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Gerhard Herzberg

  • Born: December 25, 1904, Hamburg, Germany
  • Died: March 3, 1999

  Interview Details

Interview no.: 0023
Interview Date: May 5, 1986
Location: National Research Council of Canada, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
Interviewer: M. Christine King
No. of pages: 48
Minutes: 180

  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 well­known monographs was first established. A further postdoctoral year at Bristol with Lennard­Jones 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

1928 Dr.Ing. Darmstadt Technische Universität

  Professional Experience

University of Göttingen

1928 - 1929 Postdoctoral Fellow

University of Bristol

1929 - 1930 Postdoctoral Fellow

Darmstadt Technische Universität

1930 - 1935 Privatdozent

University of Saskatchewan

1935 - 1945 Research Professor of Physics

University of Chicago

1945 - 1948 Professor of Spectroscopy, Yerkes Observatory

National Research Council of Canada

1948 - 1949 Principal Research Officer

National Research Council of Canada

1949 - 1955 Director, Division of Physics

National Research Council of Canada

1955 - 1969 Director, Division of Pure Physics

National Research Council of Canada

1969 - 1999 Distinguished Research Scientist, Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics

  Honors

1939

Fellow, Royal Society of Canada

1950

Médaille de l'Université de Liège

1951

Fellow, Royal Society of London

1953

LL.D., 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

D.Sc., McMaster University

1954

Honorary Fellow, Indian Academy of Sciences

1956

President, Canadian Association of Physicists

1956

D.Sc., National University of Ireland

1957

Vice-President, International  Union of Pure and Applied Physics

1957

Gold Medal, Canadian Association of Physicists

1958

LL.D., University of Toronto

1959

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

LL.D., Dalhousie University

1960

D.Sc., Oxford University

1961

LL.D., 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

D.Sc., 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

D.Sc., Queen's University, Kingston 

1966

D.Sc., University of New Brunswick

1966

Dr.fil.hed., University of Stockholm

1967

D.Sc., University of Chicago

1967

D.Sc., Carleton  University

1968

Dr.rer.nat., University of Göttingen

1968

D.Sc., 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

D.Sc., York University

1970

D.Sc., 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

D.Sc., Royal Military College of Canada

1972

D.Sc., Drexel University

1972

LL.D., St. Francis Xavier University

1972

D.Sc., University of Montreal

1972

LL.D., Simon Fraser University

1972

D.Sc., Université de Sherbrooke

1972

D.Sc., Cambridge University

1972

D.Sc., 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

D.Sc., University of Manitoba

1974

Dr.rer.nat., 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

D.Sc., University of Bristol

1975

D.Sc., Andhra University

1976

D.Sc., Osmania University

1976

D.Sc., University of Delhi

1976

D.Phil., Weizmann Institute of Science

1976

D.Sc., 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

D.Sc., Laval University

1980

Member, European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities

1981

Foreign Member (Physics), Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

1983

Dr.phil.nat., University of Frankfurt

1984

D.Phil., 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

Title and Description Page

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 B.Sc. degree in chemistry from the University of London in 1968, which was followed by an M.Sc. in polymer and fiber science (1970) and a Ph.D. 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 Ph.D. 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.

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