Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber (December 9, 1868January 29 1934) was a German chemist.

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 Zrich 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 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. 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 at a dinner party in tribute to his having personally overseen the first successful use of chlorine in Ypres. She shot herself in the heart, and died in the morning. That same morning, Haber left for the Eastern Front to oversee gas release against the Russians.

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 * 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 formulation Zyklon B, which was used as an insecticide, especially as a fumigant in grain stores, and also later in the concentration camps.

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 he was decorated. He was even given the rank of Captain by the Kaiser, a rare thing for a scientist too old to enlist in military service. He struggled to cope with the new reality that his enormous contributions to German industry were not enough to prevent his vilification by the Nazi regime. Despite having converted from Judaism in an effort to be completely accepted and despite his uncompromizing patriotism to Germany, in the end, his Jewish heritage required that he flee Germany for a position in Rehovot, Israel. He died in Basel, on the way, after an illness.

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