Herzberg display honours and educates

By Kris Foster
May 13, 2011

Agnes Herzberg, daughter of former U of S faculty member and Nobel Prize winner Gerhard Herzberg, admires a new display unveiled May 10 in the Physics Building that pays tribute to her father. Gerhard Herzberg was at the university from 1935 to 1945, foundational years in his work in atomic and molecular spectroscopy for which he received international recognition in 1971 with the Nobel Prize in chemistry. Photography by David Stobbe


In 1933, the situation in Germany was quickly worsening for physicist and chemist Gerhard Herzberg and his wife, Luise, who was Jewish. They arrived in Saskatoon and at the U of S in 1935 and Herzberg found a home where he continued his spectroscopy research until 1945. Years later, in 1971, after stops at the University of Chicago and the National Research Council in Ottawa, Herzberg received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for his work in atomic and molecular spectroscopy.

“His research has implications in so many fields, from chemistry and physics to astronomy,” said Chary Rangacharyulu, head of the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics. “That a Nobel Laureate did this work at the U of S is quite an accomplishment and very inspiring.”

For his Nobel Prize-winning works, explained Rangacharyulu, Herzberg employed spectroscopy, the foundation for understanding the mass, temperature and composition of the earth and the surrounding universe and also the basis of the technology used in most beamlines at the Canadian Light Source.

Celebrating Herzberg’s foundational work is a new U of S display featuring various items from his life, including the spectrograph equipment he used in his early research here. Another aspect of the display will be dedicated to the honorary degrees he received from universities around the world. Each degree was accompanied by academic attire including gown, hood and mortarboard, which his daughter Agnes donated to the U of S to be included in the display.

“The display in the Physics Building celebrates him and the role the university played in his early work,” said Rangacharyulu. “It signals that the U of S and the people on campus are accomplished and second to none.”

Another significant purpose of the display, said Rangacharyulu, is to inspire students. “The display will educate the younger generations to the idea that they can be successful in science and technology. We can train the next generation of scientists. They are the future and if they apply themselves, they can make discoveries just like Dr. Herzberg.”

Rangacharyulu envisions families walking through the Physics Building “on their way to the Geology Building to look at dinosaurs” and children noticing the display. “Kids will see this and ask their parents ‘Who was this guy?’ Working with a younger generation and creating the future is what a university is all about. We had Herzberg for 10 years and we were lucky because the time he spent here can inspire and motivate others.”

The ribbon cutting for the Gerhard Herzberg display was handled by, from left to right, Chary Rangacharyulu, head of the Department of Physics and Engineering Physics, Peter Stoicheff, dean of the College of Arts and Science, Herzberg�s daughter Agnes and U of S President Peter MacKinnon. Photography by David Stobbe