Fritz Haber PDF Print E-mail
Tuesday, 12 April 2011 08:37

Fritz Haber

Born: 9 December 1868, Breslau, Germany

Died: 29 January 1934, Basel, Switzerland

Age: 65

Cause of death: Heart failure

Notable because: German Jew who invented Zyklon B as used in the concentration camps. Nobel winning chemist whose work changed the world, for better and for worse. Developed chemical weapons for German use in WW1.

Fritz Haber was a German chemist, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for his development for synthesizing ammonia, important for fertilizers and explosives. Haber, along with Max Born, proposed the Born–Haber cycle as a method for evaluating the lattice energy of an ionic solid. He has also been described as the "father of chemical warfare" for his work developing and deploying chlorine and other poisonous gases during World War I.

aber was born in Breslau, Germany (now Wrocław, Poland), into a Hasidic family. His was one of the oldest families of that town. Haber later converted from strict Judaism to Christianity. His mother died during childbirth. His father was a well-known merchant in the town. From 1886 until 1891, he studied at the University of Heidelberg under Robert Bunsen, at the University of Berlin (today the Humboldt University of Berlin) in the group of A. W. Hofmann, and at the Technical College of Charlottenburg (today the Technical University of Berlin) under Carl Liebermann. He married Clara Immerwahr during 1901. Clara was also a chemist and an opponent of Haber's work in chemical warfare. Following an argument with Haber over the subject, she committed suicide. Their son, Hermann, born in 1902, would later also commit suicide because of his shame over his father's chemical warfare work. Before starting his own academic career, he worked at his father's chemical business and in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zürich with Georg Lunge.

During his time at University of Karlsruhe from 1894 to 1911, he and Carl Bosch developed the Haber process, which is the catalytic formation of ammonia from hydrogen and atmospheric nitrogen under conditions of high temperature and pressure.

In 1918 he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work.

The Haber-Bosch process was a milestone in industrial chemistry, because it divorced the production of nitrogen products, such as fertilizer, explosives and chemical feedstocks, from natural deposits, especially sodium nitrate (caliche), of which Chile was a major (and almost unique) producer. Naturally extracted nitrate production in Chile fell from 2.5 million metric tonnes (employing 60,000 workers and selling at $45/tonne) in 1925 to just 800,000 tonnes, produced by 14,133 workers, and selling at $19/tonne in 1934.

He was also active in the research of combustion reactions, the separation of gold from sea water, adsorption effects, electrochemistry, and free radical research (see Fenton's reagent). A large part of his work from 1911 to 1933 was done at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Elektrochemistry at Berlin-Dahlem. In 1953, this institute was renamed for him. He is sometimes credited, incorrectly, with first synthesizing MDMA (which was first synthesized by Merck KGaA chemist Anton Köllisch in 1912).

Haber played a major role in the development of chemical warfare in World War I. Part of this work included the development of gas masks with absorbent filters. In addition to leading the teams developing chlorine gas and other deadly gases for use in trench warfare, Haber was on hand personally to aid in its release despite being proscribed by the Hague Convention of 1907 (to which Germany was a signatory). Future Nobel laureates James Franck, Gustav Hertz, and Otto Hahn served as gas troops in Haber's unit.

Gas warfare in WW I was, in a sense, the war of the chemists, with Haber pitted against French Nobel laureate chemist Victor Grignard. Regarding war and peace, Haber once said, "During peace time a scientist belongs to the World, but during war time he belongs to his country."

His wife Clara, a fellow chemist and the first woman to earn a Ph.D at the University of Breslau, committed suicide with his service revolver in their garden, possibly in response to his having personally overseen the first successful use of chlorine at the Second Battle of Ypres on 22 April 1915. She shot herself in the heart on 15 May, and died in the morning. That same morning, Haber left for the Eastern Front to oversee gas release against the Russians.

Haber was a patriotic German who was proud of his service during World War I, for which he was decorated. He was even given the rank of captain by the Kaiser, rare for a scientist too old to enlist in military service.Photo: Fritz Haber

In his studies of the effects of poison gas, Haber noted that exposure to a low concentration of a poisonous gas for a long time often had the same effect (death) as exposure to a high concentration for a short time. He formulated a simple mathematical relationship between the gas concentration and the necessary exposure time. This relationship became known as Haber's rule.

Haber defended gas warfare against accusations that it was inhumane, saying that death was death, by whatever means it was inflicted. During the 1920s, scientists working at his institute developed the cyanide gas formulation Zyklon B, which was used as an insecticide, especially as a fumigant in grain stores. During the Holocaust it was used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau and other camps in the Nazi campaign to exterminate Jews, Gypsies and others viewed by the Third Reich as inferior races or socially unwanted.

In the 1920s, Haber exhaustively searched for a method to extract gold from sea water, and published a number of scientific papers on the subject. After years of research, he concluded that the concentration of gold dissolved in sea water was much lower than those concentrations reported by earlier researchers, and that gold extraction from sea water was uneconomic.

Haber's genius was recognized by the Nazis, who offered him special funding to continue his research on weapons. As a result of fellow Jewish scientists having already been expelled from working in that field, he left Germany in 1933. His Nobel Prize-winning work in chemistry, and subsequent contributions to Germany's war efforts in the form of chemicPhoto: a sack of Kalkammonsalpeteral fertilizers, explosives and poison munitions, were not enough to prevent eventual vilification of his heritage by the Nazi regime. He moved to Cambridge, England, along with his assistant J J Weiss, for a few months, during which time Ernest Rutherford pointedly refused to shake hands with him, due to his involvement in poison gas warfare. Haber was offered by Chaim Weizmann the position of director at the Sieff Research Institute (now the Weizmann Institute) in Rehovot, in Mandate Palestine, and accepted it. He started his voyage to what is today Israel in January 1934, after recovering from a heart attack. His ill health overpowered him and on January 29, 1934, at the age of 65, he died of heart failure in a Basel hotel, where he was resting on his way to the Middle East. He was cremated and his ashes, together with Clara's ashes, were buried in Basel's Hornli Cemetery. He bequeathed his extensive private library to the Sieff Institute.

Haber's immediate family also left Germany. His second wife, Charlotte, with their two children, settled in England. Haber's son from his first marriage, Hermann, emigrated to the United States during World War II. He committed suicide in 1946. Members of Haber's extended family died in concentration camps. One of his children, Ludwig ("Lutz") Fritz Haber (1921–2004), became an eminent historian of chemical warfare in World War I, and published a book called The Poisonous Cloud (1986).

Haber received much criticism for his involvement in the development of chemical weapons in pre-World War II Germany both by contemporaries and by modern-day scientists. The research results show the ambiguity of his scientific activity: On the one hand, through the development of ammonia synthesis (to manufacture explosives) or a technical process for the manufacture and use of poison gas in warfare as it has become possible on an industrial basis. On the other hand, without this knowledge and ability the diet of today's humanity would not be possible. The annual world production of synthesized nitrogen fertilizer is currently more than 100 million tons. The food base of a half of the current world population is based on the Haber-Bosch process.


Master Mind: The Rise and Fall of Fritz Haber, the Nobel Laureate Who Launched the Age of Chemical Warfare

Author: Daniel Charles
Manufacturer: Ecco
Amazon Price: $24.95
Offers - Buy New From: $15.95 Used From: $8.03
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Editorial Review:

FRITZ HABER -- a Nobel laureate in chemistry, a friend of Albert Einstein, a German Jew and World War I hero -- may be the most important scientist you have never heard of. The Haber-Bosch process, which he invented at the turn of the twentieth century, revolutionized agriculture by converting nitrogen to fertilizer in quantities massive enough to feed the world. The invention has become an essential pillar for life on earth; some two billion people on our planet could not survive without it. Yet this same process supplied the German military with explosives during World War I, and Haber orchestrated Germany's use of an entirely new weapon -- poison gas. Eventually, Haber's efforts led to Zyklon B, the gas later used to kill millions -- including Haber's own relatives -- in Nazi concentration camps.

Haber is the patron saint of guns and butter, a scientist whose discoveries transformed the way we produce food and fight wars. His legacy is filled with contradictions, as was his personality. For some, he was a benefactor of humanity and devoted friend. For others, he was a war criminal, possessed by raw ambition. An intellectual gunslinger, enamored of technical progress and driven by patriotic devotion to Germany, he was instrumental in the scientific work that inadvertently supported the Nazi cause; a Jew and a German patriot, he was at once an enabler of the Nazi regime and its victim.

Master Mind is a thought-provoking biography of this controversial scientist, a modern Faust who personifies the paradox of science, its ability to create and to destroy. It offers a complete chronicle of his tumultuous and ultimately tragic life, from his childhood and rise to prominence in the heady days of the German Empire to his disgrace and exile at the hands of the Nazis; from early decades as the hero who eliminated the threat of starvation to his lingering legacy as a villain whose work led to the demise of millions.


Fritz Haber, Tome 1 : L'esprit du temps

Manufacturer: DELCOURT
Offers - Buy New From: $20.76 Used From: $14.84
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Enriching the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the Transformation of World Food Production (MIT Press)

Author: Vaclav Smil
Manufacturer: The MIT Press
Amazon Price: $35.00
Offers - Buy New From: $23.10 Used From: $22.78
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Editorial Review:

The industrial synthesis of ammonia from nitrogen and hydrogen has been of greater fundamental importance to the modern world than the invention of the airplane, nuclear energy, space flight, or television. The expansion of the world's population from 1.6 billion people in 1900 to today's six billion would not have been possible without the synthesis of ammonia.

In Enriching the Earth, Vaclav Smil begins with a discussion of nitrogen's unique status in the biosphere, its role in crop production, and traditional means of supplying the nutrient. He then looks at various attempts to expand natural nitrogen flows through mineral and synthetic fertilizers. The core of the book is a detailed narrative of the discovery of ammonia synthesis by Fritz Haber -- a discovery scientists had sought for over one hundred years -- and its commercialization by Carl Bosch and the chemical company BASF. Smil also examines the emergence of the large-scale nitrogen fertilizer industry and analyzes the extent of global dependence on the Haber-Bosch process and its biospheric consequences. Finally, it looks at the role of nitrogen in civilization and, in a sad coda, describes the lives of Fritz Haber and Carl Bosch after the discovery of ammonia synthesis.


The Alchemy of Air: A Jewish Genius, a Doomed Tycoon, and the Scientific Discovery That Fed the World but Fueled the Rise of Hitler

Author: Thomas Hager
Manufacturer: Broadway Books
Amazon Price: $16.00
Offers - Buy New From: $7.62 Used From: $3.70
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Editorial Review: A sweeping history of tragic genius, cutting-edge science, and the Haber-Bosch discovery that changed billions of lives--including your own.

At the dawn of the twentieth century, humanity was facing global disaster: Mass starvation was about to become a reality. A call went out to the world’ s scientists to find a solution.

This is the story of the two men who found it: brilliant, self-important Fritz Haber and reclusive, alcoholic Carl Bosch. Together they discovered a way to make bread out of air, built city-sized factories, and saved millions of lives.

But their epochal triumph came at a price we are still paying. The Haber-Bosch process was also used to make the gunpowder and explosives that killed millions during the two world wars. Both men were vilified during their lives; both, disillusioned and disgraced, died tragically.

The Alchemy of Air is the extraordinary, previously untold story of a discovery that changed the way we grow food and the way we make war–and that promises to continue shaping our lives in fundamental and dramatic ways.


Between Genius and Genocide: The Tragedy of Fritz Haber, Father of Chemical Warfare

Author: Dan Charles
Manufacturer: Jonathan Cape
Offers - Buy New From: $60.72 Used From: $60.71
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Editorial Review: 1st edition Jonathan Cape hardcover new condition book in new condition dw ex shop stock. In stock shipped from our UK warehouse


Last Updated on Tuesday, 12 April 2011 08:48

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