Surface Science: Foundations of Catalysis and Nanoscience
Chapter 5. Complex Surface Reactions: Catalysis & Etching:
Heterogeneous catalysis was greatly advanced by the work of Paul
Sabatier, who shared the 1912 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for, as
stated by the Committee, "his method of hydrogenating organic compounds
in the presence of
finely disintegrated metals whereby the progress of organic chemistry
has been greatly advanced in recent years." His work laid the basis of
what would be developed into Fischer-Tropsch chemistry.
Haber won his Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for the synthesis of
ammonia from its elemnets. Carl
Bosch, who commercialized the catalyst shared the 1931 Nobel Prize
in Chemistry in recognition of his contributions to the invention and
development of chemical high pressure methods. Haber is an interesting
character, perhaps very much so in the sense of the Chinese proverb
that it is a curse to be born in interesting times. Perhaps no
scientific achievement has had more impact than the discovery of the
nanostructured material that is the iron-based ammonia catalyst. It is
estimated by Smil
in his fascinating book Enriching
the Earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the
Transformation of World Food Production that 2.5 billion
more people survive on the planet than would be possible without the
iron catalyst. Yet in 1918 World War I was still being fought and
Haber, who was an ardent nationalist, sought to help his country's war
effort by introducing chemical weapons to the battlefield. This was a
less admirable gift (pardon the pun in German) from Haber to mankind.
Later, disgusted by Nazi Germany he would leave the country that he had
long tried to serve, recognizing that this was not a regime that he
could follow and that they were the ruin of his ideal of the German
state. He died in exile. The Fritz-Haber-Institut
in Berlin would later be named for him. Fritz's story has had an impact
on me. Two tangible ways are that my grandfather was gassed in WWI. He
survived but suffered lingering effects. Later, I took up a post doc at
the FHI and worked in the very lab that Fritz had once used.
One of the most profound shapers of the field of surface science was Irving
Langmuir, who essentially founded surface chemistry and was awarded
the 1932 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. His research at the General
research labs were wide ranging. He sought literally to make a
ligh bulb and the pursuit (and achievement) of that goal lead him to
fundemental studies of the interactions of gases with solid surfaces.
What is a catalytic
converter? Engelhard has a site dedicated to their industrial
engine emission control catalysts. Here's a link to catalysis at Haldor
Topsoe. And a link to catalysis at Johnson Matthey.
BASF has a site
dedicated to Milestones In Catalyst Development of BASF.
Franz Fischer and Hans Tropsch reported using Co, Fe & Ni catalysts
to make liquid hydrocarbons from syngas (CO+H2) in 1926.
There is a tremendous wealth of information on FT synthesis at the Fischer-Tropsch Archive.
The site is a bit difficult to navigate but if you're interested, it's
worth the effort. For instance, you can find a shed load of presentations.
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Last Modified: 12 January 2005