Photo of Henry Eyring

Henry Eyring

  • National Medal of Science
  • Physical Sciences

For contributions to our understanding of the structure and properties of matter, especially for his creation of absolute rate theory, one of the sharpest tools in the study of rates of chemical reaction.

Henry Eyring dismissed the storied battle between religion and science, a struggle as old as the Bible itself. The renowned chemist, a third-generation Mormon, viewed his research as an examination of God’s handiwork – not a competitive threat.

“Is there any conflict between science and religion?” Eyring once asked. “There is no conflict in the mind of God, but often there is conflict in the minds of men.”

Eyring’s most influential idea, absolute rate theory, explains energy changes during a reaction.

For example, when atoms and molecules collide, they can form high energy structures that morph into different molecules as they fall out of the high energy state.

Aside from his scientific discoveries – chronicled in more than 600 publications – Eyring was also an advocate for chemical education, using clever analogies to explain complex ideas to students.

“If you can’t explain something to an eight-year-old,” he wrote. “you don’t really understand it yourself.”