In Memoriam: Jerzy Haber (1930–2010)

Pro­fes­sor Jerzy Haber (1930–2010), an out­stand­ing sci­en­tist, Leader and Tutor of many gen­er­a­tions of Pol­ish chemists, a remark­able organ­is­er of research, died on Jan­u­ary 1, 2010. He was an inter­na­tion­al­ly acclaimed spe­cial­ist in sol­id state chem­istry, catal­y­sis and sur­face phe­nom­e­na who cre­at­ed and direct­ed for many years the Insti­tute of Catal­y­sis and Sur­face Chem­istry of Pol­ish Acad­e­my of Sci­ences in Krakow.

Jerzy Haber was born on May 7, 1930 in Krakow and linked with this city his entire pro­fes­sion­al and pri­vate life. Here, in 1951, he grad­u­at­ed in chem­istry from the Fac­ul­ty of Math­e­mat­ics, Physics and Chem­istry of the Jagiel­lon­ian Uni­ver­si­ty. After grad­u­a­tion, he took posi­tion of a research assis­tant at the AGH Uni­ver­si­ty of Tech­nol­o­gy in Krakow, work­ing on physi­co-chem­i­cal prop­er­ties of tran­si­tion met­al oxides in the research group of Pro­fes­sor Adam Bielañs­ki. In his research, he demon­strat­ed a cor­re­la­tion between changes in their elec­tron prop­er­ties and cat­alyt­ic activ­i­ty (A.Bielañski, J. Dereñ, J. Haber, Nature 179 (1957) 668). This was one of the first exper­i­men­tal con­fir­ma­tions of the elec­tron the­o­ry of catal­y­sis in the world. His doc­tor­al the­sis ‘A rela­tion­ship between the elec­tric con­duc­tiv­i­ty of a work­ing cat­a­lyst and its cat­alyt­ic activ­i­ty’, accom­plished at the age of 26, con­cerned the same sub­ject.
In 1960–1961, he stayed as a post­doc­tor­al fel­low at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Bris­tol, where he under­took with Pro­fes­sor F. S. Stone a pio­neer­ing at that time research on the inter­pre­ta­tion of pho­toad­sorp­tion and pho­to­catal­y­sis on the basis of the crys­tal field the­o­ry, the results of which have been quot­ed until today in the text­books and mono­graphs (J. Haber, F.S. Stone, Trans. Fara­day Soc. 59 (1963) 19).

On his return to Poland, he con­tin­ued his work at the AGH Uni­ver­si­ty of Tech­nol­o­gy until 1968 first as a research fel­low and then as an asso­ciate pro­fes­sor. He was an excel­lent lec­tur­er. His lec­tures on phys­i­cal chem­istry attract­ed crowds of stu­dents of var­i­ous depart­ments of the uni­ver­si­ty.

In 1968, he was appoint­ed direc­tor of an inde­pen­dent Lab­o­ra­to­ry of Catal­y­sis and Sur­face Chem­istry of Pol­ish Acad­e­my of Sci­ences (since 1978, the Insti­tute). The Insti­tute was Jerzy Haber’s life accom­plish­ment. He mas­ter­mind­ed the con­cept of cre­at­ing a plat­form for a mutu­al exchange of ideas and research in the entire area of the phys­i­cal chem­istry of gas-sol­id, gas-liq­uid and sol­id-sol­id inter­faces. He stood behind the spec­tac­u­lar devel­op­ment of the Insti­tute which start­ed in a few rent­ed premis­es with 28 mem­bers of staff, includ­ing just 5 in catal­y­sis sen­su stricte, and attained dur­ing 30 years its own impres­sive build­ing, unique research equip­ment and almost 100 mem­bers of staff, includ­ing 15 pro­fes­sors and asso­ci­at­ed pro­fes­sors, spe­cial­is­ing in diverse aspects of catal­y­sis, sur­face chem­istry and col­loids. In spite of dif­fi­cult times of polit­i­cal­ly divid­ed Europe, the Insti­tute has become an ele­ment in the inter­na­tion­al research net­work, a place of free flow of ideas, open to con­tacts with the entire world, a true cen­tre of excel­lence in its area.

At the Insti­tute, Jerzy Haber ini­ti­at­ed and devel­oped broad research, both fun­da­men­tal and applied, in diverse areas of het­ero­ge­neous and homoge­nous catal­y­sis, as well as sol­id state chem­istry applied to catal­y­sis. In par­tic­u­lar, his research con­cerned oxide sys­tems – cat­a­lysts of the selec­tive oxi­da­tion process­es, as well as zeo­lites, cat­a­lysts based on met­al­lo-organ­ic com­plex­es, and cat­a­lysts used in the envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion, to men­tion just the most impor­tant research direc­tions.

The inves­ti­ga­tions have led to the for­mu­la­tion of a the­o­ry of cat­alyt­ic oxi­da­tion of hydro­car­bons and have intro­duced into the world lit­er­a­ture the con­cept of elec­trophilic and nucle­ophilic oxi­da­tion. The clas­si­fi­ca­tion revealed a cor­re­la­tion between the cat­alyt­ic prop­er­ties of tran­si­tion met­al oxides and their struc­ture, and has become foun­da­tion of the sci­ence-based selec­tion of the cat­a­lysts. Pro­fes­sor Haber demon­strat­ed that the abil­i­ty of oxides of tran­si­tion met­als of groups V – VII to add selec­tive­ly oxy­gen atoms to the hydro­car­bon chain of an organ­ic mol­e­cule is linked with the phe­nom­e­non of crys­tal shear­ing. Inves­ti­ga­tions of sin­gle-crys­tal oxide cat­a­lysts have led to a gen­er­al con­clu­sion that the con­sec­u­tive ele­men­tary steps of the cat­alyt­ic reac­tion may pro­ceed on dif­fer­ent crys­tal faces (struc­ture-sen­si­tive reac­tions).

Jerzy Haber was first in the world to ini­ti­ate research on the descrip­tion of ele­men­tary steps of the reac­tion of cat­alyt­ic oxi­da­tion of hydro­car­bons using quan­tum chem­i­cal meth­ods. They revealed that the reac­tion path depends on the ori­en­ta­tion of react­ing mol­e­cules one with respect to anoth­er and to the cat­a­lyst sur­face which under­goes restruc­tur­ing.

The inves­ti­ga­tions on the homoge­nous reac­tions of hydro­car­bon oxi­da­tion with the par­tic­i­pa­tion of tran­si­tion met­al por­phyrins as mod­el cat­a­lysts, allowed reveal­ing role of the elec­tron struc­ture of tran­si­tion met­al ions as active cen­tres for these reac­tions, and for­mu­lat­ing the mech­a­nism of ini­ti­a­tion of the chain reac­tions and the chain devel­op­ment step.

Jerzy Haber was active­ly com­mit­ted to organ­is­ing research in Poland, among oth­er by coor­di­nat­ing the nation­al research pro­gramme in catal­y­sis. Since 1971 he was full pro­fes­sor in chem­i­cal sci­ences, since 1973 a cor­re­spond­ing mem­ber and since1983 a full mem­ber of the Pol­ish Acad­e­my of Sci­ences, since 1990 a mem­ber of the Pre­sid­i­um of the Acad­e­my, Pres­i­dent of the Krakow Branch of the Acad­e­my since 2003, a full mem­ber of the Pol­ish Acad­e­my of Arts and Sci­ences since 1991, the direc­tor of its Class of Math­e­mat­ics, Physics and Chem­istry, 1999–2008, a found­ing mem­ber of the Pol­ish Club of Catal­y­sis and its Pres­i­dent, 1992–2007, a mem­ber of Research Coun­cil to the Pres­i­dent of the Repub­lic, 1991–95, a mem­ber of the Cen­tral Com­mis­sion for Research Degrees, 1975–81 and 2000-06, and a mem­ber of the Nation­al Coun­cil of Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion, 1991–2002. For his research and admin­is­tra­tive activ­i­ty, he was award­ed among oth­ers the doc­tor­ate hon­oris causa by the Marie Curie-Sklodows­ka Uni­ver­si­ty in Lublin, the Research Prize of the Prime Min­is­ter, the Com­man­der Cross with Star of the Order of Polo­nia Resti­tu­ta.

Excel­lent eru­di­tion, organ­i­sa­tion­al tal­ents, flu­en­cy in sev­er­al lan­guages, friend­ly atti­tude to all, final­ly ease in estab­lish­ing con­tacts and social skills made Jerzy Haber a val­ued mem­ber of many inter­na­tion­al bod­ies and a pop­u­lar lec­tur­er. He hold a num­ber of func­tions in inter­na­tion­al insti­tu­tions and organ­i­sa­tions: among oth­ers Pres­i­dent of the Inter­na­tion­al Com­mit­tee of Reac­tiv­i­ty of Solids, 1976–84, Vice-Pres­i­dent of the Com­mis­sion on Col­loid and Sur­face Chem­istry Includ­ing Catal­y­sis IUPAC, 1977–87, Pres­i­dent of the Sub­com­mit­tee of Cat­a­lysts Char­ac­ter­i­za­tion IUPAC, 1978–90, Pres­i­dent of the Inter­na­tion­al Coun­cil of Catal­y­sis, 1988–92 and Vice-Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Fed­er­a­tion of Catal­y­sis Soci­eties, 1997–99. The French Chem­i­cal Soci­ety award­ed him the Pierre et Marie Curie Prize and the Ger­man Soci­ety of Chem­i­cal Engi­neer­ing and Biotech­nol­o­gy — the medal of Alwin Mit­tasch. He was doc­tor hon­oris causa of the Uni­ver­sité Pierre et Marie Curie in Paris, mem­ber of the Acad­e­mia Euro­pea and the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ence of Ukraine. He received the Order of the Aca­d­e­m­ic Palms of the French Repub­lic.

Jerzy Haber was wide­ly acclaimed in Poland and world­wide as author of sci­en­tif­ic papers: he pub­lished near­ly 530 orig­i­nal papers and 6 books, received more than 50 patents, pre­sent­ed 115 ple­nary and invit­ed lec­tures at inter­na­tion­al con­gress­es. He super­vised 30 doc­tor­al projects and was mem­ber of edi­to­r­i­al boards of many sci­en­tif­ic jour­nals, includ­ing the most impor­tant ones for his research area: Jour­nal of Catal­y­sis (1976–82), Catal­y­sis Reviews, Sci­ence and Engi­neer­ing (1976–85), Reac­tion Kinet­ics and Catal­y­sis Let­ters (od 1976), Jour­nal of Chem­i­cal Tech­nol­o­gy and Biotech­nol­o­gy (since 1979), Pol­ish Jour­nal of Applied Chem­istry (since 1979), Revue de Chimie Minerale/European Jour­nal of Sol­id State Chemistry/Solid State Sci­ences (since 1980), Applied Catal­y­sis (1981–84), Bul­letin of the Pol­ish Acad­e­my of Sci­ences, Chem­i­cal Series (1981–2004), Reac­tiv­i­ty of Solids (1985–90), Catal­y­sis Let­ters (since 1987), Bul­letin des Sociétés Chim­iques Belges (1991–1997), Pol­ish Jour­nal of Chem­istry (1992–1996), Comptes Ren­dus de l’A­cad­e­mie de Sci­ences, Paris (since 1998).

Cit­i­zen of the world, invit­ed to con­gress­es and meet­ings to all cor­ners of the globe, vis­it­ing pro­fes­sor of the uni­ver­si­ties in Bel­gium, France, Japan and Cana­da, he remained dur­ing all his life close­ly linked to his native Poland and city of Krakow. Enthu­si­as­tic con­nois­seur of art and his­toric mon­u­ments, he ini­ti­at­ed at his Insti­tute mod­ern research on the dete­ri­o­ra­tion mech­a­nisms and pro­tec­tion of his­toric objects and sup­port­ed the activ­i­ties of the Coun­cil of Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion in Krakow. A reg­u­lar con­cert- and art exhi­bi­tion-goer. From his trav­els all over the world, he was return­ing to his beau­ti­ful house in Krakow, gar­den, dogs, exquis­ite library, col­lec­tion of prints and maps, with a pro­fes­sion­al col­lec­tion of views of his city. Charm­ing host of social meet­ings, pos­sess­ing a rare tal­ent of lis­ten­ing to the oth­ers. He is sur­vived by his wife Han­na, an archi­tect and art-lover, a con­stant com­pan­ion in all his under­tak­ings.
Writ­ten by friends
Feb­ru­ary 2010