Hans E. Suess, born in 1909 in Vienna, grew up in an environment of scientific excellence. He received in his young years a good intuition as to what could be right and what probably was wrong. In his acceptance speech for the Leonard Medal of the Meteoritical Society, he said, “When I was a little boy, I was told all about continental drift and plate tectonics, and how mountains were folded asymmetrically. Later, however, I was told by others that this was all fantasy.”
Hans studied physical chemistry at the University of Vienna. He received his Ph.D. in 1936. Two years earlier appeared his first publication on experimental studies with heavy water (only discovered two years earlier), which dealt on the inversion of cane sugar in mixtures of light and heavy water (1954,1). He became especially interested in the reaction rates and equilibria in solutions of heavy water (1956; Goldschmidt, 1954), but Hans also worked on topics like the kinetic of thermal polymerization of dissolved styrene (Burbidge et al., 1957; Revelle and Suess, 1957) and other problems in physical chemistry like the thermal disintegration of dioxane (Suess, 1954b).
The first 10 papers Hans published in the first five years of his career show the wide spectrum of his interests. Aside from the papers just mentioned, there is one dealing with photochemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere (1959), two on the radioactivity of potassium and its use for the determination of the age of elements in meteorites (1960,1,2), and three on capture reactions of thermal neutrons. He had irradiated gaseous ethylbromide with thermal neutrons and found that in the gas phase all activated bromine atoms were set free and could be separated to 100 percent. The later investigations were carried out in Hamburg at the Institute for Physical Chemistry, to which Hans had moved in 1938. Earlier he had visited Zurich to do research at the ETH (Swiss Technical University).