Fritz Haber


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German chemist who invented the process for the synthesis of ammonia that bears his name. For this work he was awarded the 1918 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

The son of a merchant, Haber was educated at the universities of Berlin, Heidelberg, and Jena. He taught in Karlsruhe from 1894 until 1906, when he moved to Berlin to become director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physical Chemistry.

Aware that no modern state could survive long without a supply of ammonia for agriculture and the explosives industry, Haber also realized that in a war Germany would find itself cut off from its supplies of natural ammonia. He therefore devised a process in which ammonia is synthesized from the elements nitrogen and hydrogen under pressure. The Haber process was essentially a laboratory process, but with the help of the industrial chemist Carl Bosch commercial production of ammonia by the Haber–Bosch process began in 1913. Haber also worked, during World War I, on the development of poison gas for military use.

In the 1920s Haber attempted to repay the massive reparations imposed on Germany at Versailles by extracting sufficient gold from the oceans. This venture, however, failed. Haber was a patriotic German, but his service to his country over many years meant little to the Nazis as he was also a Jew. After most of his staff had either been dismissed or forced out of office, Haber himself resigned in 1933, protesting that he should be treated no differently from his fellow Jews. Later the same year he dissociated himself from the Institute and left for England. Before he could reach his destination, he died in Switzerland.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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