German scientist Gerhard Ertl won the 2007 Nobel Prize in chemistry Wednesday for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces.
"This science is important for the chemical industry and can help us to understand such varied processes as why iron rusts, how fuel cells function and how the catalysts in our cars work," the Royal Swedish Academy of Science said in a statement.
Ertl is a professor emeritus at Berlin's Fritz Haber Institute, which is part of the Max Planck Society.
The Nobel committee lauded him as a forerunner in surface chemistry, a branch that evolved in the 1960s, and one of the first to understand the potential of modern technology for exploring the new field.
The academy said Ertl provided a detailed description of how chemical reactions take place on surfaces and studied some of the most fundamental mysteries in that field.
Ertl showed how to obtain reliable results in this difficult area of research, and his findings applied in both academic studies and industrial development, the academy said in its citation.
"Surface chemistry can even explain the destruction of the ozone layer as vital steps in the reaction actually take place on the surfaces of small crystals of ice in the stratosphere," the award citation said.
This was the third of the prestigious Nobel Prizes handed out this year, with awards in physics and medicine made in the past two days.
French scientist Albert Fert and Peter Grunberg of Germany won the 2007 Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of giant magnetoresistance, while Briton Martin J. Evans and Americans Mario R. Capecchi and Oliver Smithies shared the Medicine Prize for their groundbreaking discoveries concerning embryonic stem cells and DNA recombination in mammals.
The winners of the Literature Prize will be announced Thursday, to be followed by those for Peace Friday and Economics next Monday.
The Nobel Prizes have been awarded annually since 1901 to those who " conferred the greatest benefit on mankind during the preceding year."
The annual Nobel Prizes are usually announced in October and are handed out on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the 1896 death of Alfred Nobel, a Swedish industrialist and the inventor of dynamite.
Each prize consists of a medal, a personal diploma and a cash award of 10 million Swedish kronor (1.53 million U.S. dollars).