October 10, 2007 / 10:43 AM / 12 years ago

FACTBOX: Nobel chemistry prize winner Gerhard Ertl

(Reuters) - German scientist Gerhard Ertl, who celebrated his 71st birthday on Wednesday, won the 2007 Nobel Prize for chemistry for his surface chemistry work, the Nobel chemistry panel at the Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

This was the third of this year’s crop of prestigious Nobel prizes handed out each year for achievements in science, literature, economics and peace.

Here are some details about the prize winner:

* Ertl was born on October 10, 1936, in a suburb of Stuttgart and studied at Munich’s Technical University. He completed his diploma in Physics in 1961 and his PhD four years later.

* He became professor and director of the Institute for Physical Chemistry at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich in 1973, a post he held for 13 years.

* He has been visiting professor at universities in Wisconsin and California. He is presently professor emeritus at the Department of Physical Chemistry, Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, Berlin, where he was director from 1986-2004.

* The prize was awarded for his groundbreaking studies in surface chemistry. This science is important for the chemical industry and helps to understand varied processes such as why iron rusts, how fuel cells function and how the catalysts in

cars work.

* It was thanks to processes developed in the semiconductor industry that the modern science of surface chemistry began to emerge in the 1960s. Gerhard Ertl was one of the first to see the potential of these new techniques.

* Surface chemistry looks at what happens when a molecule of gas hits a solid. This is important because many processes in the modern world depend on these chemical reactions.

* Ertl founded an experimental school of thought by showing how reliable results can be attained in this difficult area of research.

* The approach developed by Ertl is based not least on his studies of the Haber-Bosch process, in which nitrogen is extracted from the air for inclusion in artificial fertilizers. This reaction, which functions using an iron surface as its catalyst, has enormous economic significance because the availability of nitrogen for growing plants is often restricted.

Sources: Reuters/www.nobel.se

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