The world believes that Fritz Haber is one of the great scientists of all time due to his immense contribution in Chemistry. However, there is a great controversy on whether he is saint or a villain considering the discoveries he made and their impact on the human race. According to Chris Bowlbay (2011), two out of five people on earth owe their existence to the discoveries made by this intelligent German chemist. On the other hand, some German students denounce his contribution and instead refer to him as a ‘murderer’.
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Fritz Haber was born on 9 December 1868 in Breslau in current day German. His parents were Hasidic Jews. He was later to convert from strict Judaism to Lutheranism. In his early life, he enrolled to a formal school where he learned Latin, Greek, literature and philosophy. However, his love for scientific knowledge led him to various institutions of higher learning. At the University of Heidelberg, he studied Chemistry. He then enrolled to the University of Berlin under A.W. Hoffmann and later at the Technical School at Charlottenberg under Liebermann.
During his entire life, he made remarkable positive contribution to the society and the world at large. After completing school, he voluntarily worked in his fathers’ chemical business before joining The Institute of Technology in Zurich. Here he studied chemical technology under Professor Georg Lunge. In 1894, he assumed a post as an assistant at Karlsruhe under Professor Hans Bunte of chemical technology, which he worked for a few years. He qualified as a privatdozent after presenting a thesis on his experimental studies of combustion and decomposition of hydrocarbon, a field his father had specialized (Nobel Lecturers, 1966). In 1966, he attained the position of a professor in physical chemistry and physical chemistry and the director of the institute created to study these disciplines. From 1911 to 1933, he was the director of the institute of physical and electrochemistry at Berlin- Dahlem before he left for exile.
One of his major discoveries is in his book on thermodynamics where he was able to manufacture ammonia gas through the Haber-Borsch process. This fixation of nitrogen was widely used in the manufacture of fertilizers on large scales. This led to the increase in food production and banishing the fear of famine in many parts of the world (Bowlby, 2011). This discovery led him to win the Nobel peace prize Chemistry in 1918 (Nobel Lecturers, 1966).
On the contrary, his later life was flawed. When World War 1 broke out, he experimented on chlorine gas, which the German soldiers to carry out attacks and kill people. During the war, this gas claimed the death of tens of thousands of enemy soldiers and at least a thousand German soldiers due to blowbacks. He later became a captain in the German military. Due to frustrations, his wife and fellow scientist committed suicide as she could not bear the pain. In 1920s, Haber and his colleagues had successfully developed a cyanide-based pesticide. Later this research advanced into the Zyklon B, a toxic gas. This gas was used by the Nazis to kill millions people in concentrated camps such as Sobibor (Sz%u04E7ll%u04E7si-janze, 2001). This included his extended family in what came to known as the Jewish Holocaust.
Haber made remarkable contributions in science during his life. He was also a patriot of the German administration and was ready to offer any assistance if called upon. However, there is a belief that he was more of a villain than a saint because of some of the contributions his made. His discoveries led to the death of many innocent people including his own family. There was a public outcry after he received the Nobel Peace Prize as people viewed him as a murderer. He even failed to extract gold from water to enable German administration pay its debts as he had earlier promised. The Germans viewed him as an outsider especially because he was a Jew and that he left the country when they needed him most. Due to his disputed reputation, he remains less popular as compared to his colleague, Albert Einstein.
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