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Creating a periodic table of reaction rates


Almost becoming a coordination chemist
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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Bonhoeffer was a wonderful scientist and man... a person. Many know of the fate of the Bonhoeffer family during the Nazi time. His brother, who was a Protestantic priest, was killed by the Nazis even a few months before the end of the war. They were involved in the uprising of the 20th July against Hitler. Bonhoeffer himself was a wonderful character and he tried to further young people. He was famous for having discovered the two modifications of hydrogen, ortho- and parahydrogen, together with Harteck and with Eucken. Eucken did at that time measurements of the specific heat, and so the three shared this discovery. At that time it was a very important discovery because explanation required quantum mechanics and when Heisenberg received his Nobel Prize in the early '30s, the formulation of his prize was for the discovery... for the explanation of the two modifications of hydrogen, which was ortho- and parahydrogen.

Yes, Bonhoeffer then went on to use... was one of the first in Germany to use D20, heavy water, for following by the isotope... following the course of complicated reactions, and at that time after the war he was very interested in biology. He always tried to persuade me to study reactions. He was especially interested in nerve conduction and made a model of that, but I always had to tell him I first want to study more fundamental reactions to understand better the course of complicated reactions before I would go into such complicated problems, as we know nowadays biological reactions are.

The same was... I was asked when I came to the Faraday meeting in 1954, why we studied magnesium sulphate ‒ such a boring substance. Well, this was just a fact that we started from the sound absorption of sea water, so that was not our choice, magnesium sulphate was given. But, anyway, reactions between metal ions and ligands usually are fast reactions. And there was a complete open field for us to study and many inorganic chemists came into our laboratory during the '50s, and studied fast reactions.  So I almost became a coordination chemist and I was always invited to meetings of coordination chemistry.

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: orthohydrogen, parahydrogen, Nobel Prize, heavy water, deuterium oxide, Faraday Society, D20, magnesium sulphate, sea water, coordination chemistry, Paul Karl Maria Harteck, Karl-Friedrich Bonhoeffer, Arnold Eucken, Adolf Hitler, Werner Karl Heisenberg

Duration: 3 minutes, 33 seconds

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008