Gabor A. Somorjai was born in Budapest, Hungary, on May 4, 1935. He was a fourth year student of Chemical Engineering at the Technical University in Budapest in 1956 at the outbreak of the Hungarian Revolution. He left Hungary and emigrated to the United States, where he received his Ph.D. degree in Chemistry from the University of California, Berkeley in 1960. He became a U.S. citizen in 1962.
After graduation, he joined the IBM research staff in Yorktown Heights, New York, where he remained until 1964. At that time, he was appointed Assistant Professor of Chemistry at the University of California, Berkeley and in 1972 was promoted to Professor. He is also a Faculty Senior Scientist in the Materials Sciences Division, and Group Leader of the Surface Science and Catalysis Program at the Center for Advanced Materials, at the E.O. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.