Helmut Schwarz read chemistry at the Technische Universität Berlin (TUB) where, in 1972, he received his Ph D and completed his Habilitation in 1974. After having spent some time as a postdoctoral fellow at the ETH Zürich, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Cambridge University, in 1978 he accepted a faculty position at TUB. He has occupied numerous visiting professorships on all continents and has declined all offers to leave TUB. For his work on gas-phase chemistry and physics, Dr. Schwarz has received more than 50 distinctions and honors. After having served as Vice President of the German Research Foundation (DFG) from 2001 ? 2008, in January 2008 Dr. Schwarz was elected President of the Alexander von Humboldt-Foundation which he led for 10 years.

Research Interests

The Schwarz laboratory is interested in any aspects related to the thermal activation of inert molecules, e.g. methane or carbon dioxide. To this end they have developed gas-phase techniques to prove at a strictly molecular level the elementary steps of metal-mediated bond activation processes with a focus to identify the active centers - the so-called "aristocratic atoms" - of a catalyst and to unravel mechanistic aspects. With this approach, which is often complemented by state-of-the-art computational methods, they were able to unravel the role of electronic structures, to demonstrate the existence of genuine catalytic cycles in which a single atom acts as an efficient catalyst, and to derive concepts which are now regarded as pillars in the understanding of organometallic processes and beyond.
In addition to these topics, the Schwarz group was instrumental in demonstrating
- the non-ergodic behavior of molecules
- the role of simple redox-innocent ligands in bond activation
- the involvement of excited states in thermal reactions ("Two-state Reactivity")
- the gas-phase generation of "unbottleable" molecules
- and the first-ever generation of the celebrated He@C60 molecule in beam experiments
- just to mention a few of the contributions from the Berlin laboratory.
Upon receiving the prestigious "Otto Hahn Award for Chemistry and Physics", Dr. Schwarz was described as the "Mozart of Contemporary Gas-phase Catalysis".

Membership Type

International Member

Election Year


Primary Section

Section 14: Chemistry