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The birth of the relaxation methods


Sound absorption in sea water
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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The sound absorption in sea water is very high, very large, so the sound waves don't travel very far if you are at least in a certain frequency range, and that frequency was about 1 megacycle, 1 megahertz. And Tamm and Kurtze had found that there was a maximum of sound absorption, the two maximum - one in the megacycle range, megahertz, and one in the 100 megacycle range. These were very usual sonar frequencies. Now when compared, what means extremely high absorption by comparison? You look at pure water, at distilled water, it's hundred times lower, the sound absorption. So it's a real dramatic effect. Now what do people think? Sea water, that's much sodium chloride then, so they looked at salt water, and to their surprise the salt water has even less absorption than pure water. So what is it in sea water? Well, you know, sea water is not only salty, it's also bitter, and the bitter compound in sea water is magnesium sulphate. So it turned out that, very soon found out that if you take a magnesium sulphate solution it has also the high sound absorption, so there must be something wrong with the magnesium sulphate.

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: Sound absorption, magnesium sulphate, sea water, distilled water, sodium chloride, salt water, Konrad Tamm, Günther Kurtze

Duration: 1 minute, 36 seconds

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008