Biography of Heinz Gerischer


Professor Heinz Gerischer greatly contributed to electrochemistry, particularly to the electrochemistry and photoelectrochemistry at semiconductive electrodes. Heinz Gerischer was born on March 31, 1919 in Wittenberg, Germany.

He studied chemistry at the University of Leipzig between 1937 and 1944, except for a two-years’ interruption for military service. In Leipzig, Heinz Gerischer joined Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer, who directed his interests towards electrochemistry and supervised his doctoral work on periodic reactions at electrode surfaces. On finishing his PhD in 1946, Gerischer followed Bonhoeffer to Berlin as an assistant professor, where his former adviser had accepted the directorship of the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the Humboldt University, and also became department head at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut for Physical Chemistry in Berlin-Dahlem (now the Fritz-Haber-Institut), which then lay in West Berlin.

During the postwar period, research was performed under extremely difficult conditions, including the Berlin Blockade. In 1949, Gerischer with his young family moved to Gottingen to join Bonhoeffer as a Research Associate at the newly-established Max-Planck-Institut for Physical Chemistry.

In both Berlin and Gottingen, he worked intensively in the area ofelectrode kinetics, and developed new methods, such as the double-potential step technique or a.c. modulation, to measure very fast electrochemical reactions. His work laid the foundation for a mechanistic interpretation of electrode reactions and strongly influenced our present understanding of electrode kinetics. Not surprisingly, it was quickly recognized in the scientific community by his award (with Klaus Vetter) in 1953 of the newly-founded Bodenstein Prize of the Deutsche Bunsen-Gesellschaft.

Despite his excellent research work at the Max-Planck-Institut, Gerischer was unable to obtain his teaching qualification (Habilitation) from the localuniversity, a fact which partly reflected the old animosities between universities and Max-Planck-Institutes. Because of this, and the dim prospects of a university career, he decided to look for a job in industry. Fortunately, these plans never materialized, so he was able to accept a position as department head at the Max-Planck-Institut for Metal Research in Stuttgart in 1954. One year later, he habilitated at theUniversity of Stuttgart, with a comprehensive study on the discharge of metal ions.

Although the years in Stuttgart were still closely concerned with electrodekinetics, in 1957 a short note on the electrochemical investigation of p- and n-germanium appeared, as a result of a seminar on solid state physicsat Stuttgart University, where the recent results of Brattain and Garrett on germanium were discussed. Gerischer recognized immediately the enormous implications of semiconductor electrochemistry both for the theoretical studies of charge transfer (which, because of the energy separation of electrons and holes in semiconductors, can be studied particularly easily) and for its application in photochemistry and photovoltaics.

In 1960 and 1961 Gerischer published three papers in the Zeitschrift fiir Physikalische Chemie on the theory of redox reactions on metal and semiconductor electrodes, which were among his most important contributions to science. In an impressively clear mathematical treatment, he described the electron transfer between the solid and the redox electrolyte as a tunnelling through the double layer barrier. Here, as in his earlier work, Gerischer’s physics-oriented mind had a strong impact on electrochemistry.

In 1962 Heinz Gerischer moved to the Electrochemistry Department of theTechnical University in Munich, succeeding C.A. Knorr, and then in 1964 he became director of the whole Institute for Physical Chemistry in succession to G. Scheibe. There he continued his investigations ofelectrode kinetics using new experimental techniques, such as ESR and the continuous flow method with integrating observation. In addition, he extended his work on semiconductor electrodes, which quite naturally led him into the areas of photoelectrochemistry and the electrochemistry of excited states.

This was the third field in which, over the years, the outstanding quality of Gerischer’s physical insight was unequalled.During his years in Munich, Gerischer the chemist became increasingly interested in surface physics, recognizing its important implications for a microscopic understanding of surface chemistry in general and interfacial electrochemistry in particular. He initiated work on low energy electron diffraction; this was carried out by his assistant, Gerhard Ertl, who soon became an internationally acknowledged leader in the field. Gerischer also started work with single crystal electrodes in which he was again well ahead of his time.

In 1969 Gerischer was offered the position of director of the Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in Berlin (the former Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry). To succeed his esteemed teacher Bonhoeffer in this position and in addition to have lavish funding without many restrictions on its use must have been very attractive to him. He began a programme of electrochemical surface science, tackling electrochemical problems with a wide range of modern techniques, including non-electrochemical methods such as optical and time-resolved spectroscopy and even the use of ultra-high vacuum. At the same time, he restructured the institute into a single, powerful entity which focussed on surface chemistry and catalysis.

Gerischer was one of the first to use potentiostatic transients to establish mechanisms, particularly those involving adsorbed hydrogen atoms. Increased research was carried out also in his department into solid surfaces in ultra-high vacuum and their interaction with gases.

His work stressed the physics on which electrode processes rested. He suggested the vacuum scale of potentials and contributed seminally over his whole career to semiconductor electrochemistry and photoelectrochemistry. Partly because of his association with leading American electroanalytical chemists, his influence on electrochemistry was widely felt, particularly his emphasis upon a Gaussian distribution of energy states in solution, and because of opinion that semiconductorelectrode kinetics occurred as a function of happenings inside the semiconductor and was not affected by surface states.

His strong arguments in favour of the installation of a synchrotron radiation source in Berlin further strengthened the Institute’s role as a surface science centre. Its importance can be gauged from the number ofscientists at the forefront of research it attracted from many foreign countries. Although Heinz Gerischer retired as director of the Fritz-Haber-Institut in 1987, he was at work there regularly every day that he was in Berlin. He also continued to travel frequently to conferences, giving lectures and advice which was eagerly sought. It was alien to his nature to take a rest although this would obviously have alleviated his heart condition.

Gerischer held the Director’s position until his retirement in 1987. In 1970, he was also appointed Honorary Professor of Physical Chemistry at theTechnical University and the Free University of Berlin. After his retirement from the Fritz Haber Institute in 1987, he was appointed Scientific Member Emeritus.

Prof. Gerischer lecturing

Professor Gerischer has published more than 300 papers in the areas of electrochemical kinetics, fast reactions in solution and at electrodes, electrocatalysis, metal deposition and corrosion, semiconductor electrochemistry, and photoelectrochemistry. He also served as the Editor of “Advances in Electrochemistry and Electrochemical Engineering” (Wiley-Interscience, New York) (with C. W. Tobias) 1977-1984, Editor of “Advances in Electrochemical Science and Engineering” (VCH, Weinheim) (with C. W. Tobias) 1990-1994, Associate Editor of Electrochimica Acta, and Editor of “Light-Induced Charge Separation in Biology and Chemistry”, Dahlem Workshop Reports (Verlag Chemie, Weinheim) 1979.

Professor Gerischer spent several periods at universities in the United States as a visiting professor or research fellow: 1967-68 and 1987-88 at the University of California, Berkeley; 1973 at the University of Gainesville, Florida; 1977-78 at the California Institute of Technology, Pasadena; 1990-91 at the University of Texas, Austin.

Professor Heinz Gerischer received many honors and awards. These include: Bodenstein Award of the “Deutsche Bunsen-Gesellschaft fur Physikalische Chemie” (1953); President of the International Society of Electrochemistry (1971-72); President of the “Deutsche Bunsen-Gesellschaft fur Physikalische Chemie” (1971-72); Doctor of Sciences h.c. of the University of Southampton (1973); Distinguished Visiting Professor at the University of Florida, Gainesville (1973); member of the “Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher LEOPOLDINA, Halle (1973); Bunsen-Denkmunze of the Deutsche Bunsen-Gesellschaft fur Physikalische Chemie (1976); Palladium Medal of The Electrochemical Society (1977); Sherman Fairchild Distinguished Scholar at the California Institute of Technology (1978); Centenary Lectureship of The Chemical Society, London, (1979); Doctor rer. nat. h.c. of the University of Erlangen-Nurnberg (1979); DECHEMA Medal, Frankfurt (Main) (1982); Dr. rer. nat. h.c. of the Free University, Berlin (1986); Electrochemistry Group Medal of The Royal Society of Chemistry, London (1987); Galvani Medal of the Division of Electrochemistry of The Italian Chemical Society (1988); honorary member of the International Society of Electrochemistry (1991); Bruno Breyer Medal of The Royal Australian Chemistry Institute (1992); honorary member of the Deutsche Bunsen-Gesellschaft fur Physikalische Chemie (1994).

Heinz Gerischer and his wife Renate Gerischer on the occasion of his 65th birthday (1984). He is talking to Dr. Schmitt-Ott, the son of the former Prussian Minister of Cultural Affairs who was one of the founders of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft.

Heinz Gerischer was unchallenged as the leading physical electrochemist in Germany from 1960 to 1980. Heinz Gerischer was a generous and thoughtful individual whose impact on electrochemistry is enormous. He was suffering from heart problems and the implantation of a pacemaker on September 1, 1994, provided only temporary relief. Heinz Gerischer passed away on September 14, 1994, in Berlin. He was in the midst of writing a review article on electrocatalysis which he wanted to finish before going on vacation to Italy at the end of September. He worked till the last minute of his life to fulfil his self-imposed duties.

The Heinz Gerischer Award of the European Section of The Electrochemical Society has been founded by the friends of the late Prof. Gerischer in order to honor his immense contributions to the science of semiconductor electrochemistry, photoelectrochemistry and to that of physical and materials chemistry in general. In addition this award is intended to recognize the scientific leadership of Prof. Gerischer and his tireless efforts to promote scientific collaboration in post WWII Europe.


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