Gerhard Herzberg was a German-born Canadian physicist who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his groundbreaking work in molecular spectroscopy, in which he discovered the geometrical patterns and electronic structures of molecules and atoms by observing their absorption of light. He was born in Germany but emigrated when the Nazis came to power in order to avoid persecution for his Jewish wife. His wife worked as a spectroscopist with him throughout his early research. He was a bright scientist who created his own spectroscopic methods to explain the structures of polyatomic and diatomic compounds, free radicals, and astronomical objects that were impossible to get using conventional methods. Despite being a physicist, his contributions to the fields of physical chemistry and quantum mechanics were invaluable since they dealt with the energy levels and internal geometry of molecules. He was the first Canadian to win the Nobel Prize for Literature. He was requested to retire when he reached the age of 65, but he refused, and was elevated to Professor Emeritus as a result. He continued to work full-time on his study until he died, as long as he was strong and healthy.
Childhood and Adolescence
Gerhard Herzberg was born on December 25, 1904, in Hamburg, Germany. Albin H. Herzberg was his father, and Ella Biber Herzberg was his mother. Walter, his older brother, was his only sibling. His early years were challenging since his father died in 1915, and his mother was forced to go to America to work as a housekeeper in 1922. From 1915 to 1916, he attended Frankfurt’s ‘Liebig Oberrealschule’ high school.
In 1924, he enrolled in Hamburg’s ‘Johanneum Realgymnasium,’ where he earned a ‘Abitur,’ which was necessary for university entrance. With an industrial scholarship, he attended the ‘Technische Hoschule’ till 1928. With the support of a government grant, he earned his ‘Diplom Ingenieur’ in 1927 and his Dr.-Ing from the ‘Darmstadt University of Technology’ in 1928.
During 1928, he did post-doctoral research at the University of Gottingen under the supervision of James Franck and Max Born. From 1928 to 1930, he worked at the ‘H. H. Wills Physics Laboratory,’ which was part of the ‘Bristol University, England.’ He was the first scientist to provide an exact explanation of chemical bonding at the electron level in 1929.
Gerhard Herzberg returned to Germany in 1930 and began working as a ‘Privatdozent’ or lecturer at the ‘Darmstadt University of Technology,’ where he remained until 1935. Fees from talks and the ‘Emergency Association of German Science’ provided financial support.
As the Nazi administration in Germany forbade those with Jewish wives from attending university, he fled Germany and immigrated to Canada in 1935. He became a Research Professor of Physics at the ‘University of Saskatchewan, Canada’ in 1935 and taught there until 1945.
In 1941, he was the first scientist to demonstrate the presence of ‘themethylidyne ions (CH+)’ in interstellar clouds, or the gas that fills the space between two stars. He became a professor of spectroscopy at the ‘Yerkes Observatory’ under the ‘University of Chicago’ in 1945 and remained there until 1948.
In 1948, he demonstrated that hydrogen molecules exist in the atmospheres of other planets. He returned to Canada in 1948 and worked for the ‘National Research Council of Canada (NRCC)’ as the Director of the Physics Division from 1948 to 1955.
In 1955, Herzberg was named Director of the National Research Council of Canada’s ‘Pure Physics’ section, a position he held until 1969. In 1956, he was able to acquire the spectra of the ‘Methyl radical (CH3)’ and the spectra of the ‘Methylene radical (CH2)’, and in 1959, he was able to gain the spectra of the ‘Methylene radical (CH2)’.
From 1956 to 1957, he was President of the Canadian Association of Physicists, and from 1957 to 1963, he was Vice President of the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics. From 1966 to 1967, he was the President of the ‘Royal Society of Canada.’
He was named “Distinguished Research Scientist Emeritus” in 1969 and retained the position until 1974. From 1973 until 1980, he was the Chancellor of Carlton University. In 1974, he became the Director of the ‘Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics,’ a new research center in Ottawa, where he served until 1995.
Major Projects of Gerhard Herzberg
In 1937, he published ‘Atomic Spectra and Atomic Structure.’ ‘Spectra of Diatomic Molecules’ was published in 1939, followed by ‘Infrared and Raman Spectra of Polyatomic Molecules’ in 1945. In 1966, he released his second work, ‘Electronic Spectra of Polyatomic Molecules.’
Achievements & Awards
Gerhard Herzberg was inducted into the ‘Royal Society of Canada’ in 1939 and the ‘Royal Society of London’ in 1951 as a ‘Foreign Member.’ In 1953, the ‘Royal Society of Chemists’ awarded him the ‘Henry Marshall Tory Medal.’
In 1955, he was named a “Foreign Fellow” of the “Indian Academy of Sciences.” In 1964, he was awarded the ‘Frederic Ives Medal.’
In 1968, he was named a Companion of the Order of Canada. In 1969, ASC gave him the ‘Willard Gibbs medal,’ and NRCC named him a ‘Distinguished Research Scientist.’ The ‘Chemical Society of London’ awarded him the ‘Faraday Medal’ in 1970. In 1971, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was also awarded the ‘Royal Medal’ by the ‘Royal Society of London’ in 1971. In 1974, he was inducted into the ‘Indian National Science Academy’ as a ‘Foreign Member.’
In 1992, he was appointed to the ‘Queen’s Privy Council for Canada,’ which is the Canadian equivalent of the British Privy Council. From then on, he was referred to as Honorable Gerhard Herzberg. Herzberg was inducted into the ‘American Academy of Arts and Sciences,’ the ‘Optical Society of America,’ and the ‘Pontifical Academy of Sciences,’ as well as the ‘National Academy of Sciences’ as a ‘Foreign Associate.’
The ‘International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science’ elected him as a member. In Ottawa, the ‘Hertzberg Institute of Astrophysics’ was established in his honor. Since 2000, the ‘Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council’ has awarded the ‘Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering’ to outstanding scientists. In addition, an asteroid named ‘3316 Herzberg’ was named after him.
Personal History and Legacy
On December 30, 1929, he married Luise Oettinger, a Jewish spectroscopist. From this marriage, he produced a son named Paul Albin and a daughter named Agnes Margaret. After his first wife died in 1971, only months before he got the Nobel Prize, he married Monika Elisabeth Tenthoff on March 21, 1972. From this marriage, he had a daughter named Luise. Gerhard Herzberg died on March 3, 1999, in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, after a long illness.
Estimated Net Worth
The estimated net worth of Gerhard Herzberg is not available.