Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber

Fritz Haber was a German physical chemist. He was winner of the 1918 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his successful work on nitrogen fixation. Fritz Haber is also well known for his supervision of the German poison gas program during World War I. His name has been associated with the process of synthesizing ammonia. He is also known as the “father of chemical warfare”.

Early life and Career:

Fritz Haber was born on the 9th of December 1868 in Prussia. He was the son of a prosperous German chemical merchant. He was educated in Berlin, Heidelberg, and Zurich. After studying he started working for his father. Haber left his father’s business later on and started doing research in organic chemistry at the University of Jena.


Haber, along side Max Born, proposed the Born–Haber cycle as a method for evaluating the lattice energy of an ionic solid. He got recognition for his research in electrochemistry and thermodynamics. He also authored several books from his research.

Haber invented a large-scale catalytic synthesis of ammonia from elemental hydrogen and nitrogen gas, reactants which are abundant and inexpensive. Although ammonia and its exploitation can destroy life, Haber did not have any reason to performing his research. Haber serves the world in many ways. Not only was ammonia used as a raw material in the production of fertilizers, it was also absolutely essential in the production of nitric acid. Nitric acid is a raw material for the production of chemical high explosives and other ammunition necessary for the war.

Another contribution of Haber was the development of chemical warfare. With great energy he became involved in the production of protective chemical devices for troops. Haber devised a glass electrode to measure hydrogen concentration by means of the electric potential across a thin piece of glass. Other electrochemical subjects investigated by Haber include that of fuel cells, the electrolysis of crystalline salts, and the measurement of the free energy of oxidation of hydrogen, carbon monoxide, and carbon. His failure at obtaining gold from sea paved the way for the extraction of bromine from the ocean.

He married Clara Immerwahr, a fellow chemist. She opposed his work on poison gas and committed suicide with his service revolver in their garden. He married, a second time, a girl named Charlotte and had two children from her and settled in England. Haber’s son from his first marriage, Hermann, emigrated to the United States during World War II.

In his studies of the effects of poison gas, Haber noted that exposure to a low concentration of a poisonous gas for a long time often had the same effect (death) as exposure to a high concentration for a short time. He formulated a simple mathematical relationship between the gas concentration and the necessary exposure time. This relationship became known as Haber’s rule.


Haber died on the 29th of January 1934. His work, however, is a great contribution to this developed world.