A war surplus searchlight was the unlikely piece of equipment which a young English chemist, George Porter, pressed into the service of science during the late 1940s. As a Cambridge researcher following five years in the Royal Navy, he was investigating chemical reactions thought until that time to be instantaneous in nature and, thus, unmeasurable in the laboratory. Porter's ingenuity paid off Barely 20 years later, he shared the 1967 Nobel Prize in chemistry (with Manfred Eigen and Ronald Norrish) for studies on what became known merely as "very fast" reactions. After serving for two decades as Director and Fullerian Professor of Chemistry at the Royal Institution of Great Britain, Sir George Porter presides today over the Royal Society of London.

Unlike the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, which has statutory duties as an arm of government, and in contrast to the academies of Eastern Europe, which are directly involved...

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