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Why do we do research?
Manfred Eigen Scientist
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Why do we do research? Well, we want to know, of course, and we want to know how this world functions and we... but that's not all. I think there is some gift we got in evolution, to be curious, so there's much curiosity in science. If you ask: why do we eat? Well, we have to eat, because it's necessary for our survival, we need the energy, otherwise our system would decay into equilibrium and that's like as Schrödinger told us already the state of death. So that we don't forget to eat, we have taste. We like to eat and some really are real gourmets. The same is true in science, there is some inner feeling that we have to know for our survival, otherwise we would be a short episode in evolution, and so there is some pressure, some tendency in us to do research... we want to know, we're curious. So that's I think also an important aspect and I talked about that.  And then I talked about the German university, yes, and about the many reforms and I think we have lost something. I think that the ideal of the Humboldt University was better than something we find nowadays in our German world. I think Humboldt's idea is better realised in the United States than it is in Germany now. The universities in the United States are very well organised along this scheme, which was first introduced by Humboldt.

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: Humboldt University of Berlin, Erwin Rudolf Josef Alexander Schrödinger, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Friedrich Wilhelm Christian Karl Ferdinand von Humboldt

Duration: 2 minutes, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: July 1997

Date story went live: 29 September 2010