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Göttingen University and some of its famous professors


Going to university and building a seismograph
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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Together with a friend I went again, only partly by train, to Göttingen in August 1945. And it was true, the university you could inscribe there. Many people of course, coming back from the war, used the chance and came to Göttingen. I remember to get there with a friend, a medical student, and we went first to Hermann Rhein, the physiologist Rhein, was a famous name. Somehow my friend was a relative of him. And so he asked what we wanted to study and what we know already. So in my case he said, 'You should go to Eucken, to Professor Eucken, because what you want to do is physical chemistry'. So I went to Eucken, and Eucken told me, 'You can approach physical chemistry either from chemistry or from physics. So in your case', he said, 'from what I hear from you I would suggest to start with physics'.

So I went over to the Physics Department and it was Professor Becker, the theoretical physicist. He said, 'Yes. But we have so many people, older people, soldiers who missed all the time in the war. You are just eighteen years old and also you have to take your Abitur, your Matura'. Well, I could do that in a direct examination, I didn't have to go to school again. But he said, 'What can we do with you? You are too young. We must first take care of the older students'. But then he said, 'Look, there are not many people who want to study astronomy and geophysics. There are still openings. So why don't you go to the geophysicist and ask whether he would take you? The first two years is physics and your lectures would be the same'.

So I went to Professor Bartels who was a geophysicist - he was a famous geophysicist - Julius Bartels. He asked me immediately, 'Can you build a seismograph?' I hardly knew what a seismograph is, but to be sure I said, 'Yes'. He said 'Oh yes. I can take you'. And I ask, 'Why do you want me to build a seismograph?' He said, 'Well, the English army is going to blow up the island of Helgoland', because that was in the North sea, 'and this is the only chance in northern Germany to record seismic waves because we never have earthquakes here'. So he wanted to build up twenty stations to pick up the seismic waves from that.

Now indeed, I built a seismograph, and it worked even, and I took wonderful waves when they tried to blow up Helgoland. So we got our seismic waves but the island did not...

[Q] Disappear.

It was a little bit destroyed but, as you know, now it's rebuilt, so there is nothing like that. So I was in physics now. I had to listen to some lectures in astronomy in addition to what I had to do in physics, chemistry, mathematics. But it was a wonderful time.

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: University of Göttingen, Abitur, Matura, seismograph, seismometer, seismic waves, Heligoland, Helgoland, Julius Bartels, Richard Becker, Arnold Eucken, Friedrich Hermann Rein

Duration: 4 minutes, 12 seconds

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 24 January 2008