Ertl, Gerhard

Ertl, Gerhard

(gĕr`härt âr`təl), 1936– German chemist, b. Stuttgart, grad. Univ. of Stuttgart (1961), Technical Univ., Munich (Ph.D 1965). After holding a number of lecturer and research positions in the United States and Germany, Ertl was named director of the Institute for Physical Chemistry at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin in 1986. Ertl's research laid the foundation of modern surface chemistrysurface chemistry,
study of chemical reactions in which the reactants are first adsorbed onto a surface medium (see adsorption) that then acts as a catalyst for the reaction; after the reaction the products are desorbed and the surface is left unchanged.
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, the study of how atoms and molecules interact at a surface. His findings were of value in both academic studies and industrial development, affecting fields as diverse as agriculture, manufacturing, and climatology. Ertl added to the understanding of the Haber processHaber process
, commercial process for the synthesis of ammonia, NH3. Pure hydrogen and nitrogen gases are mixed in the appropriate proportion, heated to between 450°C; and 600°C;, compressed to about 1,000 atmospheres pressure, and passed over a catalyst.
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 (also called the Haber-Bosch process), which is used to produce ammonia and is important to the production of inorganic fertilizers. He also contributed to the understanding of the interaction between catalystscatalyst,
substance that can cause a change in the rate of a chemical reaction without itself being consumed in the reaction; the changing of the reaction rate by use of a catalyst is called catalysis.
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, surfaces, and gases. In recognition of his contributions to the understanding of chemical processes on surfaces, Ertl was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in chemistry.