Fukui Kenichi (福井謙一)

Kenichi FUKUI (4 October 1918 – 9 January 1998) was a Japanese chemist. Professor Emeritus at Kyoto University and Kyoto Institute of Technology. Member of the Japan Academy and the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, and Foreign Associate of the (American) National Academy of Sciences. Doctor of Engineering (1948) – Thesis project was "A Theoretical Study of Temperature Distribution in Chemical Industry Equipment". Born in Nara Prefecture.


Graduated from the old Imamiya Middle School (Now Osaka Municipal Imamiya High School).

Graduated from Osaka High School (old system).

March 1941 - Graduated from Kyoto Imperial University, School of Engineering Industrial Chemistry Department

August 1943 – Instructor at Kyoto Imperial University, School of Engineering Fuel Chemistry Department (reorganized as Petroleum Chemistry department in 1966)

September 1945 – Assistant Professor at Kyoto Imperial University, School of Engineering Fuel Chemistry Department

April 1951 – Professor at Kyoto University, School of Engineering Fuel Chemistry Department (High Temperature Chemistry Course)

January 1965 – Professor at Kyoto University, School of Engineering Fuel Chemistry Department (High Pressure Chemistry Course – reorganized as Physical Chemistry of Hydrocarbons Course in 1966)

November 1970 - Trustee, Kyoto University (until April 1971)

April 1971 - Dean, Kyoto University, School of Engineering (until March 1973)

April 1982 - Retired from Kyoto University, named Professor Emeritus

June 1982 - President, Kyoto Institute of Technology (until May 1982)

June 1988 - Professor Emeritus, Kyoto Institute of Technology; President, Institute for Basic Chemistry

February 1990 - Chairman, Scholarship Commission

September 1995 - Chairman, Japan Society for the Promotion of Science


In 1952, he published the "Frontier Electron Theory" for which he later received a Nobel Prize. This research shook the world of chemistry as it was the first to reveal that in chemical reactions, it is the electrons with the highest energy that orbit furthest from the atom that parallel the degree of chemical reactivity.

He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1981 for his Frontier Orbital Theory. He also proposed the idea of Intrinsic Reaction Coordinates (IRC).


His students include Teijirou YONEZAWA (Professor Emeritus, Kyoto University), Keiji MOROKUMA (Professor Emeritus, Institute for Molecular Science; Professor, Emory University), and Hiroshi FUJIMOTO (Professor Emeritus, Kyoto University). There are many famous chemists, including Shigeki KATOU (Kyoto University).


Hoshi University Professor Tetsuya FUKUI is his son.

Awards and Decorations

December 1943 - Senior 7th Rank

May 1962 - Japan Academy Award

November 1981 - Order of Cultural Merit

December 1981 - Nobel Prize for Chemistry

November 1988 - Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun

January 1998 - Junior Second Rank

The Man

Born in Ouaza-Oshiguma, Heijou Town, Ikoma County, Nara Prefecture (present day Oshiguma Town, Nara City), the oldest of three sons to a father who was involved in factory management and foreign trade, he spent his youth in Osaka.

In middle school he enjoyed reading Fabre's Insect Adventures.

He really liked mathematics, but his father's uncle, Professor Genitsu KITA, swayed him to study chemistry by saying, "If you like math, then do chemistry". So he decided to enter into the Faculty of Engineering Undergraduate School of Industrial Chemistry program at Kyoto University. Later, he gained an appreciation for quantum mechanics from his love of math; and that lead to the completion of his Frontier Orbit Theory.

Because he conducted repeated experiments in the alcohol-vapor-filled army fuel research center laboratory, he developed a strong tolerance for alcohol.

An obsessive note taker, he slept with a notepad and pencil near his pillow. He also carried a notebook on his early morning walks.

He never missed a morning walk. He liked to walk the road from Kitashirakawa Sosui Canal to Sekizan-Zenin Temple via the path along the west base of Mt. Uryuuzan.

He advocated the necessity of basic science and independent research, and for the peaceful coexistence of science and people.


"If you feel you can remember the idea without writing it down, the idea is not so great. The idea that you will forget if you don't write it down is valuable."

"All of the universe is connected by cause and effect, through the media of time and space."

"One person is connected to an infinite past and an infinite future."

"The thing that I want young people who want to be scientists to study most in secondary education is mathematics, especially plane geometry."

Literary Works

Quantum Chemistry (1968, Asakura Shoten)

Theory of Orientation and Stereoselection (1975, Springer-Verlag)

Chemical Reactions and Electron Orbits (1976, Maruzen) ISBN 462102132X

Introduction to the Law of Frontier Orbits (1978, Kodansha) ISBN 4061392506

Talks on Science and Humans (1982, Kyodo News) ISBN 4764101149

Chemistry and Me (1982, Kagakudojin Publishing) ISBN 4759800883

Scholarship and Creativity (1984, Kosei Shuppan) ISBN 4333011434

Straight Talk to Education (1985, Pan Research Institute)

The Creativity of Scholarship (1987, Asahi Bunko) ISBN 4022604433

21st Century Japan's Choice (1994, Diamond Inc.) ISBN 4478190186

The Creativity of Philosophy (1996, PHP Research Institute) ISBN 4569552056

Complicated Economics (1997, Diamond Inc.) ISBN 4478372160

Frontier Orbitals and Reaction Paths (1997, World Scientific Publishing Company)

Related Publications

Kenichi FUKUI and Frontier Orbit Theory (1983, Chemical Society of Japan, Scientific Societies Press) ISBN 4762263516

The Death of Dr. Kenichi FUKUI: A Story of Joy and Sadness for Academic Reporters (1999, Minerva Publishing) ISBN 4623030512

Around the Nobel Prize: Dr. Kenichi FUKUI and Kyoto University's Liberal Atmosphere (1999, Kagakudojin Publishing) ISBN 4759808183