Gerhard Ertl: 2007 - Chemistry

Gerhard Ertl
Gerhard Ertl

Year & Category

2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

Prize motivation

“For his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces”

At the time of the award he worked at

Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Berlin, Germany

About his research

Advantages for research and industry
Beginning in the 1960s, Gerhard Ertl wanted to gain a complete picture of a surface reaction. He developed groundbreaking methods for researching surface chemistry. Ertl’s methods are still applied today, not only in academic research but also in the development of processes for the chemical industry. Gerhard Ertl also laid the foundation for an understanding of car catalytic converters and fuel cells. Additionally, he deciphered the mechanism of the Haber-Bosch process, which enables the production of artificial fertilisers from atmospheric nitrogen.

Influential pioneer
The process was developed by two other German Chemistry Nobel Prize winners: Fritz Haber (1868–1934) and Carl Bosch (1874–1940). However, it was Gerhard Ertl who first enabled a complete understanding of the process – and, as a result, its optimisation. In 1986 Gerhard Ertl became director of the Department of Physical Chemistry at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin. He helped focus the work of the internationally renowned institute on the ways in which chemical reactions are influenced by the structure of solid surfaces.