Wolf Prize Laureate in Chemistry 1998
Affiliation at the time of the award:
Fritz-Haber Institute, Germany
“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:
Gerhard Ertl has determined the detailed mechanisms at the molecular level, of the catalytic synthesis of ammonia over iron and the catalytic oxidation of carbon monoxide over palladium. During these very careful studies 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. His work has been especially distinguished by his ability to design experiments which identify and isolate the key parameters which control chemical reactivity at catalytic surfaces.