Michael Polanyi

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Michael Polanyi, FRS (born Polányi Mihály) (March 11, 1891, Budapest – February 22, 1976, Northampton, England) was a HungarianBritish polymath who made important theoretical contributions to physical chemistry, economics, and philosophy. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford.


Early life

Polanyi was born into a Jewish family. His older brother was Karl Polanyi the political economist. Their father was an engineer and railway entrepreneur, and his mother's salons were well known amongst Budapest's intellectuals. Polanyi graduated in medicine in 1913, and served as a physician in the Austro-Hungarian army during World War I. During a convalescence (after contracting diphtheria) in 1917 he wrote what became a doctorate in physical chemistry from the University of Budapest (supervised by Gusztáv Buchböck).

In 1920, he emigrated to Germany, eventually ending up as a research chemist at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut for Fiber Chemistry in Berlin. He converted to Christianity, and married Magda Elizabeth in a Roman Catholic ceremony. In 1929, Magda gave birth to their son John, who in later life settled in Canada, and was awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry. Their other son, George Polanyi, became a well known British economist. With the coming to power in 1933 of the Nazi party, Polanyi accepted the offer of a chair in Physical Chemistry at the University of Manchester. Because of a shift in his interests from chemistry via economics to philosophy, a new chair in Social Science (1948-58) was created for him.

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