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Prize at a Prized Institution : A Nobel brings deserved recognition to USC and scientist George A. Olah

October 13, 1994

The University of Southern California has long labored under an outdated reputation as a party school for spoiled rich kids and rowdy fraternities. So it is gratifying to hear that it has earned some deserved international respect, in the form of a Nobel Prize in chemistry for Prof. George A. Olah. The Hungarian emigre was the first USC faculty member ever to win a Nobel.

Recognition of Olah, 67, was part of a near-sweep of this year's Nobels in the sciences and economics for North American institutions. Seven of the eight winners worked at U.S. or Canadian schools.

The prize in physiology or medicine was shared by Alfred G. Gilman of the University of Texas and Martin Rodbell of the Albert Einstein School of Medicine in New York for their work on how cells receive signals from in and outside the body and react chemically.

The physics prize went to Clifford G. Shull of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Bertram N. Brockhouse of McMaster University in Ontario for work on using neutron-scattering techniques to analyze the atomic composition of matter.

The economics prize was split among three scholars for the use of game theory to analyze economic behavior--John F. Nash of Princeton, John C. Harsanyi of UC Berkeley and Reinhard Selten of the University of Bonn.

Olah's award is special, not just because he is at USC but because he won it alone. His work, in a way, was entirely appropriate for Los Angeles, a town that runs on hydrocarbons. He did pioneering work on the basic chemistry of hydrocarbons, work that helped in the formulation of gasolines, plastics and other industrial products.

Yet how many USC students, alumni and boosters ever heard of Olah until now? Certainly he is less known than many members of the Trojan football team. The underlying message of the prize is clear: USC is a top-notch research university. It can only enhance its growing academic reputation by working to recruit and retain the future George Olahs.

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