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Why the winter seminars are unique


The winter seminars
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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It was in 1965 that we... actually the two of us was together with some friends... thought we should have a seminar with our co-workers, not with others, and we should go away from the lab because in the lab you have your daily life here and... we should really go to some nice silent place and... since there are so many meetings in summertime we say, 'Let's have a winter seminar and let's discuss there our problems and if we have time left, let's go skiing'. That's how it started. And it was a very little farmer's house in Austria...

[Q] In Austria, in Brand, in Vorarlberg.

Yes, but how many people were we?

[Q] At that time maybe twenty. But the main thing was that those who had never had a good chance to talk with you uninterrupted of telephone or whatever, to talk with you about their scientific problems; be it a diploma, be it a thesis. So it was the ideal frame...

Not only that, also vice versa. I had the time to talk to them and learnt from my co-workers what they have done and what they found out. And I remember that... that was a time, the '60s, where our lab was already flooded with foreign guests, and we talked about the fast reaction work. And so these foreign guests came along and told their colleagues and so after a few times the number of people participating in the winter seminar increased and increased.

[Q] And also the international...

You remember Hans Sachow [sic] came along?

[Q] And it also internationally was growing.

Yes, right.

[Q] So if there was a professor for a sabbatical leave in your institute he would participate, he would contribute with a lecture. So it really spread out like a tree with very many arms, so it became very international.

It almost became an institution, an international institution. After a few years it was fixed seminar, and then people from other universities came. And I think if you ask how many Nobel Prize winners have talked at our winter seminar, I think the number is between thirty and fifty somewhere. And many of them got their Nobel Prize afterwards. So in other words we were able to interest people who are still very active and doing their work.

Nobel Prize winning German biophysical chemist, Manfred Eigen (1927-2019), was best known for his work on fast chemical reactions and his development of ways to accurately measure these reactions down to the nearest billionth of a second. He published over 100 papers with topics ranging from hydrogen bridges of nucleic acids to the storage of information in the central nervous system.

Listeners: Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitch

Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch is the eldest daughter of the Austrian physicist Klaus Osatitsch, an internationally renowned expert in gas dynamics, and his wife Hedwig Oswatitsch-Klabinus. She was born in the German university town of Göttingen where her father worked at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Aerodynamics under Ludwig Prandtl. After World War II she was educated in Stockholm, Sweden, where her father was then a research scientist and lecturer at the Royal Institute of Technology.

In 1961 Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch enrolled in Chemistry at the Technical University of Vienna where she received her PhD in 1969 with a dissertation on "Fast complex reactions of alkali ions with biological membrane carriers". The experimental work for her thesis was carried out at the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Göttingen under Manfred Eigen.

From 1971 to the present Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch has been working as a research scientist at the Max Planck Institute in Göttingen in the Department of Chemical Kinetics which is headed by Manfred Eigen. Her interest was first focused on an application of relaxation techniques to the study of fast biological reactions. Thereafter, she engaged in theoretical studies on molecular evolution and developed game models for representing the underlying chemical proceses. Together with Manfred Eigen she wrote the widely noted book, "Laws of the Game" (Alfred A. Knopf Inc. 1981 and Princeton University Press, 1993). Her more recent studies were concerned with comparative sequence analysis of nucleic acids in order to find out the age of the genetic code and the time course of the early evolution of life. For the last decade she has been successfully establishing industrial applications in the field of evolutionary biotechnology.

Tags: Austria, Brand, Vorarlberg, Nobel Prize, fast reaction work

Duration: 2 minutes, 57 seconds

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010