August 9th in German History: The Birth of Erich Huckel

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Erich Huckel.

The German people have made enormous contributions to all fields of science. Erich Huckel was one of the innumerable Germans whose work moved humanity forward and helped to further the scope of human knowledge. He was born on August 9th, 1896.

Huckel was born in Berlin, in the affluent suburb of Charlottenburg. He studied at the University of Gottingen from 1914 to 1921. He became an assistant at the university after receiving his doctorate and then to Peter Debye. The two developed the Debye-Huckel theory in 1923, which explains several properties of electrolytic solutions. In 1930 he first proposed the Huckel method of orbital calculations, which allows for the construction and interpretation of the structures of certain organic molecules. He later joined the faculty of the Technische Hochschule and moved again to Phillips University, in the city of Marburg. In 1936 he developed the theory of non-Kekule molecules, although he is not usually given credit for it. He was made a full professor in 1960 and retired in 1961. He died on February 16th, 1980.

Erich Huckel was given little recognition for his work during most of his life. He is thought to have lacked communication skills, and so his contribution of the molecular orbital theory was not widely-known, which led to his remaining an assistant for most of his career. However, he was eventually made a full professor and in 1965 won the Otto Han Prize for Chemistry and Physics. It is good that he received credit during his lifetime, if only near the end of it.

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