Topic of the Month

Life and work of Hermann Staudinger

By Markus Weber and Guido Deussing

The years 1881-1919

Plenty left for biographers to investigate

“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)

How everything began

To Switzerland for the next step in his career

Richard Willstätter

Prophecies of doom during the war

No response to the call for peace

Dispute with Fritz Haber about chemical warfare

Fritz Haber (1917)

Not an uncompromising pacifist

Fritz Haber (2nd from left) in the circle of military personnel.

Good technology, bad technology

The years 1920-1932

Hermann and Magda Staudinger in Stockholm 1953 (Image: Archiv)

Fascinating class of substances with exceptional properties

The four basic elements of organic chemistry

Mysterious polymerisation

About monomers and car tyres

Carbon double bonds of critical importance

Staudinger’s first encounter with polymers

About primary valences and secondary valences

Basic research triggers industrial boom

Rejection in Düsseldorf

Hermann Mark

Reservations about “gunk chemistry”

Support unwelcome

Micelle or molecular colloid?

How Staudinger proved the existence of macromolecules

Staudinger’s dispute with Meyer and Mark

Differences and deficits

Feud between colleagues instead of coalition

“Academic claustrophobia”

The macromolecule has several fathers

The years 1933-1945

Accusation of “anti-German sentiment”

Martin Heidegger

Heidegger demands dismissal

Otto Wacker

“Betrayal theory” revealed to be a myth

Erich Ludendorff

“Supporter of the national uprising”

Sensational turn of events

Anti-Semitic pretence

No chance of a party membership book

Wilhelm Süss

Politisch ein Janusgesicht

Promotion of defence chemistry

Rudolf Mentzel

Funding from industry

“The Nobel Prizes were presented by King Gustav VI. Adolf in a thoroughly festive ceremony. Staudinger received the 1953 Nobel Prize in Chemistry from him. A memorable picture: both men were the same height and roughly the same age. (Magda Staudinger 1987, 24)

Veil of silence

The years 1945-1965

Hermann Staudinger died on 8. September 1965 – in Freiburg, where he had worked since 1926 and where he had been given the freedom of the city in 1954 “in recognition of his tremendous services to research and science and the improvement in the reputation of the city of Freiburg as a result”. ...

... His grave is in the central cemetery in Freiburg. His widow Magda, née Woit, a botanist who supported and contributed to Staudinger’s research, was laid to rest here in 1997.

Nomen est omen

References (The years 1881-1919)

References (The years 1920-1932)

References (The years 1933-1945)

References (The years 1945-1965)