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Harteck, Paul (1902-1985)

Name: Harteck, Paul (1902-1985)

Historical Note:

Paul Harteck was born in Vienna, Austria in 1902. He attended the University of Vienna from 1921-1923 and the University of Berlin 1923-1926 where he received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry under the direction of Max Bodenstein. His dissertation was on the photochemical formation and reactions of chlorine hexoxide and phosgene. He worked at the Technische Hochschule in Breslau as an assistant to Arnold Eucken from 1926-1928 and with Fritz Haber at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut fur Physikalische Chemie, Berlin-Dahlem 1928-1933. His research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut included work on gas kinetics, photochemical reactions and isotope separations. In 1929 Harteck and Karl Friederich Bonhoeffer achieved the first laboratory synthesis of pure parahydrogen. During 1933-34 Harteck was a Rockefeller Fellow at the Cavendish Laboratory under Ernest Rutherford. In 1934 Rutherford, Harteck, and Mark Oliphant bombarded deuterium with deuterons, producing tritium in the first fusion reaction. From 1934-1951 he was Professor and Director of the Institute for Physical Chemistry, University of Hamburg. His work at Hamburg included the production and reactions of atomic oxygen and the discovery of tritium in the earth’s atmosphere. During World War II his work focused on efforts to harness nuclear power, including the isotope enrichment of heavy water. In 1945 he was detained by the Allied Armed Forces for six months at Farm Hall near Cambridge, England as part of Operation Epsilon, the investigation of German efforts to manufacture an atomic bomb. In 1948 he was appointed Rector of the University of Hamburg. In 1951 he emigrated to the United States to become the Distinguished Research Professor of Physical Chemistry at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute where he provided leadership in chemical kinetics, and especially in atom and radiation chemistry. He continued research in nitrogen reactions and the fixation of nitrogen and the new field of research in the investigation of the chemistry and photochemistry of the upper atmosphere, including planetary atmospheres. He retired from Rensselaer in 1982 and died in Santa Barbara, California in 1985.

Harteck was the recipient of numerous awards during his career, including The Jean Servais Stas medal in 1957 and election as an honorary member of the Societe Chimique de Belgique. In 1961 he received the Wilhelm Exner medal in Vienna and an honorary doctor’s degree in 1966 from the University of Bonn. He was awarded the Alfred Krupp von Bohlen and Halbach Foundation prize in 1977 and the Grand Decoration of Honor of Austria in 1978.

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