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Gerhard Ertl: Nobel Is an Amazing Gift

In 2007, Gerhard Ertl received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his research of chemical processes on solid surfaces. He talked to DW about the artistic side of his field, his interest in music and life after Nobel.

Gerhard Ertl

Although he dedicates his research to chemistry, Ertl is also intrigued by musicology

Deutsche Welle: Where were you and what were you doing when you heard about your 2007 Nobel Prize?

Gerhard Ertl: I got a call at my office from Sweden at 11:30 in the morning. At first I was quite speechless and, to be completely honest, tears even came to my eyes. I could hardly believe it.

And how have you personally benefited from the Nobel Prize since then?

The world was suddenly different because a Nobel Prize can be viewed as the crowning achievement in the life of a scientist. And the fact that is was awarded to me on my birthday – well, I can't imagine anything nicer.

Are there negative implications as well?

None other than that my meetings were turned upside down from one day to the next. All hell broke loose, but I enjoyed it.

Which subject did you dislike in school?

I was a dud in sports – and I still am today.

Are there any other disciplines in which you would like to do some research?

Today I would probably choose biology. In my time it was still an absolutely descriptive science. We called it the counting bug legs science. But today, in my opinion, molecular biology is much more promising than the classic natural sciences. But musicology could interest me as well. Music in any case. I love to play piano and the harpsichord. I see many links between chemistry and music. A lot of researchers have a similar disposition to artists. And a beautiful paradigm or a nice formula always gives me aesthetic pleasure.