Nobel prize in Chemistry and Medicine, 2007

R Ramachandran, in the latest issue of Frontline, profiles Gerhard Ertl, the winner of this year’s Chemistry Nobel and puts his work in perspective:

Surface chemistry, as the term implies, is essentially chemistry in two dimensions. Unlike the chemical reactions in bulk, with substances in test tubes, beakers and glass jars that one normally associates a chemistry laboratory with, surface chemistry has to do with the chemical processes that occur in the few atomic layers that constitute the interface between two phases, such as solid-liquid, solid-gas, solid-vacuum and liquid-gas interfaces. And two dimensions are better suited to probing reactions in greater detail at the atomic level than those in three-dimensional solutions because they are confined to the surface, but it is neither straightforward nor cheap to study how atoms and molecules react on solid surfaces. It involves painstaking and high-precision work, with advanced equipment such as high-vacuum systems, electron microscopes and spectroscopes, and clean rooms. And Ertl put these to innovative use in the past three decades and more. His work has chiefly been concerned with gas-solid interfaces. As Mark Peplow, the editor of Chemistry World, said, “he gave us the tools to understand why [oxygen] atoms do not bounce off [iron surfaces] but rather stick to them and turn into iron oxide”.

The science of surface chemistry has important industrial applications, such as in the manufacture of artificial fertilizers, and the science is also key to understanding such diverse phenomena as the rusting of iron; the working of catalytic converters, which make automobile exhaust less polluting; the functioning of fuel cells; and the depletion of atmospheric ozone, which is owing to reactions on the surface of minute ice crystals in clouds.

In another piece in the same issue, he also profiles the winners of the Medicine prize:

Almost every aspect of mammalian physiology can now be studied by gene targeting. In particular, Capecchi’s later work has revealed the roles of genes involved in mammalian organ development, in the body plan’s blueprint, as it were. His work has also been concerned with causes of several birth-defects and malformations. Likewise, Evans has developed mouse models for the inherited disease cystic fibrosis and used them to study disease mechanisms and gene therapy. Smithies, too, has developed mouse models, for thalassaemia, hypertension and atherosclerosis.

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2 Responses to “Nobel prize in Chemistry and Medicine, 2007”

  1. zaggy » Nobel prize in Chemistry and Medicine, 2007 Says:

    […] full story here […]

  2. Bhadresh K Padia Says:

    Will appreciate responce explaining higher catalytic activity of nano iron oxide for chemical reaction specifically oxidation. What is surface chemistry on micron iron oxide and nano iron oxide. Why does catalytic activity jumps many folds ??

    What are various environmental calytic application nano iron oxide or nano iron can have ??

    Green regard
    Bhadresh

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