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Gerhard Herzberg

Gerhard HerzbergAKA Gerhard Heinrich Friedrich Otto Julius Herzberg

Born: 25-Dec-1904
Birthplace: Hamburg, Germany
Died: 3-Mar-1999
Location of death: Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Cause of death: Illness

Gender: Male
Religion: Agnostic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Physicist

Nationality: Canada
Executive summary: Molecular spectroscopy

Canadian scientist Gerhard Herzberg pioneered molecular spectroscopy, the science that studies how light is emitted or absorbed by atoms and molecules. He was born and raised in Germany, but fled to escape the Nazi regime that had taken power. He was not Jewish, but his wife was a Jewish spectroscopist who had collaborated with him on his early work, and he would not risk her life. He was a vegetarian, a teetotaler, and a brilliant scientist who used atomic and molecular spectroscopy techniques, often of his own design, to elucidate the structures of structures of free radicals, other diatomic and polyatomic molecules, and astronomical objects.

In 1929, Herzberg became the first scientist to accurately explain chemical bonding at the electron level. In 1941 he observed the spectra of themethylidyne ion CH+ in interstellar clouds (clouds of gas found between stars), proving that CH+ exists in space. In 1948 he proved that the hydrogen molecule exists in planetary atmospheres. In 1956 he obtained the spectra of the methyl radical CH3. In 1959 he obtained the spectra of the methylene radical CH2.

Herzberg was a physicist, but his work was of great value to chemistry because it dealt with the internal geometry and energy states of molecules. In 1969 he reached the mandatory retirement age of 65 but refused to retire, and was instead given the title Distinguished Research Scientist Emeritus, and continued working full time. He won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1971, mere months after his wife's death. In 1974 he became the Director of a new facility named in his honor, the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Ottawa, where he worked until his health began failing in 1995. He died in 1999. He is the namesake of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council's Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering.

Father: Albin Herzberg (b. 1872, d. 21-Feb-1915)
Mother: Ella Biber Herzberg (b. 1885, m. 1902)
Wife: Luise Oettinger Herzberg (spectroscopist, m. 30-Dec-1929, d. 1971, two children)
Son: Paul Albin Herzberg (psychologist, b. 23-Sep-1936)
Daughter: Agnes Margaret Herzberg (b. 12-Dec-1938)
Wife: Monika Elisabeth Tenthoff Herzberg (b. 1941, m. 21-Mar-1972, one daughter)
Daughter: Luise Herzberg

    High School: Liebig Oberrealschule, Frankfurt (attended, 1915-16)
    High School: Johanneum Realgymnasium, Hamburg (1924)
    University: MS equiv., Darmstadt University of Technology (1927)
    University: Dr. Ing., Darmstadt University of Technology (1928)
    Scholar: Physics, University of Göttingen (1928)
    Scholar: Physics, Bristol University (1928-30)
    Lecturer: Darmstadt University of Technology (1930-35)
    Professor: Physics, University of Saskatchewan (1935-45)
    Professor: Spectroscopy, Yerkes Observatory, University of Chicago (1945-48)
    Administrator: Director of Physics Division, National Research Council of Canada (1948-55)
    Administrator: Director of Pure Physics, National Research Council of Canada (1955-69)
    Administrator: Distinguished Research Scientist, National Research Council of Canada (1969-74)
    Administrator: Chancellor, Carleton University (1973-80)
    Administrator: Director, Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics (1974-95)

    RSC Henry Marshall Tory Medal 1953
    Order of Canada 1968
    ACS Willard Gibbs Medal 1969
    Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1971
    Royal Medal 1971
    American Academy of Arts and Sciences Foreign Member
    Canadian Association of Physicists President, 1956-57
    Queen's Privy Council for Canada 1992
    Chemical Society of London
    Indian Academy of Sciences Foreign Fellow, 1955
    Indian National Science Academy Foreign Member, 1974
    International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science
    International Union of Pure and Applied Physics Vice President, 1957-63
    National Academy of Sciences Foreign Associate
    Optical Society of America Foreign Member
    Pontifical Academy of Sciences
    Royal Society Foreign Member, 1951
    Royal Society of Canada 1939
    Royal Society of Canada President, 1966-67
    German Ancestry
    Naturalized Canadian Citizen
    Asteroid Namesake 3316 Herzberg
    Risk Factors: Vegetarian

Author of books:
Atomic Spectra and Atomic Structure (1937)
Spectra of Diatomic Molecules (1939)
Infrared and Raman Spectra of Polyatomic Molecules (1945)
Electronic Spectra of Polyatomic Molecules (1966)


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