that suggested that when chemical reactions occur, electrons that are loose bound are shared among molecules that occupy the frontier orbitals. These might be a pair of orbitals of two molecules or fragments that overlap in order to form a bond.
The term ‘frontier orbitals’ was coined by Kenichi Fukui, that referred to the highest occupied molecular orbital (HOMO) and the lowest unoccupied molecular orbital (LUMO).
The theory was published in the Journal of Chemical Physics titled ‘A molecular theory of reactivity in aromatic hydrocarbons’. Though initially his theory was criticized due to the foundation being vague, in the later years it was recognized and garnered attention at international level.
This understanding of theory aided in altering the existent outlook of the processes in chemical reactions associated with the production of organic compounds.
Throughout the 1960s he worked in the area of theoretical chemistry. However, his theories were considered too complex owing to the use of advanced mathematics. His other works include the development of the statistical theory of gelation, polymerization kinetics and organic synthesis by inorganic salts.
In 1982, he was appointed President of the Kyoto Institute of Technology, a position he held for six years, until 1988. Beginning 1988 he served as the Director of the Institute for Fundamental Chemistry until his death.
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Between 1944 and 1972, he authored over 130 papers on topics related to experimental organic chemistry, catalytic engineering and reaction engineering. These works were primarily published in Japanese papers and journals.
Later, he worked on more than 250 English publications related to his studies on chemical relations, organic synthesis by inorganic salts, catalysts, polymerization kinetics, and the statistical theory of gelation.
Major Works
Kenichi Fukui was a theoretical chemist known for his work concerning the mechanisms of chemical reactions. His research aided in reducing the gap between practical chemistry and quantum theory. He presented the ‘Frontier Molecular Orbital Theory’, and also coined the term ‘frontier orbitals’.
Awards & Achievements
He was awarded the Japan Academy Medal in 1962.
In 1981 he jointly received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with Roald Hoffman.
He was bestowed with the Japanese Order of Culture in 1981.
In 1988 he was awarded the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun by the Japanese government.
In 1989, he was inducted into the Royal Society as Foreign Member.
Other reputed professional societies that he was a member of include the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Pontifical Academy of Science, the Japan Academy, European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities and International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science.
He served as President of the Chemical Society of Japan between 1983 and 1984.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1947 he married Tomoe Horie and the couple had two children, a son named Tetsuya and a daughter named Miyako.
He died on 9 January 1998 at Kyoto in Japan. He was 79 years old at the time of his death.

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