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December 9th is Fritz Haber's birthday. Haber was a German chemist who discovered a process to create ammonia from atmospheric gases. The Haber-Bosch process is a reaction that fixes nitrogen to form ammonia (NH3) from nitrogen gas (N2) and hydrogen gas (H2) under pressure over an iron catalyst. Haber discovered the process on a laboratory scale using table top equipment. German chemical engineer Carl Bosch converted the laboratory equipment to be used on large scale industrial equipment. This process was important in the production of agricultural fertilizers to replace the guano industry of South America. During World War I, the process was important to Germany for the production of munitions and explosives.

The process would earn both Haber and Bosch Nobel Prizes in Chemistry (1918 and 1931 respectively). Today, the Haber-Bosch process accounts for 100 million tons of fertilizer per year. Find out more about nitrogen fixing and what else occurred on this day in science history.


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