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John O'Mara Bockris

Wikipedia page for Bockris, edited by Trish Schulz on July 8, 2013

Biographical Information
John O’Mara Bockris was born in Johannesburg on January 5th, 1923. He died on July 7, 2013 at age 90. He got the B.Sc. degree in Chemistry at the University of London in 1943 and the PhD. degree at the Imperial College in 1945, investigating the effects of the solvent nature on hydrogen overvoltage. In 1953 he was appointed Professor of Physical Chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1972 he moved to the Chair of Physical Chemistry of the Flinders University in South Australia. Finally, in 1978 he was appointed Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at the Texas A&M University, College Station, TX, USA.

The first paper of John O’M. Bockris was published on Nature in 1946, the last one is in press: he authored more than 650 printed works, among which 13 books concerning various topics, such as quantum electrochemistry, surface electrochemistry, electrocrystallization, environmental electrochemistry, and several textbooks which have give a definitely kinetic orientation to the academic electrochemical education during the last 30 years. Worthy of mention, in paraticular, are the two volumes worldwide known of the book “Modern Electrochemistry” published in 1970, currently used also at the University of Pavia, the new edition of which has been revised by Professor Bockris some months ago. Among other publications promoted by Prof. Bockris, the series “Modern Aspects of Electrochemistry” founded by him in 1954 should be cited (33 volumes published so far) as well as the encyclopaedic ten volumes of the “Comprehensive Treatise of Electrochemistry” published in 1980.

John Bockris supervised research projects of more than 70 Ph.D. students and received in his laboratories more than 150 overseas researchers. Many of them are now leaders in their fields of work. One of them is the editor of one of the main international journals of electrochemistry. Bockris was among the founders of two important scientific societies in the area of electrochemistry: the International Society of Electrochemistry (ISE) in 1949 (then called CITCE), and the International Society for Hydrogen Energy in 1974. Bockris, as one of the ISE founding members, was invited to deliver the speech of the 50 th anniversary in the opening ceremony of the International Electrochemistry Meeting in Pavia last September.

The scientific activity of John Bockris was acknowledged with prestigious international awards, such as, e.g., the Faraday Medal of the Chemical Society of Great Britain in 1979, the ACS Award in Contemporary Technology in 1988, the Honorary Degree in Law at the Hokkaido University in 1991, the Linford Medal of the America Electrochemical Society for “excellence in teaching” in 1995, just to mention some of them.

John Bockris’ contributions to the development of nearly all fields of electrochemistry are well known. He was interested in quantum, kinetic, spectroscopic, thermodynamic, energetic aspects of electrochemistry, as well as in corrosion, ecology, and electronic theory. He used to devote himself to research in one of the mentioned fields for a period of five to seven years looking for bringing out the most innovative trends and results. Then he moved to another field, leaving to other workers the tasks of developing further knowledge in detail. Some of his remarkable achievements give evidence of the fact that it is particularly appropriate to confer an honorary degree in Physics of this University on John O’Mara Bockris.

Bockris was the first investigator recognizing the importance of the electronic structure of metal electrodes in describing the mechanisms of electrochemical reactions in solution. In the fifties he carried out his pioneering studies on the relationship between electronic energy levels in metals and hydrogen overvoltage. The well known book “Modern Electrochemistry” was fully devoted to a description of electrochemical phenomena on the basis of physical concepts and a physical approach. These views have influenced the cultural growth of many generations of students, thus laying the foundations of the electrochemical area which is now defined as “Physical Electrochemistry,” in which are engaged many scientists with physical background studying electrochemical topics.

In tackling and solving a given problem, Bockris has always chosen to design a series of critical experiments and to check the results on the basis of different possible methods, looking for that one which can provide a quantitative interpretation. According to such an approach, the quantitative aspects brought out were always based on mathematical models applied to problem solving in the concerned areas of chemical physics and/or physical chemistry. Many electrochemical phenomena and related reaction mechanisms have been explained making use of “diagnostic criteria” to interpret reaction behavior according to one model or to a different one. This way of proceeding has opened up new routes towards Physical Electrochemistry.

The Scientific approach introduced by John Bockris has catalyzed a clear-cut change of orientation in electrochemistry. Scientists moved from the so-called age of ionic electrochemistry, or “ionics,” - which was dominated, according to Bockris’s definition, by the thermodynamic Nernstian approach and the Debye-Hückel theory of solutions - to the new age of electrodic electrochemistry, i.e., “electrodics,” in which the electronic and crystal structure of the electrode are playing a predominant role. Guided by Bockris’ impulsion, scientists moved from classical to quantum views of the phenomena occurring at metal/solution interfaces, thus placing electrochemistry in a more appropriate interdisciplinary position between chemistry and physics. It may be noticed that these views correspond to the ideas conceived substantially by Alessandro Volta when he assembled his “electrical origin” - afterwards called electrical pile - by the end of the 18 th century in Pavia.

For the above reasons, the Faculty of Mathematical, Physical and Natural Sciences of the University of Pavia, considering as a whole the wide scientific production and the remarkably original contributions given by Prof John O’Mara Bockris in the field of Physical Electrochemistry, has taken unanimously the decision to confer on him the “laurea honoris causa” in Physics.