Wednesday, October 10, 2007

2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

German surface chemist Gerhard Ertl is the single recipient of this year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry. According to the Royal Swedish Academy of the Sciences,

This year’s chemistry laureate Gerhard Ertl has succeeded in providing a detailed description of how chemical reactions take place on surfaces and has in this way laid the foundation of modern surface chemistry. He is awarded the prize for showing how reliable results can be obtained in this area of research.

Surface reactions are vital in many processes today
  • in catalytic cleaning carbon monoxide oxidates on platinum,
  • freons used in air conditioning systems, for instance, reduce the ozone layer by reacting on the surfaces of small ice crystals,
  • rusting takes place when an iron surface is exposed to oxygen,
  • surface reactions are used in the electronics industry to manufacture semiconductor materials for components,
  • artificial fertilizers contain ammonia which is produced when nitrogen and hydrogen react on an iron surface,
  • renewable fuels can be produced using catalytic surfaces.

Image and quotes from The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. (2007). Information for the public: the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2007. Retrieved from

Ertl laid the groundwork for a branch of chemistry that is difficult to quantify, yet has extremely practical applications. Ertl's modelling of hydrogen reaction on metal surfaces in the 1970s advanced conversations on catalytic mechanisms. A much more thorough discussion of Ertl's contributions for both scientists and the public is available here.

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