1991 Kyoto Prize Laureates

Advanced Technology

Materials Science and Engineering

Michael Szwarc

/  Macromolecular Chemist

1909 - 2000

Professor, University of Southern California

Commemorative Lectures

The Harder One Works the More Luck One Gets


11 /11 Mon

Place:Kyoto International Conference Center


Macromolecular Engineering for Advanced Materials


11 /12 Tue

13:00 - 17:25

Place:Kyoto International Conference Center

Achievement Digest

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.


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.


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 YorkDirector, 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

Profile is at the time of the award.