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Farkas, Laszlo (Ladislaus)

Farkas, Laszlo (Ladislaus)

(b. Dunaszerdahely, Hungary [now Dunajska Streda, Czechoslovakia], 10 May 1904; d. near Rome, Italy, 31 December 1948)

Physical chemistry.

Farkas was the son of a pharmacist and the eldest of several children. After finishing secondary school he studied chemistry from 1922 to 1924 at the Technische Hochschule in Vienna, and then at the Technische Hochschule (now Technische Universität) in Berlin. In 1927 he received his doctorate, and in the same year he entered the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut in Berlin, where he worked under Haber’s guidance. When the Nazis came to power, Farkas left Germany and went to England, where he taught colloid chemistry at Cambridge. In 1936 he accepted an offer to serve as professor of physical chemistry at the newly organized Faculty of Sciences of Hebrew University, Jerusalem, and he remained there until his death. He died in a plane crash on his way to the United States to seek support for acquisition of scientific instruments.

Farkas began his scientific activity with work in the field of photochemical sensitizing in the region of the ultraviolet. He then turned to a study of the equilibrium distribution of the two forms of molecular hydrogen—ortho-hydrogen and para-hydrogen.

During this period deuterium was discovered, and Farkas saw in the substance a valuable aid for his investigations into the homogeneous catalysis of ortho- and para-hydrogen conversion. With his brother he developed an electrolytic method which resulted in the simplest known procedure for producing heavy water.

In the following years various investigations involving deuterium constituted the central portion of Farkas’ scientific activity. He studied thoroughly the equilibrium of the reaction

H2O +HD ⇆ HOD +H2

and its role in the separation of the hydrogen isotope. He also investigated the various exchange reactions of heavy hydrogen. Moreover, he established the ratio of heavy to light water in the liquid and vapor phases over an extensive temperature range. Farkas also determined the catalytic activity of heavy hydrogen in various processes. His work was, in many respects, of pioneering importance in the field of deuterium and heavy-water research.

Farkas also left many publications on reaction kinetics and a few on analytical chemistry. During World War II he was secretary of the Scientific Advisory Committee of the Middle East Supply Center. He also contributed to the organization of scientific research in the new state of Israel.


A list of Farkas’ 100 or so publications in German, English, and Israeli journals is in L. Farkas Memorial Volume (Jerusalem, 1952), pp. 305–309.

On Farkas, see two articles by E. K. Rideal: “Prof. L. Farkas,” in Nature, 162 (1949), 313; and “Ladislaus Farkas,” in L. Farkas Memorial Volume (Jerusalem, 1952), pp. 1–2.

F. SzabadvÁry

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