A milestone posting – number 600.
Last week, the University of Toronto reminded readers of The Globe and Mail that among its ten graduates who received the Nobel Prize were Walter Kohn and John Pollanyi. Kohn was the co-winner of the 1998 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the development of density-functional theory and John Polanyi one of three winners of the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry in recognition of the development of the new field of reaction dynamics.
The university failed to add that, in the case of Kohn, it was touch and go. In 1941, he was admitted to the chemistry department only after the physics department had rejected him – on the grounds that, although he was a Jewish refugee from Vienna, he was technically an “enemy alien” and Canada was at war with Austria.
In the case of John Polanyi, the university committed an even graver crime of omission. John is the son of the polymath Michael Polanyi, an émigré Hungarian intellectual and influential author. Michael was the subject of an essay by Steven Shaplin in the London Review of Books (December 15).
Shaplin writes that in wartime Los Alamos there was a conversation piece known as the Fermi Paradox, posed by the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi. “Given the high overall probability that intelligent life existed elsewhere in the universe, why hadn’t the extraterritorials made contact? ‘They are among us,’ Leo Szilard replied, ‘but they call themselves Hungarians.’”
The university should have informed the readers of The Globe and Mail that, according to the late Leo Szilard, John Polanyi is a Martian.