Digital Collections

Photograph of Gerhard Herzberg

Oral history interview with Gerhard Herzberg

  • 1986-May-05

Oral history interview with Gerhard Herzberg

  • 1986-May-05

Gerhard Herzberg descries his schooling in Germany. An interest in science and mathematics was kindled at his school in Hamburg; indeed, Herzberg's first interest was astronomy. More practical considerations led him to follow the engineering physics course at Darmstadt, where he graduated with his doctoral degree in 1928. His introduction to spectrospic studies was with Hans Rau, himself a student of Wien. A seminal year at Gottingen followed where Herzberg studied with both James Franck and Max Born; it was during this time that the basis for the well known monographs was first established.

A further postdoctoral year at Bristol with Lennard Jones was followed by his return to Darmstadt as Privatdozent but the worsening political situation prompted Herzberg to seek a position abroad. He next describes his time at the University of Saskatchewan and how he was able to continue research, despite limited equipment. Analysis of cometary spectra led Herzberg into astrophysics which was further developed during the three year spell at the Yerkes Observatory. During the final section of the interview, Herzberg tells of his return to Canada and reflects on research direction at the National Research Council and the circumstances of the award of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1971. As a coda, Herzberg is asked about his involvement with chemists, especially with those concerned with free radicals.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 48 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewer

Mary Christine King was born in China and educated in Ireland. She obtained a BSc degree in chemistry from the University of London in 1968, which was followed by an MSc in polymer and fiber science (1970) and a PhD for a thesis on the hydrodynamic properties of paraffins in solution (1973), both from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. After working with Joseph Needham at Cambridge, she received a PhD in the history and philosophy of science from the Open University (1980) and thereafter worked at the University of California, Berkeley, and at the University of Ottawa, where she carried out research with Dr. Keith Laidler. King died in an automobile accident in late 1987; her recent biography E. W. R. Steacie and Science in Canada (University of Toronto Press, 1989) was published posthumously.

Institutional location

Oral history number 0023

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • December 25, 1904
  • Hamburg, Germany
  • March 03, 1999
  • Ottawa, Ontario, Canada


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1928 Technische Universität Darmstadt Dr Ing

Professional Experience

Universität Göttingen

  • 1928 to 1929 Post-doctoral fellow

University of Bristol

  • 1929 to 1930 Post-doctoral fellow

Technische Universität Darmstadt

  • 1930 to 1935 Privatdozent

University of Saskatchewan

  • 1935 to 1945 Research Professor of Physics

University of Chicago

  • 1945 to 1948 Professor of Spectroscopy, Yerkes Observatory

National Research Council Canada

  • 1948 to 1949 Principal Research Officer
  • 1949 to 1955 Director, Division of Physics
  • 1955 to 1969 Director, Division of Pure Physics
  • 1969 Distinguished Research Scientist, Herzberg Institute of Astrophysics


Year(s) Award
1939 Fellow, Royal Society of Canada
1950 Médaille de l'Université de Liège
1951 Fellow, Royal Society of London
1953 LLD , University of Saskatchewan
1953 Henry Marshall Tory Medal, Royal Society of Canada
1954 Joy Kissen Mookerjee Gold Medal, Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science
1954 DSc, McMaster University
1954 Honorary Fellow, Indian Academy of Sciences
1956 to 1957 President, Canadian Association of Physicists
1956 DSc, National University of Ireland
1957 to 1963 Vice-President, International Union of Pure and Applied Physics
1957 Gold Medal, Canadian Association of Physicists
1958 LLD, University of Toronto
1959 to 1960 Chair Francqui, Université de Liège
1959 Medal of the Society of Applied Spectroscopy
1960 Médaille de L'Université de Liège
1960 Bakerian Lecture, Royal Society of London
1960 Corresponding Member, Société Royal des Sciences de Liège
1960 LLD, Dalhousie University
1960 DSc, Oxford University
1961 LLD, University of Alberta
1962 Pittsburgh Spectroscopy Award, Spectroscopy Society of Pittsburgh
1963 Twelfth Spiers Memorial Lecture, Faraday Society
1964 Frederic Ives Medal, Optical Society of America
1964 William Draper Harkins Lecture, University of Chicago
1964 DSc, University of British Columbia
1964 Honorary Member, Hungarian Academy of Sciences
1964 Academician, Pontifical Academy of Sciences
1965 Honorary Foreign Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
1965 DSc, Queen's University, Kingston
1966 DSc, University of New Brunswick
1966 Dr fil hed, University of Stockholm
1967 DSc, University of Chicago
1967 DSc, Carleton University
1968 Doctor rerum naturalium University of Göttingen
1968 DSc, Memorial University, Newfoundland
1968 Honorary Member, Optical Society of America
1968 Honorary Fellow, Chemical Society of London [now Royal Society of Chemistry]
1968 Foreign Associate, National Academy of Sciences, Washington
1968 Companion of the Order of Canada
1968 George Fisher Baker Non-Resident Lecturer in Chemistry, Cornell University
1969 Willard Gibbs Medal, American Chemical Society
1969 Gold Medal, Professional Institute of the Public Service of Canada
1969 Honorary Member, Society for Applied Spectroscopy
1969 DSc, York University
1970 DSc, University of Windsor
1970 Honorary Member, Royal Irish Academy
1970 Honorary Fellow, Chemical Institute of Canada
1970 Honorary Member, Spectroscopy Society of Canada
1970 Faraday Medal, Chemical Society of London
1971 Royal Medal, Royal Society of London
1971 Linus Pauling Medal, American Chemical Society
1971 Nobel Prize in Chemistry
1971 DSc, Royal Military College of Canada
1972 DSc, Drexel University
1972 LLD, St. Francis Xavier University
1972 DSc, University of Montreal
1972 LLD, Simon Fraser University
1972 DSc, Université de Sherbrooke
1972 DSc, Cambridge University
1972 DSc, McGill University
1972 Foreign Member, American Philosophical Society
1972 Chemical Institute of Canada Medal
1973 Chancellor, Carleton University
1973 Honorary Member, International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science
1973 Honorary Fellow, Indian Chemical Society
1973 DSc, University of Manitoba
1974 Docotr rerum naturalium, University of Hamburg
1974 Foreign Fellow, Indian National Science Academy
1974 Honorary Member, La Asociacion de Quimicos Farmaceuticos de Columbia
1974 Foreign Associate, Royal Academy of Belgium
1974 Madison Marshall Award, North Alabama Section, American Chemical Society
1975 DSc, University of Bristol
1975 DSc, Andhra University
1976 DSc, Osmania University
1976 DSc, University of Delhi
1976 DPhil, Weizmann Institute of Science
1976 DSc, University of Western Ontario
1976 ACS Centennial Foreign Fellow, American Chemical Society
1976 Honorary Member, Japan Academy
1978 Honorary Member, Chemical Society of Japan
1978 Honorary Member, Real Sociedad Espanola de Fisica y Quimica
1979 DSc, Laval University
1980 Member, European Academy of Arts, Sciences and Humanities
1981 Foreign Member (Physics), Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
1983 Doctor philosophiae naturalis, University of Frankfurt
1984 DPhil, University of Toledo
1985 Earle K. Plyler Prize, American Physical Society
1986 Korrespondierendes Mitglied, Bayerische Akademie der Wissenschaften
1987 Jan Marcus Marci Memorial Medal, Czechoslovak Spectroscopy Society
1987 Minor Planet 3316=1984 CN1 named Herzberg

Cite as

See our FAQ page to learn how to cite an oral history.

PDF — 259 KB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

4 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads