Topic of the Month December 2012
The year is coming to an end – and so is our four-part series about Hermann Staudinger, whose macromolecule theory revolutionised polymer chemistry (and provided the scientific basis for it). Staudinger’s life’s work culminated in the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he received from the Swedish king on 10. December 1953, exactly 59 years ago now. Late recognition for a 72-year-old retired professor, who had not represented the avant-garde of his subject for a long time any more but whose achievements are still being acknowledged to our day. As long as 34 years after Staudinger’s death, the American Chemical Society paid tribute to his life’s work by unveiling a plaque in his honour at the Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry at Freiburg University („Hermann-Staudinger-Haus“) memorial tablet. – The final section of our series covers the post-war period until Staudinger’s death in 1965 and focusses on the Nobel Prize. The colourful reports published by daily newspapers are included here for the first time too.
“Warm eyes in a somewhat reddish face that is dominated by a large nose and a jovial chin. This could be the head of a country doctor – the head of the German winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Professor Dr Hermann Staudinger.” (Kunze 1953) And the “Lindauer Zeitung” wrote about Staudinger: “Hardly anyone who meets him will fail to be impressed by his imposing height and the strength of his character.” (Hahn 1953))
Freiburg, Lugostrasse 14, 5. November 1953, shortly after 8 a.m.: the man of the house and his wife were still in bed this Thursday morning, so the cleaning lady took it on herself to accept the telegram from Stockholm. What it said in a brief but clear message was:
“The Royal Academy of Sciences has awarded you the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Letter will follow – westgren, secretary” (cf. Kunze 1953 and Magda Staudinger 1987, 24).
The telegram was addressed to Prof. Dr. phil. Dr.-Ing. E. h. Dr. rer. nat. E. h. Hermann Staudinger. It was not at all unusual for the Nobel committee to opt for a chemist from Germany that year, because this honour had already been given to nineteen other representatives of this subject who were German nationals before Staudinger, although only two of them had been chosen since the Hitler dictatorship and the end of the war (Otto Diels, 1876-1954, and Kurt Alder, 1902-1958) (cf. Klaar 1953). What is more unusual is that Staudinger had dual nationality, so that he can be counted as both a German and a Swiss winner of the Nobel Prize. What is most unusual, however, is the fact that Staudinger received the prize as a 72-year-old retired professor for what he already proposed as a 39-year-old and proved soon afterwards too – the existence of “giant molecules” (macromolecules). With this groundbreaking concept, Staudinger revolutionised polymer and plastics chemistry in the 1920s and 1930s – against stubborn resistance (see Part 2 of this series). The “Wochenend” newspaper that appeared in Nuremberg wrote:
“The professor has demonstrated in his research that the most important natural products consist of particles (molecules) of unusual size and that they are composed of numerous (often millions) of atoms. The model for the technology to imitate and even reproduce these natural products was available as a result.” (Kunze 1953)
An achievement that definitely deserved the Nobel Prize: “The outstanding university professor Dr Hermann Staudinger was already honoured indirectly quite a long time ago, when two of his former pupils received the Nobel Prize, i.e. Professor Dr (Leopold, editor’s note) Ruzicka (1887-1976, chemistry, editor’s note) in 1939 and Professor Dr (Tadeus, editor’s note) Reichstein (1897-1996, medicine, editor’s note) in 1950”, the Düsseldorf publication “Der Fortschritt” remembers (Klaar 1953). Staudinger shared the fate of many scholars, especially natural scientists, all the same: “He was famous in the scientific community, but was practically unknown to a broader public”, as the “Radio Revue” from West Berlin stated when the Nobel Prize was presented to Staudinger. It is a telling fact that the “Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung” newspaper (WAZ) gave him the wrong first name in its article of 6.11.1953: instead of Hermann, Franz was celebrated as being the winner of the Nobel Prize. That was the name of Staudinger’s father, who had died as long ago as 1921, however. Journalists concluded in 1953 that Staudinger was largely unknown and asked the following questions:
“How many of the pretty young girls and women who draw particular attention to their attractive legs by wearing nylon or perlon stockings, how many of the car drivers whose vehicles are fitted with tyres made of synthetic rubber and how many of the people who sell the countless everyday articles made of plastics of all different kinds ever think even once of the outstanding research scientist to whose scientific work the technical production of all these materials – which are essential features of modern-day life now – is in the final analysis attributable?” (Klaar 1953)
The fact that Staudinger had never been in the limelight much until then was due in no small part to his attempts to avoid being in the public eye. The “Radio Revue” concluded that he was not a man who drew attention to himself. The WAZ emphasised that Staudinger’s pupils left “one after another to earn top salaries in industry, while the old man himself stayed modestly where he was in his institute making sure his findings were absolutely watertight”. So it is no surprise that Staudinger was unwilling to believe the rumours which went around for days beforehand that he would be receiving the Nobel Prize in Chemistry that year. The news finally came out on 4. November 1953 and spread throughout the world press. Staudinger himself had still not received official confirmation from the Nobel Prize committee yet, however, so “I was rather uncomfortable with the coverage, since all the press releases appeared to me to be somewhat premature”, as Staudinger revealed later on. Quite apart from the fact that he was not looking forward to all the interest in his person that he anticipated and preferred to be evasive for the time being:
„›I thought of my colleague from Freiburg, who received this honour in 1935 – (the biologist, editor’s note) Dr (Hans, editor’s note) Spemann (1869-1941, editor’s note). He had a terrible night at the time. I therefore disconnected my phone in the evening and slept well.‹ The seventy-two-year-old told this story as if it were a successful practical joke [...]. The professor was asleep and did not notice any of the fuss that was being made at the Freiburg telephone exchange, where the switchboard operators were put under pressure by phone calls from Rome, Paris, New York and many German towns and cities requesting connection at long last to number 2874, the one that belonged to the new Nobel Prize winner.” (Kunze 1953)
When he woke up on 5. November, he was therefore very pleased to read the telegram from Stockholm that has already been mentioned above, as it eliminated any doubts. “When asked to comment on the award that had been made to him, the new German winner of the 1953 Nobel Prize in Chemistry said: >It is the final recognition of my work and it is wonderful that I am still here to enjoy it!< (Klaar 1953). He considered the Nobel Prize to be the “culmination of a battle about the controversial field of macromolecular chemistry, for the scientific recognition of which he had been forced to fight for many long years” (quoted from Hamburger Echo, 6. November 1953). “The Strasbourg Professor (Charles, editor’s note) Sadron (1902-1993, editor’s note), who ran an institute of macromolecular chemistry himself, had explained to him the previous year that he, Staudinger, would probably not have obtained so many groundbreaking insights into macromolecular chemistry if he had not been attacked so fiercely from all sides. This conflict with his opponents is what drove him to do all his hard work and made him a truly great research scientist”, the “Schwarzwälder Bote”, to whom the new Nobel Prize winner had given an interview, wrote on 8. November 1953.
Nobel Prize with King Gustav Adolf of Sweden
“The Nobel Prizes were presented by King Gustav VI. Adolf in a thoroughly festive ceremony. Hermann Staudinger received the 1953 Nobel Prize in Chemistry from him. It was a memorable picture: both men were the same height and roughly the same age. This picture was published throughout the chemical press all over the world.” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 24) (Quelle: GDCh)
Staudinger was embellishing his past a little to the press here. Because although he faced resistance from his scientific colleagues initially, industry quickly “took over his theories [...], once it became clear that application of them made it possible to manufacture plastics systematically” (Jostkleigrewe 1987, 7). Staudinger himself pointed out that “industry accepted his views much more quickly than the scientific community” (Hamburger Echo, 6. November 1953). He enjoyed playing the role of the “fighter” even so, continuing to play it when the hatchet had long been buried, i.e. when he was already preaching to the converted where his macromolecule theory was concerned (see Part 3 of this series). It almost appears that he was afraid he might lose the victory he had won again if he no longer needed to defend it against anyone. Staudinger seemed to be driven by emotional forces of some kind that required him to prove himself again and again and to seek approval – something that is confirmed by his never-ending stream of publications too. Even though no-one disputed his success – on the contrary: three general universities (Mainz, Salamanca and Turin) and three technical universities (Karlsruhe, Strasbourg and Zurich) awarded Staudinger honorary doctorates. He also received the Emil Fischer Commemorative Medal from the Association of German Chemists (VDCh), the Leblanc Commemorative Medal from the French Chemistry Association (SFC), the Cannizzaro Prize from the Italian Accademia dei Lincei, the Golden Commemorative Badge from the Association of Finnish Chemists and – in 1952 – the Grand Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. It is quite possible even so that Staudinger only obtained the final certainty he needed to be unimpressed by adversaries and opponents when he received the Nobel Prize as the highest possible form of acknowledgement. Not least of all, the Nobel Prize brought him a great deal of money: Staudinger received a cheque for 175,292.94 Swedish krona, which was worth about DEM 140,000 (cf. Kunze 1953): the “Wochenend” newspaper (ibid.) congratulated him as follows: “While [...] the whole of Germany can share the glory, the scholar alone decides what the money is used for”.
The impact of the honour bestowed on Staudinger was felt in particular by Freiburg, the city in Baden-Württemberg where he had been university professor from 1926 to 1951. The news that Staudinger had received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry spread there like wildfire on 5. November 1953; Freiburg professors and about 400 students held a torchlight procession to Staudinger’s house the same evening to honour the prizewinner. “The whole of Lugostrasse was bathed in vivid, warm torchlight – and the beautiful old song >Gaudeamus igitur< was sung in triumph after the speeches.” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 24) The “Schwarwälder Bote” (8.11.1953) summarised the speeches:
“The current Professor of Chemistry at Freiburg University, Professor Dr (Arthur, editor’s note) Lüttringhaus (1906-1992, editor’s note), paid tribute [...] to his predecessor’s life’s work. Professor Staudinger had helped the German scientific community to develop an excellent reputation by carrying out his trailblazing research [...]. The chemical community in Germany had been expecting Professor Staudinger to be given the highest award for his work some time for years now. The rector of Freiburg University, Professor (Walter-Herwig, editor’s note) Schuchhardt (1900-1976, editor’s note) thanked Professor Staudinger primarily for remaining loyal to Freiburg University for 25 years. The name of Freiburg University had become famous throughout the world as a result of his work.”
Staudinger received congratulations from Bonn during this time too: on behalf of the German government, the German minister of the interior, Dr Gerhard Schröder (CDU), congratulated him on 5. November and the German Chancellor Dr Konrad Adenauer (CDU) followed on 10. November.
Staudinger had to wait until 10. December for the official presentation of the Nobel Prize by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. The trip to Stockholm was to be unforgettable. His wife Magda writes:
“Although it was the darkest time of the year, Stockholm was brightly lit on the day of the ceremony. The Nobel Prizes were presented by [...] King Gustav VI. Adolf [...] in a thoroughly festive ceremony. Hermann Staudinger received the 1953 Nobel Prize in Chemistry from him. It was a memorable picture: both men were the same height and roughly the same age. This picture was published throughout the chemical press all over the world, with the caption: High Polymers bring High Honours).” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 24)
To understand the satisfaction that Staudinger must have felt in Stockholm, it is only necessary to remember what difficult decades were behind him: gruelling scientific disputes in the 1920s (see Part 2 of this series) were followed by tortuous political manoeuvring during the Nazi period (see Part 3 of this series). In 1940, Staudinger succeeded in adding a research department for macromolecular chemistry to the university chemical laboratory – “the first European research centre that focussed exclusively on research into macromolecules in nature and industry as well as on the new area of polymer science research” is the description given in a current profile issued by Freiburg University. Work was hampered by the war to an increasing extent, however, until the chemical institute (including the library, collections and equipment) was, finally, destroyed almost entirely in a bomb attack on Freiburg on 27. November 1944. “Thanks to the immediate action taken by assistants and students, the few remaining parts were saved and were installed again in some cases after the end of the war. It was therefore possible to start teaching and research again to a modest extent as of 1947.” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 22)
Staudinger was already 66 years old in 1947 and the best of his scientific career was long behind him. He was, however, indefatigable in contributing to the laborious reconstruction process, devoting himself in particular to the research department for macromolecular chemistry that he had established, into which he put all his energy – demonstrating both persistence and obstinacy: “Staudinger did not establish an interdisciplinary teaching and research programme; no-one except he held lectures about macromolecular chemistry in Freiburg.” (Deichmann 2001, 150) Staudinger finally retired in the spring of 1951 at the age of almost 70, but he did not sit back and take things easy afterwards. On the instruction of the Baden State President, Leo Wohleb (1888-1955, editor’s note), the research department for macromolecular chemistry had just been converted into a government research institute and Staudinger was quick to accept the invitation to head it for the next five years. In an honorary capacity, of course, while the financial support provided to the institute left a great deal to be desired too: “In spite of its impressive name, this research facility was rather modest”, Magda Staudinger 1987, 22, concluded. This was particularly the case where the premises were concerned, which were located in Staudinger’s own home to start with: “A white, somewhat weather-beaten, wooden sign saying >Institute of Macromolecular Chemistry< was to be found on the garden gate at Lugostrasse 14.” (Kunze 1953) When Staudinger was awarded the Nobel Prize in this situation, the “Handelsblatt” from Düsseldorf issued the following appeal on 6.11.1953:
“Although Staudinger’s research institute is a state facility, its budget is so inadequate that large personal sacrifices have been necessary to enable it to continue operating. The >Fonds der chemischen Industrie> made DEM 10,000 available a few days ago, but perhaps the state of Baden-Württemberg will now at long last decide to make a generous extension to the institute. There can be no doubt that this would be the honour that Staudinger would appreciate most as a result of the Nobel Prize!”
Staudinger’s own plan to develop the government research institute of macromolecular chemistry into a federal institute “in line with its importance for the modern chemical industry and to broaden its financial basis” (Klaar 1953) came to nothing due to a lack of support. When Staudinger resigned from the position of head of the institute as agreed in 1956, the Baden-Württemberg Ministry of Education established an extraordinary professorship for macromolecular chemistry – the university institute of macromolecular chemistry was set up and then, in 1962, moved to a new building that is known today as “Hermann-Staudinger-Haus” (cf. Magda Staudinger 1987, 22).
On 23. March 1956, Staudinger’s 75th birthday, Albert Ludwigs University in Freiburg held an official ceremony, at which Staudinger was honoured in appropriate fashion as he retired from his position as honorary head of the institute. The university rector, Bernhard Welte (1908-1983), a philosophy of religion professor, spoke at the ceremony:
“Thirty years ago now, you created an opening in the dark wall of nature, which science is constantly trying to illuminate and penetrate. [...] Today, the opening is so large that an entire world has gone through it – and is still going through it. The entire world of industry, of fibres and plastics, spread throughout all the countries of the earth, without which our lives today would no longer be conceivable, and the entire world of all those who use these fibres and plastics of many different kinds. [...] A huge new field of science, business and life has developed behind the opening that you made [...] with your scientific work!” (quoted in Staudinger 1961, 305).
Asked about his plans for the future just after he won the Nobel Prize, Staudinger had already revealed his intention to start studying botany again – the subject that he gave up in favour of chemisty when he was a young man (see Part 1 of this series): “He studied chemistry because this was the basic science that preceded botany. >Now [...] the time has come to start studying botany.< The Nobel Prize winner [...] plans to be become a student. That’s the way it is – you never stop learning.” (Kunze 1953) Magda Staudinger 1987, 10 says: “When he was quite old, he used to say that he did not know enough chemistry yet to start studying botany. In response to this, the dean of his faculty in Freiburg said at a small ceremony in connection with the presentation of the Nobel Prize in 1953 that the faculty now – after this event – expected the would-be botany student to take his exams in this subject at long last!” There is a realistic background to what sounds just like an anecdote: Staudinger’s return to botany illuminated the origins of his macromolecule theory, on the one hand, while it opened up a new area of research – molecular biology – to him at the same time. This interface makes it clear just how stimulating Staudinger must have found his encounter with the botanist Dr. phil. Mag. rer. nat. Magda Woit, who became his wife when he married for the second time in 1928, at the scientific level too. Staudinger got to know the daughter of the Latvian ambassador, who came from Riga, on Helgoland in August 1927. Magda Staudinger 1987, 17-18, remembers this as follows:
“I studied [...] in Berlin, because my father was the first ambassador of the state of Latvia in Berlin in the 20s after the country became independent. I obtained my doctorate there in 1925 with the plant physiologist Gottfried Haberlandt (1854-1945, editor’s note); I then returned to Riga, took the state examination at Riga University and became an assistant to Nicolai Malta in the botanical laboratory. I was particularly interested in marine algae and I was delighted when I was given a job as a guest at the biological institute on Helgoland in the summer of 1927. I was interested in the cell membrane of the algae and I tackled my experiments with the equipment and know-how about colloidal substances that were available at the time. The Freiburg botanist Friedrich Oltmanns (1860-1945, editor’s note), who was an algae specialist, came to Helgoland in August too. I had got to know him by taking two algae courses with him while I was still a student. One day, he was standing on the jetty in Helgoland with another gentleman and spoke to me as I walked by. He introduced the other gentleman to me: >My colleague from the chemistry department, Hermann Staudinger< and, turning to Staudinger, he mentioned that I was working on cell membranes of algae at the biological institute. Hermann Staudinger was interested to hear this and asked if he could take a look at my experiments: he had just published a paper about a model for cellulose, the main component of plant cell membrane. That in turn interested me and we arranged that he would visit the laboratory. He came on 24. August, took a look at my experiments and had me explain them. Suddenly, he then said to my amazement: >It is all completely different<, sat down on a laboratory stool and started to talk: >There are macromolecules and they will be tremendously important to biology in future, because living cells can only be constructed with such large molecules. Thanks to their size, they have different shapes; the different structures that the living cell needs are possible as a result. Thanks to their size, they can – in turn – accommodate very different reactive groups.< He talked about these things for quite a while and explained phenomena that were in some cases only demonstrated at the experimental level many years later. On the basis of his cellulose model and stimulated in his thinking by my experiments, the role played by macromolecules in biological processes occurred to him there and then at this time on 24. August 1927. It was like a vision to him. Molecular biology now exists today and is very successful. The name does not come from us; it was used first by the English chemist (William Thomas, editor’s note) Astbury (1898-1961) around 1945. The first conversation about these ideas took place back then on Helgoland, however. In my opinion, this is therefore when molecular biology first began.”
In view of this, Jaenicke 2003, 604, was accurate in describing Magda Staudinger as “the moira who helped to spin the macromolecular threads”. The couple did not carry out systematic “experimental trials on living cell substances” until after 1945, however, due – among other things – “to the destruction of the institute during the war” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 18). The direction was clear, however, the vision stayed alive and there was tremendous general interest outside the scientific community too, as the reports in the daily press in the context of the presentation of the Nobel Prize to Staudinger show: “Macromolecular chemistry is [...] likely to be of the greatest importance to biology and medicine. It is definite that life processes are associated inseparably with macromolecules. Chemically speaking, life consists of the formation, conversion, dissolution and also reproduction of macromolecules that follow the laws of life – this is how the “Lindauer Zeitung” put it (Hahn 1953; cf. Staudinger 1938, 24, 25 and 29 as well as Staudinger 1961, 302, 306-307 and 333-334). “All our modern plastics are [...] large molecules. But all living substances are macromolecular too. Staudinger’s theory will therefore be celebrating its greatest triumphs in the biological field”, wrote “Die Welt” (Theimer 1953). Expectations that have been met: “Current thinking in the molecular biology field is inconceivable without the macromolecular concept. Genetic science, which is developing rapidly today, is also based on the macromolecular principles proposed by Hermann Staudinger.” (Jostkleigrewe 1987, 7; cf. Rothschuh 1963, 135-136).
Staudinger already had an excellent international reputation too, even before he won the Nobel Prize, and he was in demand as a speaker outside Germany as well. In November 1950, for example, he was invited to Rome to speak at the Centro Romano di Studi. The Staudingers took this opportunity to attend a private audience with Pope Pius XII at St. Peter’s Basilica (Magda Staudinger 1987, 23).
However, it was no longer possible to ignore the fact that Staudinger, who once led the avant-garde in the organic chemistry field, now held mainstream positions that were no longer in tune with the times in all cases. Staudinger was in danger of being overtaken by scientific progress or even of being left behind. Where new findings conflicted with his own views, he classified them as improper attacks, ignored them or fought a losing battle against them. He did not accept the physical-chemical proof of the flexibility of linear macromolecules, for example, and stubbornly maintained his concept of macromolecules as rigid, rod-like structures. He was just as unwilling to accept modifications to his law about the relationship between molecule size and viscosity:
“On the basis of the assumption that linear macromolecules can also exist as clusters, Hermann Mark (1895-1992, editor’s note) co-operated with the Dutch physical chemist Roelof Houwink (1899-1987, editor’s note) in Vienna to continue empirical development of Staudinger’s viscosity equation (Mark-Houwink equation). [...] The corrections / additions to Staudinger’s viscosity law made by Mark and Houwink proved to be correct, but they were still being rejected by Staudinger in the 1950s too.” (Deichmann 2001, 410)
Staudinger lagged behind polymer science in the United States in particular. Here, at the Polytechnic Institute of New York in Brooklyn, was where Hermann Mark worked, the man with whom Staudinger had held a fierce dispute from 1926 onwards (see Part 2 of this series). Mark fled to the USA in 1938 to get away from the Nazis, after he lost his licence to teach at Vienna University because he was a Jew and was put in prison for a while. Helmut Ringsdorf (born in 1929, editor’s note) – one of Staudinger’s undergraduate and doctoral students – worked at Mark’s institute in Brooklyn from the end of the Fifties onwards as a post-doctoral student. Staudinger did not do well in a comparison of the “two worlds”:
According to Ringsdorf, “the Freiburg Institute was no longer the world leader in the polymer field in the 50s. Although the work done there was sound, it was generally classical. As the head of the institute, Hermann Staudinger definitely continued to focus too much on the virulent and tough battles he had fought in the 1920s. Hermann Mark, on the other hand, had activated macromolecular chemistry on a broad basis in the USA after the war. He brought physicists, chemists and technologists together and developed a modern version of polymer science as a result. This gave the institute in Brooklyn the prominent international position it held at the time. This development took somewhat longer at Staudinger’s institute [...]. I only learned in Brooklyn what new developments were going on in polymer chemistry.” (quoted in Deichmann 2001, 150)
The two worlds then collided in 1957: Staudinger accepted an invitation to Brooklyn that Marks issued to him to give a lecture there. He was received “as the polymer pioneer, as the person >who led the polymer crusade<” (Deichmann 2001, 186). Staudinger did not make a good impression, however. Ringsdorf remembers:
“I arranged the slides for Staudinger’s lectures back then and so I knew what he was going to talk about. Compared with what was being done in Brooklyn at the time, it has to be said that these lectures almost represented the dark ages of polymer science. I can make this statement particularly emphatically, because I still have the original slides [...] of the last four lectures. The young people in Brooklyn in particular certainly admired and revered Hermann Staudinger at this time as the grand old man of macromolecular chemistry. They were probably forgiving about what he said, particularly in view of the fact that he spoke in German.” (quoted in Deichmann 2001, 186-187; cf. Magda Staudinger 1987, 25)
1957 was also the year when Staudinger gave guest lectures in Japan too. This was the country where his early writings about high-molecular organic compounds were still revered as if they were the Bible (see Magda Staudinger 1987, 20). During this stay, Staudinger met the Tenno, the Japanese emperor (ibid., 20 and 26). In 1958, Staudinger headed the German delegation at the international “Science House” at the World Fair in Brussels. He continued to receive honours as well: Staudinger was awarded the Grand Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany another two times, in 1957 with Star and in 1965 with Star and Sash (Source). “He had good fortune that only a few scientists share: being able to experience and enjoy all the success of his work”, Krüll 1978a, 49, writes about Staudinger’s retirement. His health deteriorated, however; Staudinger had heart problems (Mark 1966, 93). “His intellect remained keen, however, and he continued to be interested in world affairs and the progress made in macromolecular science right until the end. Hermann Staudinger was still able to experience the beginning of space travel in the form of the first satellites. He was told that this development was only possible because there are macromolecular materials that stand the conditions encountered in space. Hermann Staudinger spent the summer of 1965 in his garden, thoroughly enjoying his flowers. He then passed away on 8. September 1965.” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 27) He was laid to rest in the central cemetery in Freiburg. The obituaries about the 84-year-old included the following statements:
● “An unusually bright star in the chemistry sky has now died – one that in recent decades cast radiant light on many areas of chemistry that had been dark beforehand.” (Hopff 1969, XLI)
● “He was a research scientist, a teacher and an apostle. [...] His inquiring mind drove him to follow unexplored paths, which may well involve hard and uncomfortable work but which were, on the other hand, necessary in order to open up virgin territory for research, teaching and applied science.” (Mark 1966, 93)
The final words come, appropriately enough, from his widow:
“A year later, three Japanese stood before me: they wanted to be shown Hermann Staudinger’s grave, because they said they had been asked to hold a memorial ceremony in accordance with their particular rite. They put a large bouquet of white flowers on the grave – white is their mourning colour. They then lit incense sticks they had brought with them and started to recite the words of their rite, bowing down almost to the ground again and again in front of the grave with the fragrant burning incense sticks in both hands. I have to admit that I was very moved. A completely different, distant country, a completely different, unfamiliar religion honoured a man here who had added to the world’s pool of knowledge. This world has become a small one thanks to our technology; we are all neighbours. And that means we have an increasingly urgent commitment to humane behaviour as creatures who share mother earth. Because that is the only way we will survive. Hermann Staudinger was a strong advocate of this in various ways throughout his life. And I think that this can be considered to be his legacy.” (Magda Staudinger 1987, 27-28)
Nomen est omen
Hermann Staudinger’s memory is kept alive not least of all by the various uses to which his name has been put. Although they enhance scientific vocabulary in particular, one comes across them in day-to-day life as well, because schools and roads are among the things that have been named after Staudinger. Here is a short list...
Guido Deußing / Dr. Markus Weber
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