(1868 - 1934)
He was born in Breslau, Germany and from 1886 until 1891 he studied at the University of Heidelberg
under Robert Bunsen, at the University of Berlin in the group of A.
W. Hoffmann, and at the Technical College of Charlottenburg (today the
Technical University of Berlin) under Carl Liebermann. He married Clara
Immerwahr in 1901. Before starting his own academic career he worked
at his father's chemical business and in the Institute of Technology
in Zürich with Georg Lunge. During his time in Karlsruhe from 1894
until 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 high 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 producer. The sudden availability of cheap nitrogenous fertilizer
is credited with averting a Malthusian catastrophe, or population crisis.
He was also active in the research of combustion reactions,
the separation of gold from sea water, adsorption effects, and electrochemistry.
A large part of his work from 1911 to 1933 was done at the Institute for Physical and Electrochemistry at Berlin-Dahlem.
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 absorbant filters. Gas warfare in WWI was, in a sense, the war
of the chemists, with Haber pitted against French Nobel laureate chemist
Victor Grignard. His wife opposed his work on poison gas and committed
suicide with his service weapon after he personally oversaw the first
use of chlorine in Ypres.
In his studies of the effects of poison gas, Haber
found a simple mathematical relationship between the concentration (C)
of the gas and the amount of time (t) it was breathed in, expresed as
C x t = k, where k is a constant. In other words, exposure to a low
level of gas for a long time can cause the same result (e.g. death)
as exposure to a high concentration for a short time. This relationship
is 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. In the 1920s, he developed the cyanide gas formualtion Zyklon B, which was
used as an insecticide, especially as a fumigant in grain stores, and
also later in the concentration
Being Jewish, he was forced to emigrate by the Nazis
in 1934. Haber
was a patriotic German who was proud of his service in World War I,
for which was decorated. He struggled to cope with the new reality that
his enormous contributions to German industry were disregarded during
his vilification by the Nazi regime. He died in exile in Basel after
a grave illness.
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