1991Advanced TechnologyMaterials Science and Engineering
Michael Szwarc photo

Michael Szwarc

  • U.S.A. / 1909-2000
  • Macromolecular Chemist
  • Professor, University of Southern California

Pioneering Contribution to Research and Development of Polymeric Materials by Discovering "Living Polymerization"

A chemist who has made an outstanding contribution to research and development of polymeric materials for materials science, he is best known for discovering "living polymerization," paving the way for new functional materials with indispensable applications in advanced technology, and providing many scientists and engineers (particularly polymer scientists) with significant and unprecedented methodologies for the design and synthesis of new polymeric materials.


Brief Biography

Born in Poland
Graduated from Warsaw Polytechnic College, Poland
Ph.D., Organic Chemistry, Hebrew University, Israel
D. Sc., Physical Chemistry, University of Manchester, England
Professor, The State University of New York
Director, The Polymer Research Center, The State University of New York
Professor, The Hydrocarbon Research Institute, University of Southern California

Selected Awards and Honors

Fellow of the Royal Society, London
Witco Award in Polymer Chemistry, The American Chemical Society
International Award in Plastics Science and Engineering
Member of the Polish Academy of Sciences
Award of the Division of Polymer Chemistry, The American Chemical Society
Honorary Fellow of the Society of Polymer Science, Japan

Major Works


Living Polymers. Nature. Vol. 178


Polymerization initiated by electron transfer to monomer: A new method of preparation of block polymers. Journal of the American Chemical Society. Vol. 78 (with Levy, M. et al.)


Block polymers of ethylene oxide and its analogues with styrene. Transactions of the Faraday Society. Vol.55 (with Richards, D.H.)


Carbanions, living polymers and electrontransfer processes. Wiley-Interscience


Ions and ion pairs in organic reactions. (Ed.) Wiley-Interscience


Developments in anionic polymerization: A critical review. Advances in Polymer Science. Vol.86


Pioneering Contribution to Research and Development of Polymeric Materials by Discovering "Living Polymerization"

Dr. Szwarc has done outstanding and wide-ranging research in the field of polymer science. In particular, he is famous for his discovery of “living polymerization,” which eventually provided a basis for the precise synthesis of polymeric materials. First recognized in 1956 as anion polymerization on polymerized styrene with a sodium salt under meticulously controlled reaction conditions, “living polymerization” is a polymerization reaction that allows the resultant polymers to maintain chain-end reactivity even after the completion of the reaction.

This discovery of “living polymerization” has paved the way for the development of polymers as functional materials that are indispensable for advanced technology, and its contribution to and impact on the synthesis of new polymeric materials is beyond imagination. Conventional polymerization methods do not result in precise synthesis, because they involve not only a polymer formation process but also a variety of undesirable side-reactions, and they have thus been a serious obstacle to the development of advanced polymeric materials.

“Living polymerization” permits the synthesis of polymers with uniform molecular weight. Such “monodisperse polymers” are useful as standards for the determination of polymer molecular weight and are drawing considerable interest as high-resolution resist materials whose application in photo resist is absolutely necessary in the manufacturing process of IC and LSI semiconductor integrated circuits.

Dr. Szwarc has established the fundamental technology for the preparation of “block polymers,” in which two or more different polymer chains (segments) are connected to each other through chemical bonds, by the sequential addition of monomers to the active growing ends of polymers. Block polymers could not be synthesized by the polymer-blending methods then available, but Dr. Szwarc’s contribution has made possible the production of a wide range of new functional polymer materials, such as thermoplastic elastomers, which differ from natural rubber.

Alternatively, a functional group can be attached to a polymer chain-end by the reaction of a living polymer with an appropriate compound. One of the resulting materials, liquid rubber, finds wide applications, such as in special paint materials and electrical insulation materials.

In summary, Dr. Szwarc’s discovery of “living polymerization” and his subsequent outstanding research have provided many scientists and engineers, and polymer scientists in particular, with unprecedented and significant methodologies for the design and synthesis of polymeric materials that are indispensable for advanced technologies. Dr. Szwarc is most deserving of the 1991 Kyoto Prize for Advanced Technology.


Abstract of the Lecture

The Harder One Works the More Luck One Gets

My introduction t polymer chemistry and the discovery of living polymers were the results of unexpected events. Undoubtedly I was lucky. However, here is a point deserving stresing. The harder one works the more luck one gets. This should be remembered especially by young people. Another point is worthy of emphasis. Unexpected events happen quite often. It is important to note them and to realize their significance. Then there is another problem. Should we investigate the unexpected phenomenon of should we leave it, perhaps keep it in mind, and continue with our previously planned work. This decision is crucial. To follow every unexpected event may liad to a chase of wild geese. One may spend time and effort on insignificant problems. On the other hand, a gold mine may be missed by not pursuing the new opening. There are no rules that guide one’s decision. It helps to understand the phenomenon and to use one’s intelligence and intuition. These problems are general. They are encountered in ordinary life as well as in research and their proper judgement is often vital.

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Macromolecular Engineering for Advanced Materials

November 12, 1991 (Tue.) 13:00-17:25
Kyoto International Conference Center


Coordinator: Takeo Saegusa
Member, the Kyoto Prize Screening Committee in Advanced Technology; Professor Emeritus, Kyoto University
Greetings Kazuo Inamori
President, The Inamori Foundation
Introduction of the Laureate Takeo Saegusa
Lecture Michael Szwarc
Laureate in Advanced Technology
"Role of Living Polymers in the Development of New Materials"
Chairperson: Minoru Matsuda
Professor, Faculty of Engineering, Kyoto University
"Living Cationic Polymerization in Controlled Polymer Synthesis"
Chairperson: Minoru Matsuda
Lecture Takeshi Endo
Professor, Research Laboratory of Resources Utilization, Tokyo Institute of Technology
"Molecular Design of Functional Materials on the Basis of Organic Synthesis"
Chairperson: Naoya Ogata Professor, faculty of Science and Technology, Sophia University
Lecture Kohich Hatada
Professor, Faculty of Engineering Science, Osaka University
"Stereospecific Living Polymerization and Copolymerization of Mechacrylates and Their Use for Construction of Stereoregular Chain Architecture"
Chairperson: Naoya Ogata
Lecture Takeo Saegusa "Organic-Inorganic Polymer Hybrids"
Closing Remarks Toshinobu Higashimura