The Scientist Who Killed Millions and Saved Billions

The Scientist Who Killed Millions and Saved Billions

Fritz Haber is the scientist who arguably most transformed the world. Part of this video is sponsored by Wren. Offset your carbon footprint on Wren: ​https://www.wren.co/start/veritasium1. For the first 100 people who sign up, I will personally pay for the first month of your subscription!

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A huge thanks to Dan Charles for writing a fantastic biography of Fritz Haber, for taking the time to talk to us about it, and providing valuable feedback. This video would not be what it is without his contributions. http://site.danielcharles.us https://ve42.co/Charles

Huge thanks to Tom de Prinse from Explosions and Fire for helping us with the chemistry of explosives. If you like explosions and/or fire, you will love his channel. https://www.youtube.com/c/ExplosionsFire2

Special thanks to Sonya Pemberton, Karl Kruszelnicki, Mary Dobbie, Olivia McRae, and the patreon supporters for giving us feedback on the earlier version of this video.

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References:

The primary reference used is Vaclav Smil’s excellent book, Enriching The Earth –
Smil, V. (2004). Enriching the earth: Fritz Haber, Carl Bosch, and the transformation of world food production. MIT press. – https://ve42.co/Smil

Mastermind: The Rise and Fall of Fritz Haber, the Nobel Laureate Who Launched the Age of Chemical Warfare, by Dan Charles – https://ve42.co/Charles

Stoltzenberg, D. (2004). Fritz Haber: Chemist, Nobel Laureate, German, Jew. Chemical Heritage Foundation. – https://ve42.co/Stoltzenberg

Postgate, J. R. (1982). The fundamentals of nitrogen fixation. CUP Archive. – https://ve42.co/postgate

Miles, A. G. (1992). Biological nitrogen fixation. – https://ve42.co/Miles

Friedrich, B., & Hoffmann, D. (2017). Clara Immerwahr: A life in the shadow of Fritz Haber. In One Hundred Years of Chemical Warfare: Research, Deployment, Consequences(pp. 45-67). Springer, Cham. – https://ve42.co/Friedrich2017

Da Silva, G. (2020). What is ammonium nitrate, the chemical that exploded in Beirut. Sci Am, 5. – https://ve42.co/Silva

Rodrigues, P., & Micael, J. (2021). The importance of guano birds to the Inca Empire and the first conservation measures implemented by humans. – https://ve42.co/rodrigues

Allison, F. E. (1957). Nitrogen and soil fertility. Soil, the, 85-94. – https://ve42.co/Allison

Crookes, W. (1898). Address of the President before the British Association for the Advancement of Science, Bristol, 1898. Science, 8(200), 561-575. – https://ve42.co/Crookes

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Special thanks to Patreon supporters: RayJ Johnson, Brian Busbee, Jerome Barakos M.D., Amadeo Bee, Julian Lee, Inconcision, TTST, Balkrishna Heroor, Chris LaClair, Avi Yashchin, John H. Austin, Jr., OnlineBookClub.org, Matthew Gonzalez, Eric Sexton, john kiehl, Diffbot, Gnare, Dave Kircher, Burt Humburg, Blake Byers, Dumky, Evgeny Skvortsov, Meekay, Bill Linder, Paul Peijzel, Josh Hibschman, Timothy O’Brien, Mac Malkawi, Michael Schneider, jim buckmaster, Juan Benet, Ruslan Khroma, Robert Blum, Richard Sundvall, Lee Redden, Vincent, Stephen Wilcox, Marinus Kuivenhoven, Michael Krugman, Cy ‘kkm’ K’Nelson, Sam Lutfi, Ron Neal

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Written by Petr Lebedev, Derek Muller, Felicity Nelson and Kovi Rose
Edited by Trenton Oliver
Animation by Jakub Mistek, Fabio Albertelli, Ivy Tello, Alex Drakoulis, Nils Ramses Kullack, and Charlie Davies
SFX by Shaun Clifford
Filmed by Petr Lebedev, Derek Muller and Raquel Nuno
Photo of nitrogen deficiency in rice from https://ve42.co/rice
Additional video/photos supplied by Getty Images
Music from Epidemic Sound: https://ve42.co/music

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41 Responses

  1. Veritasium says:

    Let’s use chemistry for good! If you want to offset your carbon emissions I will personally cover the first month of your subscription at https://ve42.co/Wren (for the first 100 people to sign up)

    • Snowflakes Nightmare says:

      Now plz explain WHY GOVERNMENTSaround the world are calling for REDUCTION OF NITROGEN AND CARBON DIOXIDE… this makes zero sense unless you want to lessen the amount of people on earth……

    • Doctor Panigrahi says:

      He is basically Ozymandias from the movie Watchmen.

    • achille295 says:

      Finally! The Haber Bosch process getting its due recognition. Vaclav Smil would be proud. Thank you for bringing it to the general public’s attention

    • Helo XIII says:

      But why are bio-garden coming back to old fertilizer such as manure ?

  2. History Dose says:

    It feels like so many discoveries simultaneously make the world better and scarier

    • achille295 says:

      Finally! The Haber Bosch process getting its due recognition. Vaclav Smil would be proud. Thank you for bringing it to the general public’s attention @Veritasium

    • MrX MrY says:

      @Steve Sherman ok, so you say jesus did actually exist. i say i can neither confirm nor deny that. but i guarantee you that he did not do all he impossible things the goat herders’ guide to the galaxy says he did, and he most definitely did not come back from the dead. today we may be able to revive someone, but back then, medicine simply didn’t exist. if he really rose from his grave, the only explanation that i can accept is that he simply wasn’t dead.

    • Steve Sherman says:

      @MrX MrY Then why do non-Christian historians talk about him : Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Suetonius etc. ? Because he actually lived, and was executed by the Romans for the crime of claiming to be a King and God. And why did his Disciples continue to preach on his behalf and die while claiming that. Nobody dies for something they know to be a lie.

    • mem says:

      @Arnel Arboleda exactly… if you want to use something as weapon, it will be done irrespective of progress in science and technology , so science and technology has nothing to do with it.

    • Ignirium says:

      So does a knife in certain peoples hands, or in different situations

  3. Breaking Vlad says:

    Impressive, I am in total agreement with the last statement. At the end, science is neither good or bad, the intentions of the people are. Science is just like a hammer, the people can choose to hit a nail, or something worse. In neither case is hammer’s or hammer inventor’s fault.

  4. Jon Martin says:

    Equally important was Carl Bosch, who took Haber’s tabletop setup and scaled it up to factory size, which, among other things, required finding a catalyst other than osmium. He also won a Nobel prize for this, and the process is most referred to by both their names: the Haber-Bosch process. Bosch went on to be one of the founders, and first head of, the chemical mega-conglomerate IG Farben. IG Farben would become notorious for its practices during World War 2. It was the company that made Zyklon B. Half of its workforce was slave labour and it had a factory that was effectively a concentration/death camp: Auschwitz III AKA Auschwitz Monowitz. IG Farben was also involved in the medical experimentation conducted at a number of concentration camps.

    • Igor Brille says:

      @worldoftancraft you forgot to mention their business partner in US Standard Oil from Bush family

    • Robin says:

      @Thomas the Thermonuclear Bomb an iron-based catalyst. FeO (Wustite or ferrous oxide) and Fe3O4.

    • William says:

      I. G. Farben is still with us today in the form of Bayer and the other companies that it was broken into because at the end of WWII it was decided that IGF was too important to close entirely.

    • worldoftancraft says:

      I.G. Farben. Or Commonwealth of Interests Farben.

      The intentionally obscured benefetiary of both WWI and it’s direct continuation.

    • Stroudy8976 says:

      Everyone forgets the Chemical Engineer!

  5. Bruno Credidio says:

    I’ve done part of my PhD in the Fritz-Haber-Institut. It’s weird to imagine that the experimental hall where I’ve spent so many nights doing a bit of science was once crowded with people focused on how to kill more efficiently….

    • Dao_Tui says:

      @Goutham So… cancel culture it is then?
      Let’s forget about the good he’s done and focus on the bad?
      Every war that has ever been fought had crimes. War itself is a crime. You take lives on purpose to gain something (land, treasure, status, food, buildings..dominance, whatever).
      So every war is just bloody murder.
      The guy started of good. He wanted to solve a problem. He made bad choices, but if he didn’t, someone else would’ve.
      Keeping the name will help the students to be reminded that they choose for a profession with a lot of responsibility. One wrong move, you can take lives.
      So what name would you change it to? Cancel culture loving scientists?

    • Goutham says:

      I know this is a tricky issue, but he’s an actual war criminal. You have to draw the line somewhere

    • N1ppe says:

      @Goutham no. There’s no need to

    • M P says:

      Congrats on your accomplishment.

    • M P says:

      @howtorawk facts.

  6. Dan Drangus says:

    Ah yes, “The Alchemy of Air” probably my favorite book for the past few years. Tragic story, Fritz son Herman also committed suicide after the war and the passing of Hermann’s wife, then 3 years later Hermann’s oldest daughter also committed suicide.

  7. Mr.Shark says:

    There’s a documentary by National Geo called ‘Genius’, season one is about Einstein and they covered the story about Fritz Haber perfectly there (to me at least), I definitely recommend to watch

  8. Mihai Moldo says:

    In Paul’s Offit book Pandora’s Lab he had a whole chapter on Faber. He goes more in depth about the creation of the factories that extract Nitrogen from the air, about the geopolitical situation during that time and the ethical implications of his actions.

    Is a must read for all who love science.

    • Nate Scherer says:

      Haber?

    • puru says:

      Do you know any more books revolving around science which you’d like to recommend? I recently read When we cease to understand the world by Benjamin labatut and have been wanting to read more ever since!

  9. Xavier says:

    You are becoming a great story teller, Derek 😄 Loving this kinda videos keep em coming

  10. Mrinal Pradhan says:

    The content and storytelling in this video is absolute top-tier. Veritasium has to be one of the best YT channels if not the best. Found this channel during the Covid-19 lockdown and have been following Derek ever since then.

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