About Dudley Robert Herschbach, Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1986
Dudley Robert Herschbach (born June 18, 1932) is an American chemist at Harvard University. He won the 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry jointly with Yuan T. Lee and John C. Polanyi "for their contributions concerning the dynamics of chemical elementary processes." Herschbach and Lee specifically worked with molecular beams, performing so-called "crossed molecular beam" experiments that enabled a detailed molecular-level understanding of many elementary reaction processes.
Life and career
Herschbach was born in San Jose, California. After graduating from Campbell High School, Herschbach received a B.S. in mathematics in 1954 and an M.S. in chemistry in 1955 from Stanford University, and an A.M. in physics in 1956 and a Ph.D. in chemical physics in 1958 from Harvard University under the direction of Edgar Bright Wilson. After graduation, Herschbach joined the University of California at Berkeley, where he was appointed an Assistant Professor of Chemistry in 1959 and became an Associate Professor in 1961.
In the course of his life's work in research, Herschbach has published over 400 scientific papers. Herschbach's research has ranged broadly over the field of chemical physics, including much theoretical work on dimensional scaling. His most acclaimed work, for which he won the Nobel Prize, was his collaboration on crossed molecular beam experiments with Yuan T. Lee. Crossing collimated beams of gas-phase reactants allows partitioning of energy among translational, rotational, and vibrational modes of the product molecules—a vital aspect of understanding reaction dynamics. He has applied his broad expertise in the theory and practice of chemistry and physics to diverse problems. A recent study of his demonstrated that methane is in fact spontaneously formed at high pressure and high temperature environments such as those deep in the Earth's mantel; this finding is an exciting indication of abiogenic hydrocarbon formation, meaning that the actual amount of hydrocarbons available on earth might be much larger than conventionally assumed under the assumption that all hydrocarbons are fossil fuels. His recent work also includes a collaboration with Steven Brams studying approval voting. Hershbach's teaching ranges ranges from graduate seminars on chemical kinetics to an introductory undergraduate course in general chemistry that he taught for many years at Harvard, and described as his "most challenging assignment."
Herschbach has been a strong proponent of science education and science among the general public, and frequently gives lectures to students of all ages, imbuing them with his infectious enthusiasm for science and his playful spirit of discovery. Herschbach has also lent his voice to the animated television show The Simpsons for the episode "Treehouse of Horror XIV" where he is seen presenting the Nobel Prize in Physics to Professor Frink.
Although still an active research professor at Harvard, he joined the Texas A&M University faculty September 1, 2005 as a Professor of Physics. As of 2010, he holds the title of Professor Emeritus at Harvard, and remains well known for his involvement as a lecturer and mentor in the Harvard research community. He also served for several years as the Master of Currier House, where he was highly involved in undergraduate life in addition to his full-time duties as a research professor.
He is a board member of the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation and was the chairman of the board for Society for Science & the Public from 1992-2010. He is also an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award (DESA).
Herschbach is a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.
His wife, Georgene Herschbach, served as the Associate Dean of Harvard College for Undergraduate Academic Programs. Prior to retirement in 2009, she chaired Harvard College's influential Committee on Undergraduate Education.
He participates in a program that brings Nobel Laureates to high schools. In Oct. 2010, he is expected to participate in the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Lunch with a Laureate program where middle and high school students will get to engage in an informal conversation with a Nobel Prize winning Scientist over a brown bag lunch. Herschbach is also a member of the USA Science and Engineering Festival's Advisory Board.