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Fritz Haber, His Studies of Chemistry, and Biographical Info

Fritz Haber, His Studies of Chemistry, and Biography

The name Fritz Haber has long been associated with the well-known process ofsynthesizing ammonia from its elements. While primarily known for developing a process which ultimately relieved the world of dependence on Chilean ammonia, this twentieth century Nobel prize winner was also involved in the varying fortunes of Germany in World War I and in the rise to power of the Nazi regime.
Haber was born on December 9, 1868 in Prussia. He was the son of a prosperous German chemical merchant and worked for his father after being educated in Berlin, Heidelberg, and Zurich. After a short time, Haber left his father's business and took up research in organic chemistry at the University of Jena. The university's strictly orthodox methods soon led him to leave for a junior teaching position at the Technische Hochschule of Karlsruhe. At the age of 25, Haber immediately threw himself, with tremendous energy, into teaching and research in physical chemistry, a subject in which he was essentially self-taught. Quickly he gained respect and recognition for his research in electrochemistry and thermodynamics. He also authored several books arising from his research.

During the first decade of the twentieth century, the world-wide demand for nitrogen based fertilizers exceeded the existing supply. The largest source of the chemicals necessary for fertilizer production was found in a huge guano deposit (essentially sea bird droppings) that was 220 miles in length and five feet thick, located along the coast of Chile.

Scientists had long desired to solve the problem of the world's dependence on this fast disappearing natural source of ammonia and nitrogenous compounds. It was Haber, along with Carl Bosch, who finally solved this problem. Haber invented a large-scale catalytic synthesis of ammonia from elemental hydrogen and nitrogen gas, reactants which are abundant and inexpensive. By using high temperature (around 500oCelsius), high pressure (approximately 3000 psi), and an iron catalyst, Haber could force relatively unreactive gaseous nitrogen and hydrogen to combine into ammonia. This furnished the essential precursor for many important substances, particularly fertilizers and explosives used in mining and warfare.

Although ammonia and its exploitation ultimately have the ability both to sustain life and destroy it, Haber did not have either reason specifically in mind when...

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