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Immeasurably fast reactions


Becoming interested in fast reactions
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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I heard that Bonhoeffer founded the Max Planck Institute at Göttingen, so after Eucken died I went to Bonhoeffer and he offered me immediately a position in his institute, but I said I will stay in the old institute until a successor will arrive because the teaching there had to be done and I had to help as an assistant with that.

But I am telling this because I am now coming to one of my main subjects of my scientific career, that's the study of fast reactions, and I should perhaps tell this story. Already when I studied with Eucken, I read in his textbook on physical chemistry...

[Q] May I ask when was this famous book edited?

Oh, I think that... as I say that Teller was involved in the first volume which was 1932, so very early in the thirties the first edition came out. And it was the bible of physical chemistry. There was no comparable textbook in physical chemistry which was as detailed, there were three big volumes of this book. Well, there I read that true neutralisation reactions, the example par excellence is the so-called neutralisation reaction, the proton plus hydroxyl ion gives a water molecule. But one calls all charge neutralisation reaction, that would also mean let's say barium plus sulphate gives barium sulphate which precipitates in water... all the action in which you compensate those charges are, as he showed, as he wrote, immeasurably fast.

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: Max Planck Institute, fast reactions, Fundamentals of Physical Chemistry, physical chemistry, neutralisation reaction, Karl-Friedrich Bonhoeffer, Arnold Eucken

Duration: 2 minutes, 5 seconds

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008