Physical chemist, physician, communicator, social theorist
Country: Hungary, UK
Polanyi comes from Hungary. He would seek the intellectual, cosmopolitan atmosphere created by his single-parent mother throughout his lifetime, which to him is as important as the air to breathe. He moves to Berlin in 1920 and is appointed head of the department for theoretical chemistry in 1923 at the Institute headed by Fritz Haber, whose famous colloquiums he organises at Harnack House from 1930. When the Nazis seize power, there is no longer place for the urbane Polanyi in Germany. Due to the anti-Semitic legislation, he emigrates to Manchester in 1933 where he continues his research.
But the sciences alone do not satisfy Polanyi’s wide-ranging interests. In 1919, he supported the Liberals in his native Hungary as a young doctor, and in Berlin he invites scientists and economists to joint debates at Harnack House. In 1940, his university creates a personal chair for social sciences. Polanyi also overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles in his private life. Despite his sister and brother-in-law being murdered by the Nazis, Polanyi quickly re-establishes links with Germany after 1945. In 1948, he accepts an appointment as an External Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society.