Gerhard Herzberg

Born: December 25, 1904 | Hamburg, DE
Died: March 3, 1999 | Ottawa, CA
Photograph of Gerhard Herzberg

Gerhard Herzberg, over the course of his education, studied with Hans Rau, James Franck and Max Born in the fields of physics and spectroscopy. Herzberg held academic positions at Darmstadt Technische Universität, University of Saskatchewan, University of Chicago, and the National Research Council of Canada and won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1971.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0023
No. of pages: 48
Minutes: 157

Interview Sessions

M. Christine King
5 May 1986
The National Research Council of Canada

Abstract of Interview

In this interview the late Christine King starts by asking Gerhard Herzberg to describe his schooling in Germany. An interest in science and mathematics was kindled at his school in Hamburg; indeed, Herzberg's first interest was astronomy. More practical considerations led him to follow the engineering physics course at Darmstadt, where he graduated with his doctoral degree in 1928. His introduction to spectroscopic studies was with Hans Rau, himself a student of Wien. A seminal year at Göttingen followed where Herzberg studied with both James Franck and Max Born; it was during this time that the basis for the well-known monographs was first established. A further postdoctoral year at Bristol with Lennard-Jones was followed by his return to Darmstadt as Privatdozent but the worsening political situation prompted Herzberg to seek a position abroad. He next describes his time at the University of Saskatchewan and how he was able to continue research, despite limited equipment. Analysis of cometary spectra led Herzberg into astrophysics which was further developed during the three year spell at the Yerkes Observatory. During the final section of the interview, Herzberg tells of his return to Canada and reflects on research direction at the National Research Council and the circumstances of the award of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1971. Finally, Christine King learns of Herzberg's pastimes, in particular of his love of choral singing. As a coda, Herzberg is asked about his involvement with chemists, especially with those concerned with free radicals.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1928 Darmstadt Technische Universität Dr Ing

Professional Experience

University of Gottingen

1928 to 1929
Post-doctoral fellow

University of Bristol

1929 to 1930
Post-doctoral fellow

Darmstadt Technische Universität

1930 to 1935
Privatdozent

University of Saskatchewan

1935 to 1945
Research Professor of Physics

University of Chicago

1945 to 1948
Professor of Spectroscopy, Yerkes Observatory

National Research Council Canada

1948 to 1949
Principal Research Officer
1949 to 1955
Director, Division of Physics
1955 to 1969
Director, Division of Pure Physics
1969
Distinguished Research Scientist, Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics

Honors

Year(s) Award
1939

Fellow, Royal Society of Canada

1950

Médaille de l'Université de Liège

1951

Fellow, Royal Society of London

1953

LLD , University of Saskatchewan

1953

Henry Marshall Tory Medal, Royal Society of Canada

1954

Joy Kissen Mookerjee Gold Medal, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science

1954

DSc, McMaster University

1954

Honorary Fellow, Indian Academy of Sciences

1956 to 1957

President, Canadian Association of Physicists

1956

DSc, National University of Ireland

1957 to 1963

Vice-President, International Union of Pure and Applied Physics

1957

Gold Medal, Canadian Association of Physicists

1958

LLD, University of Toronto

1959 to 1960

Chair Francqui, Université de Liège

1959

Medal of the Society of Applied Spectroscopy

1960

Médaille de L'Université de Liège

1960

Bakerian Lecture, Royal Society of London

1960

Corresponding Member, Société Royal des Sciences de Liège

1960

LLD, Dalhousie University

1960

DSc, Oxford University

1961

LLD, University of Alberta

1962

Pittsburgh Spectroscopy Award, Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh

1963

Twelfth Spiers Memorial Lecture, Faraday Society

1964

Frederic Ives Medal, Optical Society of America

1964

William Draper Harkins Lecture, University of Chicago

1964

DSc, University of British Columbia

1964

Honorary Member, Hungarian Academy of Sciences

1964

Academician, Pontifical Academy of Sciences

1965

Honorary Foreign Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences

1965

DSc, Queen's University, Kingston

1966

DSc, University of New Brunswick

1966

Dr fil hed, University of Stockholm

1967

DSc, University of Chicago

1967

DSc, Carleton University

1968

Doctor rerum naturalium University of Göttingen

1968

DSc, Memorial University, Newfoundland

1968

Honorary Member, Optical Society of America

1968

Honorary Fellow, Chemical Society of London [now Royal Society of Chemistry]

1968

Foreign Associate, National Academy of Sciences, Washington

1968

Companion of the Order of Canada

1968

George Fisher Baker Non-Resident Lecturer in Chemistry, Cornell University

1969

Willard Gibbs Medal, American Chemical Society

1969

Gold Medal, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada

1969

Honorary Member, Society for Applied Spectroscopy

1969

DSc, York University

1970

DSc, University of Windsor

1970

Honorary Member, Royal Irish Academy

1970

Honorary Fellow, Chemical Institute of Canada

1970

Honorary Member, Spectroscopy Society of Canada

1970

Faraday Medal, Chemical Society of London

1971

Royal Medal, Royal Society of London

1971

Linus Pauling Medal, American Chemical Society

1971

Nobel Prize in Chemistry

1971

DSc, Royal Military College of Canada

1972

DSc, Drexel University

1972

LLD, St. Francis Xavier University

1972

DSc, University of Montreal

1972

LLD, Simon Fraser University

1972

DSc, Université de Sherbrooke

1972

DSc, Cambridge University

1972

DSc, McGill University

1972

Foreign Member, American Philosophical Society

1972

Chemical Institute of Canada Medal

1973

Chancellor, Carleton University

1973

Honorary Member, International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science

1973

Honorary Fellow, Indian Chemical Society

1973

DSc, University of Manitoba

1974

Docotr rerum naturalium, University of Hamburg

1974

Foreign Fellow, Indian National Science Academy

1974

Honorary Member, La Asociacion de Quimicos Farmaceuticos de Columbia

1974

Foreign Associate, Royal Academy of Belgium

1974

Madison Marshall Award, North Alabama Section, American Chemical Society

1975

DSc, University of Bristol

1975

DSc, Andhra University

1976

DSc, Osmania University

1976

DSc, University of Delhi

1976

DPhil, Weizmann Institute of Science

1976

DSc, University of Western Ontario

1976

ACS Centennial Foreign Fellow, American Chemical Society

1976

Honorary Member, Japan Academy

1978

Honorary Member, Chemical Society of Japan

1978

Honorary Member, Real Sociedad Espanola de Fisica y Quimica

1979

DSc, Laval University

1980

Member, European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities

1981

Foreign Member (Physics), Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

1983

Doctor philosophiae naturalis, University of Frankfurt

1984

DPhil, University of Toledo

1985

Earle K. Plyler Prize, American Physical Society

1986

Korrespondierendes Mitglied, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften

1987

Jan Marcus Marci Memorial Medal, Czechoslovak Spectroscopy Society

1987

Minor Planet 3316=1984 CN1 named Herzberg

Table of Contents

Education
1

Teachers at school in Hamburg, interest in science and astronomy. Engineering physics at Darmstadt Institute of Technology. Financial support from Stinnes and from federal scholarship.

Research studies at Darmstadt and Göttingen
4

Research in spectroscopy with Rau. Postdoctoral year at Göttingen with Franck and Born. Early publications, colleagues. Lectures on atomic and molecular spectroscopy.

Bristol and return to Darmstadt
9

Lennard-Jones and Bristol physics; lecturing in English. Molecular orbital theory, Hund. Advances in instrumentation. Teaching at Darmstadt as Privatdozent. Contact with Bonhoeffer. Decision to leave Germany.

Saskatoon and the Yerkes Observatory
18

Arrangements for transfer to canada, appointment to permanent position. Monographs. Wartime experiences at the University of Saskatchewan. Developing interest in astrophysics, cometary spectra. Three year period at the Yerkes Observatory.

National Research Council of Canada
27

Research organization at NRC; Steacie. Continuation of spectroscopic research. Visits to Europe, committee activities with International Union. 80th birthday celebration. Music and singing. Science policy and national funding of research. Contact with chemists, development of free radical chemistry.

Notes
42
Index
45

About the Interviewer

M. Christine King

Mary Christine King was born in China and educated in Ireland. She obtained a BSc degree in chemistry from the University of London in 1968, which was followed by an MSc in polymer and fiber science (1970) and a PhD for a thesis on the hydrodynamic properties of paraffins in solution (1973), both from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. After working with Joseph Needham at Cambridge, she received a PhD in the history and philosophy of science from the Open University (1980) and thereafter worked at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the University of Ottawa, where she carried out research with Dr. Keith Laidler. King died in an automobile accident in late 1987; her recent biography E. W. R. Steacie and Science in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 1989) was published posthumously.