Gerhard Ertl (born 10 October 1936) is a German physicist and a Professor emeritus at the Department of Physical Chemistry, Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Berlin, Germany. Ertl’s research laid the foundation of modern surface chemistry, which has helped explain how fuel cells produce energy without pollution, how catalytic converters clean up car exhausts and even why iron rusts, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences said.
His work has paved the way for development of cleaner energy sources and will guide the development of fuel cells, said Astrid Graslund, secretary of the Nobel Committee for Chemistry.
He was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his studies of chemical processes on solid surfaces. The Nobel academy said Ertl provided a detailed description of how chemical reactions take place on surfaces. His findings applied in both academic studies and industrial development, the academy said. “Surface chemistry can even explain the destruction of the ozone layer, as vital steps in the reaction actually take place on the surfaces of small crystals of ice in the stratosphere,” the award citation reads.
In 2015, Ertl signed the Mainau Declaration 2015 on Climate Change on the final day of the 65th Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting. The declaration was signed by a total of 76 Nobel Laureates and handed to then-President of the French Republic, François Hollande, as part of the successful COP21 climate summit in Paris.
Ertl was born in Stuttgart, Germany, where he studied physics from 1955 to 1957 at the Technical University of Stuttgart and then at the University of Paris (1957–1958) and Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich (1958–1959). Gerhard Ertl completed his Diplom in Physics at the Technical University of Stuttgart in 1961, followed his thesis advisor Heinz Gerischer from the Max Planck Institute for Metals Research in Stuttgart to Munich and received his Ph.D. degree from the Technical University of Munich in 1965.
After completing his PhD, he became an assistant and lecturer at Technical University of Munich (1965–1968). From 1968 to 1973, he was Professor and Director at Technical University of Hannover. Then, he became a Professor at Institute for Physical Chemistry, Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich (1973–1986). During the 1970s and 80s, he was also a Visiting Professor at the California Institute of Technology, the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee and the University of California, Berkeley. In 1986 he became professor at the Free University of Berlin and at the Technical University of Berlin. He was director at the Fritz Haber Institute of the MPG from 1986 till his retirement in 2004. He became professor at the Humboldt University of Berlin in 1996. Ertl now serves in his second term as a member of the university council of Technische Universität Darmstadt.