Born: 2 September 1853, Riga, Russian Empire (now Latvia)
Died: 4 April 1932, Leipzig, Germany
Affiliation at the time of the award: Leipzig University, Leipzig, Germany
Prize motivation: "in recognition of his work on catalysis and for his investigations into the fundamental principles governing chemical equilibria and rates of reaction"
Field: physical chemistry
Prize share: 1/1
In the 19th century chemists noticed that certain chemical reactions seemed to be caused by substances that remained unchanged in the process. In the 1880s Wilhelm Ostwald studied the speeds of numerous chemical reactions, including reactions occurring in the presence of acids and bases. In 1894 he revealed what happens: a substance - a catalyst - can affect a chemical reaction's speed, but is not included in its end-products. This understanding shed great light on chemical reactions occurring in both industrial processes and living organisms.