Herzberg: The Scientist

Here you will find educational and historical resources that will help you explore Dr. Gerhard Herzberg as a scientist. You will learn about his scientific pursuits, the history of his scientific field, and how spectroscopy plays a part in Canadian scientific development.

Take the virtual tour of Dr. Herzberg’s office at the National Research Council

Dr. Gerhard Herzberg Museum 360 video

[On screen: Plaque outside the Dr. Gerhard Herzberg Office and Reading Room] [00:00:11 Dr. Gerhard Herzberg] Well, I would say what drives me is simply curiosity. I like to know how things work. And I’d like to know how to explain natural phenomena, because I’m concerned exclusively with the basic science and I’m not concerned with applications.

[00:00:29] His school triangle, his lab coat and teacup remain untouched. The Herzberg family. Dr. Herzberg (centre) was the youngest child and was born on December 25, 1904.

[00:00:34] Whether the particular study that I’m making is of any practical use, it doesn’t interest me. If it does, well, well and good. But that’s not the reason why I’m doing it. And I think you might say, well, I wouldn’t say the majority, but many scientists have as much as their motivation. I think curiosity about nature.

[00:00:50] Dr. Herzberg won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1971. This is a replica of his Nobel Prize. Samples of the science that led to Dr. Herzberg’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry. King Gustaf Adolf of Sweden and Dr. Gerhard Herzberg (right) at the Nobel Prize Ceremony, 1971.

[00:00:56 Interviewer] Is that the essence of science?

[00:00:58 Dr. Gerhard Herzberg] Well, and I always like to quote a statement by a famous mathematician, Jacoby, from the last century, who said the sole purpose of science, sole aim of science, is the glory of the human spirit. And that is my motive.

[00:01:16] It’s intellectual activity that is similar in many ways to artistic activity. The artist, the painter, the musician, the writer, they all are motivated by lifting the human spirit in some way or other. Wrapped in science we have the additional fallout, so to speak, of practical things that will be useful for mankind is for the motivation, not very relevant.

[00:01:34] This is his scientific calculator. His doctorate from Darmstadt University in Germany. Several spectrograms, his measurement magnifier and a photo of Dr. Herzberg in 1971.

[00:01:48] For some people, it is. I mean, of course, if a person wants to go into medicine and medical research or speak to medicine, his motivation is different.

[00:01:58] Dr. Herzberg used double doors to sound proof his office so he could focus on his work.

[00:02:00] But I’m talking about the motivation of a basic scientist on my own.

[00:02:05] My point is simply that you should do science for the sake of human culture, for the sake of knowledge. I mean, we don’t live there just to be fed and to grow and get wealthy and die. There must be some purpose in life that is not just surviving.

[On screen: Official signature, National Research Council Canada / Conseil national de recherches Canada]

[On screen: Government of Canada wordmark]

“Dr. Gerhard Herzberg Museum 360°.” Created and developed by the National Research Council.

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