Gerhard Ertl wins Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Gerhard Ertl, Emeritus Professor at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin, has landed this year’s most prestigious scientific award in chemistry.

October 10, 2007

"The Max Planck researcher has succeeded in providing a detailed description of how chemical reactions take place on solid surfaces," said the Swedish Academy of Sciences today in Stockholm in a statement.

The prize, which Ertl does not have to share with any other colleague, is worth roughly 1.1 million euros. "I have the highest regard for Mr Ertl - not only as an outstanding scientist but also as an individual of great integrity, whose commitment to the Max Planck Society has been invaluable", said Peter Gruss, President of the Max Planck Society in Munich on Wednesday. "This award is a special gift for Mr Ertl, who also celebrates his 71st birthday today".

How fuel cells function

"Gerhard Ertl has laid the foundations for understanding industrial catalysts and catalytic processes", said Ferdi Schüth of the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research, a colleague of the Nobel Prize laureate. "His research helps to explain such varied processes as how fuel cells function and catalysts in automobiles work." This science is important in many industrial processes, such as in the production of artificial fertilizers. Surface chemistry can even explain the thinning of the ozone layer.

"I was at a loss for words"

Ertl was overjoyed. "I never expected to win," he said. While he had been aware that he was on the list of candidates, he was nevertheless at a loss for words after hearing that he had won the Nobel Prize. The Prize Committee gave him 20 minutes to collect himself and to get ready for the press. "Now the phones are ringing off the hook". All his staff members gathered outside his office to toast the news with him with a glass of champagne.

"The Nobel Prize demonstrates once again how essential fundamental research is for our society," said Peter Gruss. By winning the prestigious award, Gerhard Ertl continues the successful history of the Max Planck Society: in 1918, Fritz Haber won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his development of a method of synthesizing ammonia.

Major Successes for German Scientists

One Nobel Prize already went to a German researcher on Tuesday: Peter Grünberg of the Jülich Research Centre received the Physics Prize. Together with the French scientist Albert Fert, he was honoured for discovering a magnetic effect which is still used on computer hard drives today.

Nobel Prize Award Ceremony in December

The Nobel Prize will be handed over in a ceremony on December 10, the anniversary of the death of Alfred Nobel, founder of the award. His goal was to honour those, "who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind". Tomorrow, on Thursday, the Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced, and on Friday the Nobel Peace Prize.

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