Mihály Beck receives Academy’s gold award

Chemist and full member of the Academy, Mihály Beck received the Academy’s gold award during the open ceremonial session of the 187th General Assembly of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

Mr. Beck had been fascinated by chemistry from his very early childhood. After completing his studies in Szeged, his long and successful career as a chemist commenced during the London Coordination Chemistry Conference in 1959. His research has primarily focused on the chemistry of complex compounds and determining their thermodynamic stability as well as the study of their chemical reactions. He devised several new methods to determine the value of complex equilibrium constants. He also worked with oscillatory chemical reactions, fullerenes, the chemistry of metal-organic compounds, chemical reactions induced by electric discharge as well as several reaction-kinetic problems. Initially, he was the leader of a research group in Szeged, later he worked as the head of department in Debrecen.

According to his former student and colleague, Ferenc Joó “he did not get bogged down on one topic, he constantly sought new areas to study and he had a nose for what was new and important”.

Mihály Beck Source: mta.hu/László Mudra

As the head of the Physical Chemistry Department of the Kossuth Lajos University in Debrecen, he “initiated enormous changes in the department. For example, he introduced new topics, primarily in the field of coordination chemistry and he had an excellent ability to recognize the practical possibilities in theoretical topics”, Ferenc Joó recounts. His keen insights inspired him to discover the so-called bioplex artificial fertilizers. He also studied the chemistry of films used in cameras and he and his team created a useful device to detect UV-B radiation.

Between 1968 and 1990, he lead the Physical Chemistry Department in Debrecen, while also holding the position of Rector for a period. He was also the acting Rector of the university for a year. Ten years after acquiring his doctorate, he became a corresponding member of the Academy in 1973. He was elected a full member in 1979. Between 1976 and 1985, he acted as the President of the Department of Chemical Sciences of MTA. Later he played an important role in the work of several other departments of the Academy.

Besides vigorous scientific work he was devoted to popularizing science with a special emphasis on the fight against pseudo-science. “I have always been an admirer of conjuring tricks and especially peculiarities that surfaced in science which I considered magic tricks rather than reality” he said. For example, thanks to his and his colleagues’ experiments, an approved patent for a magnetic process that allegedly removed lime scale was annulled. These experiences served as the basis of his book Science – pseudoscience, a bestseller of the 1970s.

He also published extensively on the history of science, e.g. on the life of Károly Than. His latest book, Humour in Science came out in 2010. During his career, Mihály Beck published more than 250 scientific articles and acted as the author or co-author of several educational articles. He also owns 23 patents. He was elected an honorary member of the Finnish Academy of Science and Letters, and the Mediterranean Academy of Sciences.

The Hungarian Academy of Science's gold award Source: mta.hu

He received the State Prize in 1985, the Szent-Györgyi Albert Prize in 1992 and the Polányi Mihály Prize in 1996. In 1999 he received the Grand Prize of the Arany János Public Foundation, and in 2004 he was awarded the Commander’s Cross of the Order of Merit of the Hungarian Republic. The first major scholarly award he received was the Academy Prize in 1964. His oeuvre is now also honoured by the Academy’s gold award, which will definitely be in professional hands, as, although only a few of us are aware, Mihály Beck is also a keen numismatist.