Gerhard Ertl

Gerhard Ertl (born 10 October 1936) is a German physicist and a Professor emeritus at the Department of Physical Chemistry, Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Berlin, Germany. Ertl's research laid the foundation of modern surface chemistry, which has helped explain how fuel cells produce energy without pollution, how catalytic converters clean up car exhausts and even why iron rusts, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.

Gerhard Ertl
Born (1936-10-10) 10 October 1936
Alma materUniversity of Stuttgart
Technical University of Munich
Known forSurface chemistry
AwardsJapan Prize (1992)[1]
Wolf Prize in Chemistry (1998)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (2007)
Otto Hahn Prize (2007)
Faraday Lectureship Prize (2007)
Scientific career
FieldsSurface chemistry
InstitutionsTechnical University of Hannover
Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich
Technical University of Munich
Free University of Berlin
Technical University of Berlin
Fritz Haber Institute of the MPG
Humboldt University of Berlin
Doctoral advisorHeinz Gerischer

His work has paved the way for development of cleaner energy sources and will guide the development of fuel cells, said Astrid Graslund, secretary of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.

He was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces. The Nobel academy said Ertl provided a detailed description of how chemical reactions take place on surfaces. His findings applied in both academic studies and industrial development, the academy said. “Surface chemistry can even explain the destruction of the ozone layer, as vital steps in the reaction actually take place on the surfaces of small crystals of ice in the stratosphere,” the award citation reads.

In 2015, Ertl signed the Mainau Declaration 2015 on Climate Change on the final day of the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. The declaration was signed by a total of 76 Nobel Laureates and handed to then-President of the French Republic, François Hollande, as part of the successful COP21 climate summit in Paris.[2]


Ertl was born in Stuttgart, Germany, where he studied physics from 1955 to 1957 at the Technical University of Stuttgart and then at the University of Paris (1957–1958) and Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich (1958–1959). He completed his Diplom in Physics at the Technical University of Stuttgart in 1961, followed his thesis advisor Heinz Gerischer from the Max Planck Institute for Metals Research in Stuttgart to Munich and received his Ph.D. degree from the Technical University of Munich in 1965.

Academic career

After completing his PhD, he became an assistant and lecturer at Technical University of Munich (1965–1968). From 1968 to 1973, he was Professor and Director at Technical University of Hannover. Then, he became a Professor at Institute for Physical Chemistry, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (1973–1986). During the 1970s and 80s, he was also a Visiting Professor at the California Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and the University of California, Berkeley. In 1986 he became professor at the Free University of Berlin and at the Technical University of Berlin. He was director at the Fritz Haber Institute of the MPG from 1986 till his retirement in 2004. He became professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin in 1996.[3] Ertl now serves in his second term as a member of the university council of Technische Universität Darmstadt.


Gerhard Ertl is known for determining the detailed molecular mechanisms of the catalytic synthesis of ammonia over iron (Haber Bosch process) and the catalytic oxidation of carbon monoxide over platinum (catalytic converter). During his research he discovered the important phenomenon of oscillatory reactions on platinum surfaces and, using photoelectron microscopy, was able to image for the first time, the oscillating changes in surface structure and coverage that occur during reaction.

He always used new observation techniques like low-energy electron diffraction (LEED) at the beginning of his career, later ultraviolet photoelectron spectroscopy (UPS) and scanning tunneling microscope (STM) yielding ground breaking results. He won the Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 1998 along with Gabor A. Somorjai of the University of California, Berkeley for "their outstanding contributions to the field of the surface science in general and for their elucidation of fundamental mechanisms of heterogeneous catalytic reactions at single crystal surface in particular."[4]

Gerhard Ertl was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces. The award, worth SEK 10 million (US$1.7 million, GB£1.15 million), was announced on Ertl's 71st birthday.[5][6] "I am speechless", Ertl told Associated Press from his office in Berlin. "I was not counting on this."[7]

Personal life

Ertl and his wife Barbara have two children and several grandchildren. His hobbies include playing the piano and also playing with his cats when he is not doing experiments.


Ertl is one of the editors of the Handbook of Heterogeneous Catalysis. (ISBN 9783527312412)

Ertl is the co-editor of Engineering Of Chemical Complexity. 2013, World Scientific Publishing. (ISBN 9789814390453)


  1. Laureates of the Japan Prize.
  2. "Mainau Declaration". Retrieved 11 January 2018.
  3. Freund, H.-J; Knözinger, H. (2004). "Foreword for the Gerhard Ertl Festschrift". J. Phys. Chem. B. 108 (38): 14183–14186. doi:10.1021/jp049239i. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  4. "The 2008 Wolf Foundation Prize in Chemistry". Wolf Foundation. Archived from the original on 17 May 2007. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  5. "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 2007" (Press release). Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. 10 October 2007.
  6. "Nobel for ozone layer scientist". CNN. Associated Press. 11 October 2007. Archived from the original on 9 March 2008. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
  7. Karl Ritter (11 October 2007). "German receives chemistry Nobel". Worcester Telegram. Retrieved 5 June 2008.
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