Nobel the perfect birthday present for Ertl

10th October 2007, Comments 0 comments

It was the perfect present for Gerhard Ertl of Germany when he was told he had won this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his groundbreaking studies in surface chemistry.

10 October 207

Hamburg (dpa) - It was the perfect present for Gerhard Ertl of Germany when he was told he had won this year's Nobel Prize for Chemistry for his groundbreaking studies in surface chemistry.

"I got two presents today. First for my birthday and then the Nobel prize," Ertl told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa. "I was almost in tears. That's the truth," he said.

"I was really speechless. Of course one knows, that one is a candidate. Yesterday the Physics prize went to a German. So I thought the prize for chemistry would not go to me.

"I hope the Nobel prize will not change my life too much. But all the other laureates tell me that it does," said Ertl, who turned 71 on Wednesday.

The secret of Ertl's success is combining the skills of his team with the most up-to-date research methods. The scientist, whose goal is to obtain a direct view of chemical reactions, always seeks to have the latest technology at his disposal.

As director of the Fritz Haber Institute and the Max Planck Society in Berlin, he amassed a successful group of researchers around him. Colleagues praise his leadership qualities.

"He allows a lot of leeway in research, but demands results in return," said one colleague.

Karl Jacobi, like Ertl a professor emeritus at the institute, said he was friendly and had the ability to motivate, but "can be very direct when it comes to concrete issues."

He rarely argued with his fellow-researchers, something which saves a lot of time. "But he knows exactly what he wants," Jacobi said.

When he relaxes, Ertl likes to play the piano. He often plays for his colleagues when there is a celebration at the institute. Mostly it's classical music, but he also has a repertoire of popular songs.

Other hobbies are his two cats and a holiday home in the southern German state of Bavaria.

ALthough he is officially retired, Ertl, who has two children and several grandchildren, still has an office at the institute. He also publishes a chemistry handbook.

"He regularly goes to the office of a morning, but doesn't work as hard as he used to," says his wife, Barbara.

Ertl says that it is important for him to observe what is happening with his life's work.

This work helped the understanding of processes ranging from "why iron rusts and how fuel cells function" to how "the catalytic converters in our cars work," the Swedish Academy said in announcing the Nobel award.

Born in 1936, Ertl studied in Stuttgart, Munich and Paris before taking up a professorship in the northern German city of Hanover in 1968. He has also been a visiting professor at the University of California, the University of Wisconsin and the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

He lead the Physical Chemical department at the Franz Haber Institute until his retirement in 2004.

During his long career he has received many prestigious international awards, including Israel's Wolf Prize in 1998 and the Japan Prize six years earlier.

DPA

Subject: German news

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