Gerhard Ertl

Gerhard Ertl ( born October 10, 1936 in Stuttgart ) is a German physicist and chemist surface and has the development of the field of surface chemistry significantly affected. From 1986 to 2004 he was Director of the Department of Physical Chemistry, Fritz - Haber- Institute in Berlin. In 2007, he won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded.


Gerhard Ertl was born on 10 October 1936 in Bad Cannstatt, a district of Stuttgart. Near the end of his primary school days, his family moved into about five kilometers away, Fellbach. From there he went to high school graduation, the Johannes-Kepler -Gymnasium in Bad Cannstatt.

1955 Gerhard Ertl began his studies in physics at the University of Stuttgart. Already during his studies he gained experience in two short stays at other universities, in 1957/58 at the Sorbonne in Paris and 1958/59 at the Ludwig- Maximilians- University in Munich. In 1961 he got his Diploma in physics; his work entitled " A temperature-jump method to study faster dissociation reactions using a microwave pulse " was supervised by Heinz Gerischer, who was then working at the Max Planck Institute for Metals Research in Stuttgart. 1962 was Gerhard Ertl with Heinz Gerischer to Munich, who had there assumed a professorship at the Technical University, and worked for him until 1965 in the field of physical chemistry on his dissertation "On the kinetics of the catalytic oxidation of hydrogen on germanium single crystals ".

Gerhard Ertl remained at the TU Munich and qualified as an "Examination of surface structures and reactions by means of low energy electron diffraction " in just two years. As a lecturer he worked until 1968 in Munich. In the same year he was appointed professor at the University of Hannover and took over one of the two chairs at the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry. In 1973 he returned to Munich and became the successor of Georg -Maria Schwab Professor at the Institute of Physical Chemistry, Ludwig- Maximilians- University in Munich.

In the following years he took over several times visiting professor in the United States: 1976/77 at Caltech in Pasadena, in 1979 at the University of Wisconsin in Milwaukee and 1981/ 82 at the University of California at Berkeley. In 1986 he succeeded his former teacher Heinz Gerischer as director of the Department of Physical Chemistry at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin. In addition, he was appointed Honorary Professor at the Free University and the Technical University. He was an honorary professor at the Humboldt University in 1996. Ertl is a member of the University Council of the Darmstadt Technical University.

Gerhard Ertl is co-editor of five journals in the field of physical and especially the surface chemistry and a member of the Editorial Board ( Editorial Board ) of nine international journals, including "Angewandte Chemie" and "Science". He is active in the Society of German Natural Scientists and Physicians ( GDNÄ ) and the German Chemical Society German Chemical Society. From 1995 to 2001 he was Vice- President of the German Research Foundation ( DFG).

Gerhard Ertl is a doctor father of Robert and Otmar Schober Schwankner.


For his postdoctoral project Gerhard Ertl one of the first commercially available in Germany LEED apparatus for the investigation of surfaces by means of low energy electron diffraction had been granted. He was able to establish the field of surface chemistry in Germany. His first breakthrough publication appeared in 1966 in the journal " Surface Science ", which he was co-editor from 1977 to 1986. She treated surface structures and reactions of copper single crystals.

Gerhard Ertl continued to struggle with the study of elementary steps of chemical surface reactions and the structure of adsorbates. Initially it was reactions of small molecules with the surfaces of metals and alloys. Very intense, he dealt with the oxidation of carbon monoxide ( CO) to carbon dioxide (CO2 ) on single-crystal surfaces, in which oscillations in the rate of CO2 production occur. The aim of his research was always the understanding of mechanisms in heterogeneous catalysis. A highlight of these efforts is a series of publications on the mechanism of ammonia synthesis in the 1970s. Understanding this mechanism had been a coveted object of research since the discovery of what is technically and economically important process in 1905 by Fritz Haber.

Gerhard Ertl was always on the cutting edge. Shortly after the description of the scanning tunneling microscope by Gerd Binnig and Heinrich Rohrer 1982, he procured this technique for his group, and allowed the visualization of diffusion processes. The use of the femtosecond laser technology allowed the research on ultrafast surface processes.

In addition to the basic research on model catalysts Gerhard Ertl always had an interest in real catalysts. Along with Helmut Knözinger and Jens Weitkamp he has published a five-volume encyclopedia on the subject "Heterogeneous Catalysis" ( Handbook of Heterogeneous Catalysis ), which became a standard work in this field.

Honors and Awards

  • Member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina (since 1986), the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and the Academia Europaea.
  • Corresponding member of the Brunswick Scientific Society, the Austrian Academy of Sciences (AAS ), the Bavarian Academy of Sciences ( BAdW ) and the North Rhine- Westphalian Academy of Sciences and Arts
  • Honorary professorships at three universities in Berlin
  • Several honorary doctorates, including 1992 from the Ruhr -Universität Bochum, 2000 from the Westphalian Wilhelms -Universität Münster and 2003 by the Belgian Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, the Swedish Chalmers tekniska högskola and the Danish Aarhus Universitet
  • 1985 Carl Friedrich Gauss Medal of Brunswick Scientific Society
  • In 1987 he received the Liebig Medal of the German Chemical Society
  • 1990 first Alwin Mittasch medal
  • 1992 Bunsen Medal of the German Bunsen Society for Physical Chemistry, an honorary member in 2006, he was
  • Presentation of the 1992 Japan Prize and the Great Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • Since 1993 Honorary Member of the Royal Society of Edinburgh ( RSE) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • October 10, 2007 of undivided Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his him was awarded " studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces "
  • November 27, 2007 awarded the Otto Hahn Prize
  • April 8, 2008, he received together with Peter Grünberg of Federal President Horst Köhler, the Great Cross of Merit with Star of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany
  • April 26, 2008 Medal of Merit of the State of Baden -Wuerttemberg from the Prime Minister Günther Oettinger
  • September 8, 2008 the honorary membership of the DECHEMA Society for Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology
  • September 27, 2008 received the comprehensive school Sprendlingen in the Mainz-Bingen district the name IGS Gerhard Ertl
  • December 4, 2009 the dignity of an honorary membership at the TU Berlin
  • In 2008 he was on October 29, an honorary member of the Physical Society
  • In October 2012, the " Gerhard Ertl Center " was opened on the campus of the Technical University of Berlin Charlottenburg. It is the main building of the Berlin Cluster of Excellence " Unifying Concepts in Catalysis".
  • 2012 Honorary Member of the German Physical Society.


Papers (selection)

  • G. Ertl: Kinetics of decomposition of N2O in germanium - gap surfaces. Z. Phys. N. F. Chem (Frankfurt) 50 (1966 ), 46-59.
  • G. Ertl: Investigation of surface reactions on copper by low energy electron diffraction (LEED ). Part I: Surf. Sci. 6 (1967 ), 208-232; Part II: Surf. Sci. 7 (1967 ), 309-331.
  • G. Ertl: elementary processes in gas / metal interfaces. Angew. Chem 88 (1976), 423-433.
  • M. Grunze, F. Bozsó, G. Ertl, M. Weiss: Interaction of ammonia with Fe ( 111) and Fe ( 100) surfaces. Appl. Surf. Sci. 2 (1978), 241-265.
  • M. Weiss, G. Ertl, F. Nitschke: Adsorption and decomposition of ammonia on Fe (110). Appl. Surf. Sci. 2 (1979), 614-635.
  • G. Ertl: Kinetics of chemical processes on well -defined surfaces. In: J. R. Anderson, M. Boudart (eds.): Catalysis: Science and Technology. Vol 4, Springer, Heidelberg 1983, pp. 209-282.
  • G. Ertl: Metal clusters and metal surfaces. In: L. Guczi, H. Knözinger, B.C. Gates (ed.): Metal Clusters in Catalysis. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1986, pp. 577-604.
  • G. Ertl: phase transition and self- organization in chemical systems. In: K. Hierholzer, H.-G. Wittmann ( eds.): Phase jumps and continuity in the natural and cultural world. Wiss. Verlagsges., Stuttgart 1988, pp. 237-255.
  • G. Ertl: The catalytic oxidation of carbon monoxide oscillatory on platinum surfaces. In: P. Gray, G. Nicolis, F. Baras, P. Borck Mans, SK Scott ( ed.): Spatial inhomogeneities and Transient Behavior in Chemical Kinetics. Manchester University Press, Manchester, 1990, pp. 6565-6579.
  • G. Ertl: Elementary steps in ammonia synthesis: The surface science approach. In: J. R. Jennings ( ed.): Catalytic Ammonia Synthesis: Fundamentals and Practice. Plenum Press, New York 1991, pp. 109-132.
  • G. Ertl: Heterogeneous Catalysis: From Goethe to "cold" fusion. In: General Administration of the MPG (ed.): Max Planck Society Yearbook 1990 Cambridge University Press, Göttingen 1990, pp. 36-49. .
  • G. Ertl: frontiers of scientific predictability. In: Ruprecht -Karls -Universität Heidelberg (ed.): Know your limits - set limits? General Studies Summer Semester 1994 University Press C. Winter -. Program "Heidelberg Publishing Company ", 1995, pp. 63-68.
  • G. Ertl: What holds the world together at heart - 50 years of research into the inanimate, earthly nature in the Max Planck Society. In: research at the frontiers of knowledge. 50 years Max Planck Society. From 1948 to 1998. Cambridge University Press, Göttingen 1998, pp. 93-109.
  • G. Ertl: Heterogeneous catalysis: from " black art " to atomic understanding. In: E. Keinan, I. Schechter (ed. ): Chemistry for the 21st Century. Wiley -VCH, Weinheim - New York 2001, pp. 54-69.
  • G. Ertl: Ammonia Synthesis - Heterogeneous. In: I.T. Horváth ( ed.): Encyclopedia of Catalysis. Vol 1, John Wiley & Sons, Hoboken / NJ 2003, pp. 329-352, ISBN 0-471-24183-0.


  • G. Ertl, J. Küppers: Low Energy Electrons and Surface Chemistry. 2nd completely revised. Edition. Verlag Chemie, Weinheim, 1985 ( 1st edition 1974), ISBN 3-527-26056-0.
  • TN Rhodin, G. Ertl ( Eds.): The Nature of the Surface Chemical Bond. North Holland, Amsterdam 1979.
  • HP Bonzel, AM Bradshaw, G. Ertl ( Eds.): Physics and Chemistry of Alkali Metal Adsorption. Elsevier, Amsterdam, 1989.
  • G. Ertl, H. Knözinger, J. Weitkamp (eds.): Handbook of Heterogeneous Catalysis. Bd 1-5. Wiley -VCH, Weinheim 1997, ISBN 3-527-29212-8.
  • G. Ertl, H. Knözinger, J. Weitkamp (eds.): Catalysis EnVironmental. Wiley -VCH, New York -Weinheim 1999, ISBN 3-527-29827-4.
  • G. Ertl, H. Knözinger, J. Weitkamp ( Eds.): Preparation of Solid Catalysts. Wiley -VCH, New York -Weinheim 1999, ISBN 3-527-29826-6.