|Fritz Haber chemistry|
Synthesis of ammonia
- Nitrogen is the most abundant element in our atmosphere
- and is essential for life; however, its gaseous diatomic form is inert.
- Ammonia is composed of one part nitrogen and three parts hydrogen
- but if you combine nitrogen gas with hydrogen nothing happens.
- Plants harbor an enzyme in a bacterium to break nitrogen-nitrogen bonds
- to convert nitrogen gas to ammonia or nitrate. Before an efficient industrial process
- was available, nitrate or ammonia was extracted from camel dung,
- and from the distillation of coal, and by the decomposition of natural ammonium salts.
- Fritz Haber discovered that iron filings worked as a catalyst, producing ammonia,
- and by increasing heat and pressure managed to increase the yield to six percent.
- Six percent was commercially viable, especially when
- the unreacted nitrogen and hydrogen gases could be recirculated over and over.
Fertilizer, bombs, and other uses
- Lifting gas
- Rocket fuel
- A colorless and irritating gas with an acrid odor,
- ammonia is corrosive when mixed with water,
- and can burn the skin,
- cause blindness,
- brain damage,
- lung damage,
- or death.
- In World War I, the Germans
- had no shortage of ammonia for bombs and rocket fuel
- due to Fritz Haber, a Jew. Haber also worked hard
- to develop chemical weapons for the Germans,
- leading the teams that developed chlorine gas and gas masks,
- and personally overseeing the first gas releases on the front lines.
- In the twenties, at Haber’s institute,
- scientists developed the cyanide gas Zyclon A,
- which the Nazis modified and used to murder Jews
- in concentration camps during the Holocaust.
- Both his wife Clara and his son Hermann
- committed suicide over their conflicts
- with his work on chemical warefare agents.