Kenichi Fukui

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Nara City, Japan
Birth Sign
Nara City, Japan

Kenichi Fukui was a theoretical chemist from Japan. He was a co-winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981. His contributions aided in closing the gap between actual chemistry and physics and mathematical models that influence atomic and molecular behavior. He began his career at the Army Fuel Laboratory in Japan after graduating from Kyoto Imperial University with a degree in Industrial Chemistry. He afterwards joined Kyoto Imperial University in 1943, where he worked until 1982. After that, he became President of the Kyoto Institute of Technology before becoming Director of the Institute for Fundamental Chemistry. He proposed the molecular orbital theory of reactivity in 1952. He was also the first to create the term “border orbitals.” Though his theory was initially questioned, scientists eventually accepted it, and his theory contributed to a better understanding of chemical interactions in the production of organic substances. Kenichi Fukui was noted for employing advanced mathematics in his studies and research. He was the first Japanese scientist to earn the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Chemical connections, experimental organic chemistry, organic synthesis by inorganic salts, catalytic engineering, catalysts, polymerization kinetics, and the statistical theory of gelation were among the topics he wrote about in Japanese and English.

Childhood and Adolescence

Kenichi Fukui was born in Nara City, Japan, to international trader Ryokichi Fukui and his wife Chie Fukui on October 4, 1918. He was the eldest of two brothers. He was not very interested in chemistry as a child. However, on the suggestion of Kyoto Imperial University Professor Gen-itsu Kita, he enrolled in the Kyoto Imperial University Department of Industrial Chemistry. In 1941, he received his diploma.

Career of Kenichi Fukui

Following his graduation, he worked at the Army Fuel Laboratory in Japan during World War II, conducting experimental research. He was working on research into synthetic fuel chemistry. In 1943, he was hired as a lecturer at Kyoto Imperial University’s department of fuel chemistry. In 1945, he was appointed to Assistant Professor, and in 1951, he was promoted to Professor. His post as Professor lasted till 1982.

Initially, he concentrated on quantum chemistry, physical chemistry, and chemical reaction theory in his study. In the 1950s, however, he began to formulate theories on the significance of electron orbitals in chemical reactions.
In 1952, he proposed the Border molecular orbital hypothesis, which proposed that during chemical processes, loosely bound electrons are shared across molecules in the frontier orbitals. This could be a pair of orbitals from two different molecules or fragments that overlap to form a bond.

Kenichi Fukui coined the phrase “border orbitals” to describe the highest occupied molecular orbital (HOMO) and the lowest unoccupied molecular orbital (LUMO) (LUMO). The hypothesis, titled ‘A molecular theory of reactivity in aromatic hydrocarbons,’ was published in the Journal of Chemical Physics. Though his hypothesis was initially challenged because of its ambiguous base, it was later recognized and received international attention.

This theoretical insight helps in changing the existing perspective of chemical reactions involved in the production of organic molecules. He worked in the field of theoretical chemistry during the 1960s. However, because he used advanced mathematics, his theories were deemed too complicated. Among his other contributions are the statistical theory of gelation, polymerization kinetics, and organic synthesis using inorganic salts. He was named President of the Kyoto Institute of Technology in 1982, and remained in that post for six years, until 1988. He was the Director of the Institute for Fundamental Chemistry from 1988 until his death.

He published around 130 publications on experimental organic chemistry, catalytic engineering, and reaction engineering between 1944 and 1972. The majority of these works were published in Japanese newspapers and periodicals. Later in his career, he contributed to almost 250 English articles relating to his research on chemical interactions, inorganic salt organic synthesis, catalysts, polymerization kinetics, and the statistical theory of gelation.

Major Projects of Kenichi Fukui

Kenichi Fukui was a theoretical chemist best known for his work on chemical reaction mechanisms. His work helped bridge the gap between real-world chemistry and quantum theory. He introduced the ‘Frontier Molecular Orbital Theory,’ as well as the phrase ‘frontier orbitals.’

Achievements & Awards

In 1962, he received the Japan Academy Medal. He and Roald Hoffman shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981.
In 1981, he was awarded the Japanese Order of Culture. The Japanese government honored him with the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun in 1988.

He was elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society in 1989. He was a member of the Royal Institution of Great Britain, the Pontifical Academy of Science, the Japan Academy, the European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities, and the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science, among other prestigious professional groups. Between 1983 to 1984, he was President of the Chemical Society of Japan.

Personal History and Legacy

He married Tomoe Horie in 1947, and the pair had two children: Tetsuya, a son, and Miyako, a daughter. He died in Kyoto, Japan, on January 9, 1998. At the time of his death, he was 79 years old.

Estimated Net Worth

The estimated net worth of Kenichi Fukui is $1.2 Million