Paul John Flory


Honorary Degree (1977)
Doctor of Science
Location: Indianapolis
Presenter: John William Ryan


For more than 50 years, through his innovative theories and his confirming experiments, Dr. Paul J. Flory advanced and influenced the field of physical chemistry. His peers recognized him as a pioneering scientist whose achievements reflected a remarkable combination of the intuitive and the useful.

A native of Sterling, Illinois, Paul John Flory was born June 19, 1910. He graduated from Elgin High School in Elgin, IL, and went on to study chemistry at Manchester College in Indiana, receiving a bachelor's degree in 1931. He earned his Ph.D. in 1934 from The Ohio State University, where he turned to physical chemistry.

In 1934, he joined the research department of the DuPont Company, where he was assigned to the group that developed nylon. This experience launched his later research on the fundamentals of polymerization and polymeric substances, with basic insights on the characteristics of macromolecules. In 1938, he joined the Basic Science Research Laboratory at the University of Cincinnati, where he conducted research for a period of two years. There he developed a mathematical theory for the polymerization of compounds with more than two functional groups and the theory of polymer networks or gels.

With the outbreak of World War II, and the need for synthetic rubber, Dr. Flory returned to industry, first at the Esso (now Exxon Mobil Corporation) Laboratories of the Standard Oil Development Company (1940-43), and then at the Research Laboratory of the Goodyear Tire and Rubber Company (1943-48). From 1948 to 1956, he held a professorship at Cornell University. Among the products of his research and teaching there was his magnum opus, Principles of Polymer Chemistry, published in 1953 by the Cornell University Press.

He moved to Pittsburgh in 1957 to establish a broad program of basic research at the Mellon Institute. Under his direction the enterprise thrived for several years until top management began to lose interest in the project. In 1961, he accepted a professorship at Stanford University and was appointed to the J. G. Jackson-C. J. Wood Professorship in 1966. He was chairman of the Department of Chemistry from 1969 to 1971 and became Jackson-Wood Professor Emeritus at Stanford in 1975. He was the author of Statistical Mechanics of Chain Molecules, published in 1969, and of almost 300 scientific articles. As well, he was granted some 20 patents.

Dr. Flory received more than two-dozen prestigious honors and awards, including most notably the 1974 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. That same year, he was named the recipient of the National Medal of Science by President Ford and received the American Chemical Society's (ACS) highest honor, the Priestley Model. Additional honors received from the ACS were four national awards including the Peter Debye Award in Physical Chemistry, and five section awards including the J. Willard Gibbs Medal from the Chicago Section and the Nichols Medal from the New York Section. Dr. Flory also received medals and awards from the Institution of Rubber Industry of Great Britain, The American Physical Society, the Society of Plastics Engineers, Columbia University, The Carborundum Company, The Franklin Institute, Yale University, and the Society of Chemical Industry. His activities in the cause of human rights, especially after his Nobel award, were prodigious and universal. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1953. Dr. Flory received ten honorary degrees during his lifetime. In addition to the honorary degree bestowed upon him by Indiana University in 1977, he received honorary degrees from his alma maters, Manchester College and The Ohio State University, as well as the Politecnico de Milano, the University of Manchester, England, and the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel.

Dr. Flory served as a Director of the American Chemical Society. He was a Fellow of the American Physical Society and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He also held key posts for the National Research Council. Upon retirement, he remained active and consulted for IBM for some years. Dr. Flory died of a heart attack in Big Sur, California, on September 8, 1985.