Photo of Dudley R. Herschbach

Dudley R. Herschbach

  • National Medal of Science
  • Chemistry
For his seminal contributions to the fundamental understanding of reactions of atoms and molecules, collision by collision.

During a visit to his grandmother’s house, Dudley R. Herschbach found an issue of National Geographic when he was 9 years old. It was an article on astronomy that Herschbach says sparked his interest in science, and he spent many nights afterwards drawing star maps.

Herschbach went on to earn a Master’s Degree in Physics and a Ph.D. in Chemical Physics at Harvard University. He focused his research on molecular beams, performing “crossed molecular beam” experiments. Herschbach and his colleagues developed a “supermachine” that extended the scope of crossed-beam experiments to analyze more complex chemical reactions.

The experiments showed that scientists could use molecular beams to understand the specific mechanisms of a chemical reaction, such as the orientations of the colliding molecules. Herschbach’s discovery provided important knowledge that allows researchers to integrate information across the fields of chemistry, physics, and biology.

By Jennifer Santisi