Alwin Mittasch

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Alwin Mittasch
Mittasch,Alwin 1928 München (Ausschnitt).jpg
1928 at Munich
Born (1869-12-27)27 December 1869
Großdehsa, Saxony, Germany
Died 4 June 1953(1953-06-04) (aged 83)
Heidelberg, Germany
Nationality German
Fields Catalysis
Institutions BASF
Alma mater University of Leipzig 1901
Doctoral advisor Wilhelm Ostwald

Alwin Mittasch (sorbian:Pawoł Alwin Mitaš) (born 27 December 1869 in Großdehsa/Dažin, today to Löbau, Germany; died 4 June 1953 in Heidelberg, Germany) was a German chemist as well as scientific historian of Sorbian descent who succeeded above all by his pioneering and systematic research, (especially in the development of catalysts) to the ammonia synthesis after the Haber–Bosch process to big respect.


Alwin Mittasch was born in 1869 as a son of a teacher in the Sorbian stamped village Großdehsa/Dažin in Germany. He had a brother and three sisters. He attended elementary school in his home village of Großdehsa. Then he changed to a boarding school in Bautzen, where in 1889 the teacher seminar finished. Then he began, like his father, a career as a teacher in which he worked as an assistant teacher on the elementary school. In 1892 he moved to Leipzig and began there as a sideline in university of Leipzig with the study of numerous fields to which history, philosophy, psychology counted, however, also the natural sciences. He concentraded on chemistry and in 1901 he received a doctorate in the field on chemistry in the department from Wilhelm Ostwald in the department of the Pysikochemie. Max Bodenstein became his supervisor. In his thesis dealt Mittasch with Nickelcarbonylen. In spite of full-time employment as a teacher he finished this after one and a half years with summa cum laude. Use found the basic results of this work among other things with the development of the Mond-Langer-Carbonylverfahrens into the nickel production. Still decades later his results of the research were pulled by experts to rate. However, still he still intensely dealt with the philosophy. A habilitation could not aim at Mittasch, because he had to show no Abitur. Therefore, he smashed the way into the industry. First it nailed up him after mountain Stol near Aachen as an analytic chemist in AG for mining, manufacture of lead and zinc manufacture. A place followed as an assistant of Carl Bosch as well as the management of a research lab of the BASF. After he entered by the untimely death of his oldest son Heinz Mittasch in 1932 early into the retirement, he resettled to Heidelberg and devoted himself to writing, music, and gardening. Mittasch was not a political person. Though he gave probably in 1933 his vote for the national socialism, however, never was an ideological follower. In 1953 Alwin Mittasch died in Heidelberg. He was survived by his wife Dora Martha Mittasch (née Hunter) and his younger son Helmut Mittasch.


His career began Mittasch first in 1903 in mountain Stol with the manufacture of lead and zinc manufacture. After a short time he received there already thanks to his Kenntnisreichheit a leading function in the metal metallurgical engineering. However, after only one year he changed on recommendation of his supervisor at that time to the BASF where he took up his activity as an assistant from Carl Bosch. Besides, he took part in the attempts with which nitrogen about Metallnitride as well as Metallcyanide should be fixed. In 1909 Mittasch began production on the base from Eisenoxid in whose result approx. 20,000 attempts were carried out for the optimisation with the systematic search for a catalyst to the ammonia. The found catalyst (iron (II/III) oxide Fe3O4, K2O, CaO, Al2O3 and SiO2) allowed the large-scale technical ammoniated synthesis and is nearly unchanged till this day in use. By his great success Mittasch became 1918 research leaders of the then new-founded ammoniated laboratory of the BASF. Not only this start of the efficient catalyst to ammoniated production decreases to Mittasch but also the catalytic ammoniated oxidation to the nitric acid production, the high-pressure methanol synthesis (together with Matthias Pier in 1923) with mixing oxide catalysts (Zn(II) oxide and Chromium(III) oxide), as well as the Hochdruckcarbonylprozesse to the production of the purest metals such as nickel. The results of his works are held on in 85 patents which he announced mostly with his employees. For his knowledge and his engagement received numerous honours for his works, including the honorary doctorate of the universities TH Munich and LwH Berlin, as well as the appointment the professor by the government of Baden-Wurttemberg. Alwin Mittasch awards to honour the DECHEMA regularly the Alwin Mittasch price (early Alwin Mittasch medallion) for prominent achievements in the area of the catalysis research.

After ending of his career as a Chemist he wrote a lot about the history of chemistry as well as about the philosophy of the natural sciences, for which he received recognition from high-ranking people such sas Theodor Heuss. In 1944 he started to write in the Chronicle of my life.


  • Chemische Dynamik des Nickelkohlenoxyds (Dissertation), Zeitschrift für physikalische Chemie, 1902, 40, 1–88
  • Von Davy und Döbereiner bis Deacon. Ein halbes Jahrhundert Grenzflächenkatalyse, 1932 (mit E. Theis)
  • Kurze Geschichte der Katalyse in Praxis und Theorie, 1939
  • Lebensprobleme und Katalyse (1947)
  • Von der Chemie zur Philosophie. Ausgewählte Schriften und Vorträge, 1948 (mit Autobibliographie)
  • Geschichte der Ammoniaksynthese, Verlag Chemie, Weinheim, 1951, 196 Seiten
  • Salpetersäure aus Ammoniak, 1953
  • Erlösung und Vollendung. Gedanken über die letzten Fragen, 1953


  • Alwin Mittasch street (Germany, BASF)
  • Alwin Mittasch place in Ludwigshafen (Germany)
  • Lending of the honorary doctorate of the universities TH Munich and LwH Berlin
  • Appointment the professor by Baden-Württembergsche government in 1949


  • Rudolf Heinrich (1994), "Mittasch, Alwin", Neue Deutsche Biographie (NDB) (in German), 17, Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, pp. 574–576 ; (full text online)
  • Wunder der Katalyse, Die Rheinpfalz, 11. März 1950
  • Alwin Mittasch, Chemische Berichte, 1957,90, S. XLI-LIV (mit Bibliographie)
  • A. von Nagel, Alwin Mittasch, in: Ludwigshafener Chemiker, 1958, 137-170
  • R. Oesper, Alwin Mittasch, Journal for Chemical Education, 1948, v. 25, p. 531-532
  • E. Farber, "From Chemistry to Philosophy: the Way of Alwin Mittasch", Chymia, 1966, v. 11, 157-178
  • ABC Geschichte der Chemie, VEB Deutscher Verlag für Grundstoffindustrie, Leipzig 1989, ISBN 9783342001188

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