Fritz Haber was a revolutionary scientist, but the story of his achievements is quite a contradiction.
When it comes to famous scientists, almost everyone knows who Albert Einstein and Charles Darwin are.
But there are not a lot of people who can tell you who Fritz Haber is, or what he did for science.
Haber was quite the contradiction…
As well as saving billions of people, the so-called ‘father of chemical warfare’ also killed millions.
The revolutionary chemist was born in Poland in 1868.
He began to question how to solve the global food shortage as the world’s population continued to grow.
That’s when he came up with a technique that would go down as one of the most impactful agricultural creations in history.
While he was a professor of physical chemistry and electrochemistry at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, he came up with a process that could convert gas from the earth’s atmosphere into fertilizer for crops.
The process was “likely the most important technological innovation of the 20th century.”
Because it “sustains the food base for the equivalent of half the world’s population today,” Smithsonian Magazine reports.
However, Haber was also responsible for something far more deadly.
After the First World War broke out in 1914, the scientist worked closely with the German Army, helping to develop new weapons to use against the enemy.
This is when Haber began experimenting with chlorine gas.
Most commanders refused to fight with poisonous gasses. However, when the British and French forces began to overpower the German army, Haber insisted they use his creation against them.
According to biographer Margit Szollosi-Janze, “[Haber] said if you want to win the war, then please, wage chemical warfare with conviction.”
And just a year later, in 1915, Haber was also on the frontline. By this time, the German army was killing thousands with what was commonly known as mustard gas.
Many German troops also died due to the chemical warfare, resulting in Haber coming up with a way to save as many German soldiers as possible while taking out the enemy.
In April 1915, it was reported that over 168 tons of chlorine gas were released onto the battlefield, killing thousands in just minutes.
After Germany was defeated in the war, Haber was awarded a Nobel Prize for his efforts, although many questioned why.
So even though he helped billions, thanks to his fertilizer process, millions also died due to his chlorine gas creation.