Herzberg, Gerhard

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Herzberg, Gerhard

Gerhard Herzberg (gĕr´härt hûrts´bûrg), 1904–99, Canadian physicist, b. Hamburg, Germany. He studied at Darmstadt, Göttingen, and Bristol, England, receiving a doctorate in engineering physics from Darmstadt Technical Institute in 1928. He started as a lecturer at Darmstadt but because of Nazi persecution left (1935) for the Univ. of Saskatchewan. Applying spectroscopic study to astronomy, he succeeded in analyzing and matching the spectrum of the CH+ ion with a previously unidentified spectrum from outer space, pioneering the analysis of stars, planetary atmospheres, and interstellar matter by spectrographic technology. In 1945 Herzberg joined the Yerkes Observatory of the Univ. of Chicago, where he continued his spectroscopic studies. From 1948 to 1994, he was on the staff of the National Research Council (NRC). Herzberg received the 1971 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for research into the electronic structure and geometry of molecules, particularly free radicals, which had important implications in such diverse fields as astrophysics, biology, chemistry, medicine, and physics. The NRC established the Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics in Ottawa in his honor in 1975. His three-volume Molecular Spectra and Molecular Structure (2d ed. 1992) is the seminal work in the field.

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