"This year's Nobel Prize in Chemistry goes to German Professor Gerhard Ertl for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces," announced Professor Gunnar Öquist, the Permanent Secretary of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm on Wednesday.
Coincidentally, today is Gerhard Ertl's 71st birthday. Upon hearing the news, he spoke to the press conference over the phone.
"This is the best birthday present one can ever get. I knew I was a candidate, but I am very happy to get the prize. I hope that my life will not change much in the future. It should be the same as usual. But I am very happy."
According to the Nobel Prize Committee in Chemistry, Ertl has been recognized for his groundbreaking studies in surface chemistry. This science is important for the chemical industry and helps people understand why iron rusts, how fuel cells function, and how the catalysts in our cars work.
Chemical reactions on catalytic surfaces play a vital role in many industrial operations, such as the production of artificial fertilizers. Surface chemistry can even explain the destruction of the ozone layer, as vital steps in the reaction actually take place on the surface of small crystals of ice in the stratosphere. The semiconductor industry is another area that depends on knowledge of surface chemistry.
It is 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 in these new techniques. Step by step he created a methodology for surface chemistry by demonstrating how different experimental procedures can be used to provide a complete picture of a surface reaction.
Gerhard Ertl founded an experimental school of thought by showing how reliable results can be attained in this difficult area of research.
His insights have provided a scientific basis for modern surface chemistry. His methodology is used in both academic research and the industrial development of chemical processes. Ertl's approach is based on his studies of the Haber-Bosch process, in which nitrogen is extracted from the air for use in artificial fertilizers. This reaction, which uses an iron surface as its catalyst, has enormous economic significance because the availability of nitrogen for growing plants is often limited.
Ertl has also studied the oxidation of carbon monoxide on platinum, a reaction that takes place in the catalyst of cars to clean exhaust emissions.
Gerhard Ertl was born in 1936 in Bad Cannstadt, Germany. He earned his Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1965, from the Technische University in Munich, Germany.
The prize carries a value of 10 million Swedish Kronor – about $1.53 million USD. The prize will be issued on December 10.
By Xuefei Chen, People's Daily Online Correspondent in Stockholm.