Gabor A. Somorjai
Wolf Prize Laureate in Chemistry 1998
The Prize Committee for Chemistry has unanimously decided that the Prize for 1998 be jointly awarded to: Gabor A. Somorjai and Gerhard Ertl.
Gabor A. Somorjai
University of California
Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory
Berkeley, California, USA
“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 surfaces in particular.”
Professors Gerhard Ertl and Gabor A. Somorjai have laid the foundation of our present conceptual understanding of the processes of chemical change in molecules adsorbed on single crystal metal surfaces; their work has provided a new perspective to our understanding of heterogeneous catalysis. They have developed and applied sophisticated new analytical tools for determining molecular structure at metal surfaces, and the atomic structure of the metals themselves. With these tools in hand they have been able to characterize the changes in surface structure which may accompany molecular adsorption, and even changes which occur during chemical reaction, and to correlate catalytic activity with the character of the surface structure. Among their many fundamental contributions we highlight particularly, the following:
Gabor A. Somorjai has pioneered the application of low energy electron diffraction (LEED) in surface crystallography and recognized the crucial importance of steps, kinks and terraces in heterogeneously catalyzed reactions, for example, hydrocarbon conversion over platinum and ammonia synthesis over iron and rhenium. He has explored the properties of metal surfaces reconstructed by adsorbed molecules and recognized the important role that surface reconstruction plays in heterogeneous catalysis. He has applied scanning tunneling microscopy (STM) and sum frequency generation (SFG) to molecular surface characterization under “practical conditions”, i.e. at high pressures rather than ultra-high vacuum. He has had the courage to tackle complex problems and the personality to promote the field of surface science among the wider community.