Thu, Oct 11, 2007 - Page 1 News List

Nobel Prize for chemistry awarded to Gerhard Ertl


Gerhard Ertl of Germany won the 2007 Nobel Prize for chemistry yesterday for studies of chemical reactions on solid surfaces, which are key to understanding questions like why the ozone layer is thinning.

Ertl's research laid the foundation of modern surface chemistry and has helped explain how fuel cells work, how catalytic converters clean up car exhausts and even why iron rusts, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

Ertl, who turned 71 yesterday, told reporters in a live teleconference that it "is the best birthday present that you can give to somebody."

The first German to win the chemistry prize since 1988, Ertl showed how reliable results could be obtained in a difficult area of research, and his findings applied in both academic studies and industrial development, the academy said.

"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," the award citation said.

The academy highlighted Ertl's studies of a chemical process in which nitrogen is extracted from the air, using iron as a catalyst, for inclusion in artificial fertilizers. That process has had "enormous economic significance," the academy said.

Ertl has also studied the oxidation of carbon monoxide on platinum, a reaction that helps clean exhaust emissions in the catalytic converters of cars.

Automakers worldwide have in recent years been trying to produce cars that are more fuel-efficient and less harmful to the environment.

Ertl is a professor emeritus at the Max Planck Institute, one of Germany's most prominent research centers.

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