Fritz Haber was a German chemist, who was honored with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his discovery of Ammonia synthesis, vital for fertilizers and explosives, in the year 1918. He was born on December 9, 1868. Haber was an energetic scientist all through the years 1891 to 1934. Both Max Born and Haber planned the Born–Haber cycle as a process for assessing the lattice energy, a measure of the strength of bonds in ionic compound. He was also praised as the "father of chemical warfare" for his work in expanding and organizing chlorine and other toxic gases during World War I.
Haber was born in Breslau, Germany. Even though, Haber’s family was one of the orthodox families of that town, Haber converted from Orthodox Judaism to Christianity later and he was also an active German patriot. His mother died during her delivery. His father was a famous business man in the town. Haber was educated at the University of Heidelberg in Germany under Robert Bunsen, a German chemist at the University of Berlin which is now the Humboldt University and under Carl Liebermann, a German chemist at the Technical College of Charlottenburg, which is now the Technical University of Berlin. In 1901, Haber married Clara Immerwahr, a Jewish-German chemist. Being a chemist, Clara was also an adversary of Haber's work in chemical warfare. Clara, was an associate chemist who was the first woman to receive a Ph.D at the University of Breslau, killed herself with Haber’s gun, probably in response to his having personally overseen the major success in the use of chlorine at the Second Battle of Ypres, the first time Germany used poison gas on a large scale in the First World War on 22 April 1915. Their son, Hermann, born in 1902, also committed suicide as he was ashamed on his father's chemical warfare occupation. Haber was employed at his father's chemical business and in the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
Haber along with Carl Bosch, developed the catalytic formation of ammonia from hydrogen and atmospheric nitrogen under high temperature and pressure. Haber was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this excellent task, in 1918. The Haber-Bosch process was a landmark in industrial chemistry, since it separated the production of nitrogen products, such as fertilizer, explosives and chemical feed stocks, from natural deposits, mainly sodium nitrate.Commencing from 1911 to 1933, major fraction of his work was performed at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry. Haber was very much involved in the research of combustion reactions, the separation of gold from sea water, adsorption effects, adhesion of atoms ions, biomolecules or molecules of gas, liquid, or dissolved solids to a surface and electrochemistry.
In World War I, Haber was very much involved in the growth of chemical warfare. The development of gas masks with absorbent filters incorporated fraction of the job. Individually, Haber helped in its release in spite of being forbidden by the Hague Convention of 1907. In addition to leading the teams, he also assisted in expanding chlorine gas and other fatal gases for its use in trench warfare. The Nobel laureates James Franck, a German Jewish physicist, Gustav Hertz, a German experimental physicist and Nobel Prize winner, and Otto Hahn, a German chemist participated as gas troops in Haber's project. The use of poison gases in World War I ranged from disabling chemicals, such as tear gas and the severe mustard gas, to lethal agents like phosgene and chlorine. Mainly, Gas warfare in WW I was, the war between chemists. Being a patriotic German, Haber was very proud of his service during World War I. About war and peace, Haber stated that, “A scientist belongs to the World, during peace time, but he belongs to his country, during war time." Even though Haber was old to join in military service, he was offered rank of captain by the Kaiser (the German title meaning "Emperor").
Haber invented an easy mathematical correlation between the gas concentration and the necessary exposure time. This relationship became known as Haber's rule. In his research, Haber predicted that, often long time exposure to a low concentration of a poisonous gas will have the equal toxic effect as the short time exposure to a high concentration. In 1920s, scientists working at his institute developed the cyanide gas formulation Zyklon B , which was used as an insecticide, especially as a fumigant, a method of pest control in grain stores. Throughout the World War 2, this gas was used in the gas chambers at Auschwitz-Birkenau, a network of concentration and extermination camps built and operated by Germany during the Second World War. Haber supported for the gas warfare by stating that “death is the same, by whatsoever way it happens”.
Haber deeply hunted for a technique to extract gold from sea water, and published many scientific papers on the topic during 1920s. After many years of research, he came to a conclusion that the concentration of gold dissolved in sea water was much lower than those concentrations reported by earlier researchers, and that gold extraction from sea water was unprofitable.
Haber's brilliance was appreciated by Germany, and so he was offered with special funding to carry on his research on weapons. Later, Haber was granted the position of director at the Sieff Research Institute (now the Weizmann Institute) in Rehovot, Israel by Chaim Weizmann, a Zionist leader. Haber accepted it. In 1933, Haber left Germany. Along with his assistant J. J. Weiss, he moved to Cambridge, England, for a several months, when Ernest Rutherford, a New Zealand-born British chemist purposely declined to shake hands with Haber, due to his participation in toxic gas warfare. After recovering from a heart-attack, Haber began his journey to Israel in January 1934. His health got bad and on January 29, 1934, at the age of 65, he died of heart failure in a Basel, Switzerland's third most populous city hotel. He was cremated and his ashes, together with Clara's ashes, were buried in Basel's Hornli Cemetery. Haber offered his private library to the Sieff Institute. Haber's immediate family also left Germany. One of his children, Ludwig ("Lutz") Fritz Haber (1921–2004), became a well-known historian of chemical warfare in World War I, and published a book called “The Poisonous Cloud “in 1986. His second wife, Charlotte, with their two children, settled in England. During World War II, Haber's son, Hermann, immigrated to the United States and in 1946, he committed suicide.
Both colleagues and current scientists criticized Haber for his participation in the invention of chemical weapons in World War II Germany. Currently, the yearly world manufacture of nitrogen fertilizer is more than 100 million tons. which has been made possible because of Haber’s efforts. At present, half of the current world’s population depends on Haber-Bosch process for food base. Not only was Haber’s public life steeped in controversy, his private life was touched with tragedy as well.