George Porter was born in the West Riding
of Yorkshire on the 6th December 1920. He married Stella Jean Brooke
on the 25th August 1949 and they have two sons, John and Andrew.
His first education was at local primary and grammar schools
and in 1938 he went, as Ackroyd Scholar, to Leeds University. His interest in
physical chemistry and chemical kinetics grew during his final year
there and was inspired to a large extent by the teaching of M.G.
Evans. During his final honours year he took a special course in
radio physics and became, later in the year, an Officer in the Royal
Naval Volunteer Reserve Special Branch, concerned with radar. The
training which he received in electronics and pulse techniques was
to prove useful later in suggesting new approaches to chemical
Early in 1945, he went to Cambridge to work as a postgraduate
research student with Professor R. G. W. Norrish. His first problem
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 him about a year later. 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
During 1949 there was an exciting period
when the method was applied to a wide variety of gaseous substances.
Porter still remembers the first appearance of the absorption
spectra of new, transient substances in time resolved sequence, as
they gradually appeared under the safelight of a dark room, as one
of the most rewarding experiences of his life.
subsequent work has been mainly concerned with showing how the
flash-photolysis method can be extended and applied to many diverse
problems of physics, chemistry and biology. He has made
contributions to other techniques, particularly that of radical
trapping and matrix stabilisation.
After a short period at
the British Rayon Research Association, where he applied the new
methods to practical problems of dye fading and the phototendering
of fabrics, he went, in 1955, to the University of Sheffield, as
Professor of Physical Chemistry, and later as Head of Deparunent and
Firth Professor. In 1966 he became Director and Fullerian Professor
of Chemistry at the Royal
Institution in succession to Sir
Lawrence Bragg. He is Director of the Davy Faraday Research
Laboratory of the Royal Institution. Here his research group is
applying flash photolysis to the problem of photosynthesis and is
extending these techniques into the nanosecond region and beyond.
Porter became a fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge,
in 1952, and an honorary fellow in 1967. He was elected a Fellow of
the Royal Society in 1960
and awarded the Davy Medal in 1971. He received the Corday-Morgan
Medal of the Chemical Society in
1955, and was Tilden Lecturer of the Chemical Society in 1958 and
Liversidge Lecturer in 1969. He has been President of the Chemical
Society since 1970. He is Visiting Professor of University College London since
1967, and Honorary Professor of the University of Kent at Canterbury
Porter holds Honorary D.Sc.'s from the following
Universities: 1968, Utah, Salt
Lake City (U.S.A.), Sheffield; 1970, East Anglia, Surrey and Durham; 1971, Leeds, Leicester, Heriot-Watt and City University. He is an honorary
member of the New York Academy of
Sciences (1968) and of the Academy "Leopoldina". He is President
of the Comité International de Photobiologie since 1968. He was
Knighted in January 1972.
He is interested in communication
between scientists of different disciplines and between the
scientist and the non-scientist, and has contributed to many films
and television programmes. His main recreation is sailing.
Lectures , Chemistry 1963-1970.