Odd Hassel Biography

Odd Hassel
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Quick Facts

Birthday: May 17, 1897

Nationality: Norwegian

Died At Age: 83

Sun Sign: Taurus

Born in: Kristiania, Norway

Famous as: Chemist

Chemists Norwegian Men


father: Ernst August Hassel

mother: Mathilde Christine Klaveness

siblings: Ella, Ernst, Fredrik, Lars

Died on: May 11, 1981

place of death: Oslo, Norway

City: Oslo, Norway

More Facts

education: University of Oslo

awards: Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1969)

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Who was Odd Hassel?

Odd Hassel was a Norwegian chemist who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with a British chemist, Derek H. R. Barton in 1969 for his work on the fundamentals of ‘Conformational Analysis’ which is the study of the three-dimensional geometric structure of molecules. Both of them had worked independently of each other on the subject but had arrived at a similar conclusion. Hassel’s work was based upon the fact that carbon is a common component of all organisms in nature which are composed of a large number of chemical compounds. The structures of these carbon compounds are determined in the way they are bound together with the help of energy bonds which are not very rigid. As a result molecules can have different conformations which have an effect on how they react with other substances. Hassel is the only Norwegian to have won a Nobel Prize for work done solely in Norway. The other scientists born in Norway such as Lars Onsager, who received the prize in chemistry, and Ivar Giaever, who received the prize in physics, were American citizens who were awarded the prize for their work in America. Hassel lived and worked in Norway for most of his life.
Childhood & Early Life
Odd Hassel was born in Kristiania which is now Oslo, Norway, on May 17, 1897. His father was a gynecologist named Ernst August Hassel and his mother was Mathilde Christine Klaveness.
He had a twin brother named Lars, another two brothers named Ernst and Fredrik and a sister named Ella.
His father died when he was only eight. He continued to live with his mother till the age of thirty-five.
He completed his matriculation from the ‘Vestheim School’ in 1915 along with his twin brother.
After matriculation he enrolled at the ‘University of Oslo’ in 1915 to study mathematics and physics with chemistry as the main subject.
He received his B.Sc. degree in chemistry from the ‘Universitty of Oslo’ in 1920.
After getting his bachelor’s degree he spent a year in France and Italy in studying theoretical physics but decided to continue with chemistry instead.
In the autumn of 1922 he went to Germany and spent about six months in the laboratory of Professor K. Fajans at Munich, working on the reactions of organic dyes on silver halides which led to the discovery of ‘absorption indicators’.
After six months he moved to Berlin and joined the ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Institute’ in Dahlem and worked on crystallography with the help of X-rays.
He received a ‘Rockfeller Foundation Fellowship’ on the proposal of Fritz Haber for the period 1923-1924 which helped him complete his doctorate.
He received his PhD degree in chemistry from the ‘Humboldt University of Berlin’ in 1924.
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Odd Hassel joined the chemistry faculty at the ‘University of Oslo’ in 1925 as a ‘universitetsstipendiat’ and became a ‘dosent’ in 1926. He became a Professor and the Chairman of the Physical Chemistry department at the university in 1934 and held the post up to 1964.
He started an intensive research on the structure of ‘cyclohexane’ and its derivatives from 1930 and discovered that a molecule of ‘cyclohexane’ crystal existed in two forms which were boat-shaped and in the chair form. He showed that it contained rings with six members and the two bonds of the carbon atom were differently oriented in space.
At this time he set down the fundamental facts about ‘Conformational Analysis’ and also wrote a book titled ‘Kristallchemie’ on his discovery.
By 1943 he had introduced two additional methods which had not been used in Norway previously to supplement the experimental methods already available.
He had gathered enough material but yet had to draw the final conclusions about possible’ conformations’ and published an article on his findings written in a Norwegian journal named ‘Journal of Chemistry: rock being and metallurgy’.
Publication by the Norwegian journal probably provoked the authorities and he was arrested by the ‘Nasjonal Samling’, a group of Norwegian Nazis, for being a member of the Resistance and was handed over to the German forces who were occupying Norway. He was sent to the ‘Grini’ concentration camp from where he was released in November 1944.
When he returned to the institute he found that it was almost deserted and he decided to take up experimental work on electron-diffraction.
After the war he published most of his articles in English and Norwegian in a Scandinavian journal of which he was editor from 1947 to 1956.
During the later part of the 1950s his research work was mostly around the structure of organic halogen compounds. He undertook a series of experiments to determine the structure of the compounds as there was very little information on it. He was able to lay down a basic set of rules behind the geometry of the compounds which remained his main interest in the years to come.
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He became a ‘Professor Emeritus’ in 1981.
Major Works
Odd Hassel authored the book ‘Krtistallchemie’ or ‘Crystal Chemistry’ which was written in German and published in 1934.
Awards & Achievements
Odd Hassel received the ‘Fridtjof Nansen Award’ in 1946.
He received the ‘Guldber and Waage’s Law of Mass Action Memorial Medal’ from the ‘Norwegian Chemical Society’ and the ‘Gunnerus Medal’ from the ‘Royal Norwegian Academy of Sciences’ in 1964.
He won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1969.
He was also awarded the ‘Knight of the Order of St. Olay’ and was made a Fellow of several societies such as the ‘Chemical Society of London’, the ‘Norwegian Academy of Science’, the ‘Norwegian Chemical Society’, the ‘Royal Danish Academy of Sciences’, the ‘Royal Norwegian Academy of Sciences’, and the ‘Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences’.
He was given honorary degrees by the ‘University of Copenhagen’ and the ‘University of Stockholm’.
Every year from his 70th birthday in 1967 onwards, distinguished scientists from all over the world gather at ‘University of Oslo’ to give lectures which are known as ‘The Hassel Lectures’.
He has been commemorated by a postage stamp brought out by the Norwegian Posts & Telegraphs department.
Personal Life & Legacy
He remained unmarried throughout his life.
He suffered from albinism since birth.
Odd Hassel died in Oslo, Norway on May 11, 1981.
Odd Hassel was a survivor of the German concentration camp at ‘Grini’ where he was confined from 1943 to 1944.

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