Rudolph Marcus (1923– )

Describing the work of Rudolph Marcus won’t help you much in dinner party conversations, but the practical consequences of his achievements extend over all areas of chemistry and have helped scientists interpret a number of important chemical phenomena.

Marcus began his research — essentially trying to understand the speed of chemical reactions — utilizing his knowledge in electrostatics. By studying the transfer of electrons between molecules in solution he concluded that because slight adjustments occur in the molecular structure of the reactants and molecules, it is more difficult for electrons to move about. Furthermore, Marcus came up with simple mathematical expressions for how the energy of molecular systems are affected by these changes (his parabola depicts the correlation between the electron-transfer reaction and the reaction rate.)

Marcus’s work – which also shed light on common phenomena like photosynthesis and corrosion —greatly advanced the field of experimental chemistry, and he received a Nobel Prize in 1992. Marcus has also been recognized with countless other honours, including the National Medal of Science in 1989. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1970 and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1973.

Marcus is currently an active professor at Caltech and Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, as well as a member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science.