FHI Centenary Group
Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Centennial Project
FHI Centenary Group
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The Farkas Brothers and the Hungarian Network at Fritz Haber’s Institute

Speaker: Dr. Gábor Palló (Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Budapest)

Two Hungarian researchers, Ladislaus and Adalbert Farkas, joined Haber’s Institute in 1927. Somewhat younger than some of their more famous Hungarian compatriots and friends, such as Michael Polanyi, Eugene Wigner and Leo Szilard, they arrived on the Berlin scene somewhat later. The Farkas brothers contributed to the “Hungarian phenomenon” through their remarkable research on the physical chemistry of molecular hydrogen. The subject was novel and fundamental, moreover of interest in the chemistry of hydrogenation, a key process in organic chemistry and technology. In 1933, the Farkas brothers were forced to leave Germany and encountered great difficulties in finding scientific positions abroad. For instance, neither Britain nor the United States had opened their doors to them. It is worthwhile following their path, to learn what happened to scientists who had not become international stars but who were no less gifted and whose stories are no less adventurous than those of the most famous Hungarians. The narrative leads to Israel, where the Farkas brothers established the Hungarian phenomenon in the fledgling Israeli science. Adalbert later settled down in The United States. Unlike Wigner and Szilard, who became known as physicists, the Farkas brothers continued working as chemists, following their scientific paths that began at Haber’s Institute. They carried along with them the knowledge, the methods, and the mentality that they had learned there: while Ladislaus became an academic with a predilection for practical applications, Adalbert worked in industry, relying on his knowledge of catalysis, a prominent topic at Haber’s Institute. However, in the changing cultural and political context, their intellectual dowry was gaining ever new dimensions.

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