Nobel laureate Paul John Flory is remembered not only for his groundbreaking insights into the behavior of polymers in solution, but also for his humanitarian work defending the rights of scientists working under repressive conditions around the world. His more than 300 publications cover the bredth of the physical chemistry of polymers, including work in polymerization kinetics and mechanisms, molar mass distribution, solution thermodynamics and hydrodynamics, melt viscosity, glass formation, crystallization, chain conformation, rubberlike elasticity, and liquid crystals.
Born in June 1910 in Sterling, Illinois, the young Paul Flory studied chemistry at Manchester College (AB, 1931) in Indiana. His doctoral dissertation research at Ohio State Univeristy (PhD 1934) under the guidance of Professor Herrick L. Johnston focused on photochemistry and spectroscopy. After graduating, he took a position with DuPont performing research in polymer kinetics, an area he would explore in increasing depth over the next decade, through positions at the Univeristy of Cincinnati and Standard Oil. In 1948, he was recruited to the faculty of Cornell University, where he developed his 1953 work Principles of Polymer Chemistry, quickly adopted as a standard text in the field. Professor Flory joined the Stanford Chemsitry faculty in 1961. He rose to Jackson Wood Professor of Chemistry in 1965, and served as department chair from 1969 to 1972. His second book, Statistical Mechanics of Chain Molecules, came out in 1969. He retired to emeritus status in 1975.
Professor Flory received the 1974 Nobel Prize in Chemistry "for his fundamental achievements, both theoretical and experimental, in the physical chemistry of the macromolecules." That same year, U.S. President Gerald Ford awarded him the National Medal of Science in physical sciences "for his outstanding contributions to our understanding of the modes of formation and structure of polymeric substances."