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Trying to set up the Max Planck Society Institute of Music


Becoming President of EMBO
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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In the midst of the '60s I also became President of the European Molecular Biology Organisation, so-called EMBO. My predecessor was Max Perutz, and my successor then was Nils Jerne.

[Q] But I understand EMBO at that time was still an organisation without any building, it was just...

Right, without any laboratory.  And what we tried at that time is to found a European laboratory of biology. I remember people most active in that was Jacques Monod, for instance, François Jacob, Sydney Brenner, Max Perutz, John Kendrew... John Kendrew was Secretary General of EMBO.

At that time we met very often at Geneva, at CERN. They...

[Q] ... offered the space.

Offered the space, and I remember Jeffries Wyman came, Arne Engström from Stockholm.

[Q] So there were representatives of every country?

Yes. Once Jacques Monod invited us all to Nizza... Nice... because he could get a very nice plot for the institute and I really was in favour of getting the institute to the coast of the Mediterranean, but politicians didn't come along with that. I don't know, there was... I think they just had founded Grenoble in France and I think in England in Harwell there was the fusion project in physics, so the next European laboratory had to come to Germany, and it turned out that Heidelberg offered the best place to it. And during these years we really brought about the so-called EMBL, that means European Molecular Biology Laboratory, and its first director was John Kendrew.

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: European Molecular Biology Organisation, EMBO, CERN, European Organization for Nuclear Research, EMBL, European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Heidelberg, Max Ferdinand Perutz, Niels Kaj Jerne, Jacques Lucien Monod, François Jacob, Sydney Brenner, Sir John Cowdery Kendrew, Jeffries Wyman, Arne Engström

Duration: 2 minutes, 26 seconds

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008