Gerhard Herzberg

Gerhard Herzberg, London 1952
Gerhard Heinrich Friedrich Otto Julius Herzberg

December 25, 1904
DiedMarch 3, 1999(1999-03-03) (aged 94)
Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Alma materTechnische Universität Darmstadt
Scientific career
Fieldsphysical chemist
InstitutionsCarleton University, National Research Council of Canada, University of Saskatchewan, University of Chicago
Doctoral advisorHans Rau [de]
Doctoral studentsTakeshi Oka

Gerhard Heinrich Friedrich Otto Julius Herzberg, PC CC FRSC FRS[1] (German: [ˈɡeːɐ̯.haʁt ˈhɛʁt͡sˌbɛʁk] ; December 25, 1904 – March 3, 1999) was a German-Canadian pioneering physicist and physical chemist, who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1971, "for his contributions to the knowledge of electronic structure and geometry of molecules, particularly free radicals".[2] Herzberg's main work concerned atomic and molecular spectroscopy. He is well known for using these techniques that determine the structures of diatomic and polyatomic molecules, including free radicals which are difficult to investigate in any other way, and for the chemical analysis of astronomical objects. Herzberg served as Chancellor of Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada from 1973 to 1980.

Early life and family

Commemorative plaque at College Building, University of Saskatchewan

Herzberg was born in Hamburg, Germany on December 25, 1904 to Albin H. Herzberg and Ella Biber.[3] He had an older brother, Walter, who was born in January 1904.[4] Herzberg started Vorschule (pre-school) late, after contracting measles.[5] Gerhard and his family were atheists and kept this fact hidden.[4] His father died in 1914, at 43 years of age, after having suffered from dropsy and complications due to an earlier heart condition. Herzberg graduated Vorschule shortly after his father's death.[6] He married Luise Oettinger, a spectroscopist and fellow researcher in 1929. (Luise Herzberg, died in 1971.)

Nazi Persecution and Immigration to Canada

In 1933, the Nazi Party introduced a law banning men with Jewish wives from teaching at universities. Herzberg was working as a lecturer at the university in Darmstadt. His wife and fellow researcher, Luise Herzberg, was Jewish so they began making plans to leave Germany near the end of 1933. Leaving Germany was a daunting task as many barriers faced the thousands of Germans trying to flee Nazi persecution. However Herzberg had earlier worked with a visiting physical chemist named John Spinks, from the University of Saskatchewan. Spinks helped Herzberg get a job at the university in Saskatoon. When Herzberg and his wife left Germany in 1935, the Nazis let them take only the equivalent of $2.50 each and personal belongings.[3]

Education and career

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Initially, Herzberg considered a career in astronomy, but his application to the Hamburg Observatory was returned advising him not to pursue a career in the field without private financial support.[7] After completing high school at the Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums, Herzberg continued his education at Darmstadt University of Technology with the help of a private scholarship.[7][8][9] Herzberg completed his Dr.-Ing. degree under Hans Rau [de] in 1928.[7]

Honours and awards

Herzberg's most significant award was the 1971 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he was awarded "for his contributions to the knowledge of electronic structure and geometry of molecules, particularly free radicals".[2] During the presentation speech, it was noted that at the time of the award, Herzberg was "generally considered to be the world's foremost molecular spectroscopist."[16]

Herzberg was honoured with memberships or fellowships by a very large number of scientific societies, received many awards and honorary degrees in different countries. The NSERC Gerhard Herzberg Canada Gold Medal for Science and Engineering, Canada's highest research award, was named in his honour in 2000. The Canadian Association of Physicists also has an annual award named in his honour. The Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics is named for him. He was made a member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science. Asteroid 3316 Herzberg is named after him. In 1964 he was awarded the Frederic Ives Medal by the OSA. At Carleton University, there is a building named after him that belongs to the Physics and Mathematics/Statistics Departments, Herzberg Laboratories. Herzberg was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) in 1951.[1]

The main building of John Abbott College in Montreal is named after him. Carleton University named the Herzberg Laboratories building after him. A public park in the College Park neighbourhood of Saskatoon also bears his name.

Books and publications

Herzberg authored some classic works in the field of spectroscopy, including Atomic Spectra and Atomic Structure and the encyclopaedic four volume work: Molecular Spectra and Molecular Structure, which is often called the spectroscopist's bible.[4] The three volumes of Molecular Spectra and Molecular Structure were re-issued by Krieger in 1989, including extensive new footnotes by Herzberg. Volume IV of the series, "Constants of diatomic molecules" is purely a reference work, a compendium of known spectroscopic constants (and therefore a bibliography of molecular spectroscopy) of diatomic molecules up until 1978.


There are Gerhard Herzberg fonds at Library and Archives Canada and at National Research Council Canada.[17][18]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Stoicheff, B. P. (2003). "Gerhard Herzberg PC CC. 25 December 1904 - 3 March 1999". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society. 49: 179–195. doi:10.1098/rsbm.2003.0011. S2CID 72703418.
  2. ^ a b "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1971". Nobel Media. Retrieved 2010-12-31.
  3. ^ a b "Gerhard Herzberg: The Person". GCS Research Society. Retrieved 2011-01-01.
  4. ^ a b c Stoicheff 2002
  5. ^ Stoicheff 2002, p. 7
  6. ^ Stoicheff 2002, p. 8
  7. ^ a b c "GERHARD HERZBERG". GCS Research Society. Retrieved 2015-02-07.
  8. ^ Naransinham, N.A. and Ahmad, S.A. (1999). "Gerhard Herzberg – An obituary". Indian Institute of Science. Archived from the original on 2020-08-01. Retrieved 2016-02-21.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ "Gerhard Herzberg". Schola nostra. Gelehrtenschule des Johanneums. Retrieved 2016-02-21.
  10. ^ a b c d e f Record Archived 2021-04-12 at the Wayback Machine at the Royal Society's archive
  11. ^ "Gerhard Herzberg". American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Retrieved 2022-08-18.
  12. ^ "Gerhard Herzberg". Retrieved 2022-08-18.
  13. ^ Laureates 1971 at
  14. ^ "APS Member History". Retrieved 2022-08-18.
  15. ^ "About Us". World Cultural Council. Retrieved November 8, 2016.
  16. ^ "Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1971 Award Ceremony Speech". Nobel Media. Retrieved 2010-12-31.
  17. ^ "Gerhard Herzberg fonds, Library and Archives Canada".
  18. ^ "Gerhard Herzberg fonds, National Research Council Canada". 9 April 2023.

Further reading

Professional and academic associations Preceded byWilliam Kaye Lamb President of the Royal Society of Canada 1966–1967 Succeeded byJames M. Harrison