A German who fathered a vast field called surface chemistry—responsible for everything from cleaner car emissions to identifying ozone declines—was awarded the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize for Chemistry today, his 71st birthday. Gerhard Ertl's work examined how molecules interact with solid surfaces, and has been influential in both academia and industry, the Swedish academy said.
Ertl explained how rust eats away at iron, and how fuel cells store and release energy, reports Reuters. Beginning in the 1960s, Ertl developed experimental techniques for making extremely strong vacuums around metal samples, permitting the study of pure chemicals on their surfaces. The work has been instrumental for semiconductors, but Ertl’s wide-ranging contributions have also benefited the automotive and other industries.