Manfred Eigen Biography

(Biophysical Chemist)

Birthday: May 9, 1927 (Taurus)

Born In: Bochum, Germany

Manfred Eigen was a German biophysical chemist who won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1967, for his work on kinetics of extremely rapid chemical reactions. He is a pioneer in his field of kinetic reactions, and received the Nobel Prize at a very young age of forty, along with R.G.W. Norrish and George Porter. In order to study the underpinnings of life at the molecular level he worked to install a multidisciplinary program at the Max Planck Institute. In his rich and varied research career, Eigen was able to study many fast chemical reactions. He also focused his attention on a countless number of unanswerable questions. He devised a variety of methods which he used to study the nature of fast chemical reactions. They are popularly known as ‘relaxation techniques’. His research interests were not limited to chemical reactions, but he also worked on evolution. He had proposed and demonstrated several visionary ideas about the same. He is accredited for creating a new technological and scientific discipline: evolutionary biotechnology. 

Quick Facts

German Celebrities Born In May

Died At Age: 91


Spouse/Ex-: Elfriede

father: Ernst Eigen

mother: Hedwig nee Feld

children: Angela, Gerald

Born Country: Germany

Chemists German Men

Died on: February 6, 2019

place of death: Göttingen, Germany

City: Bochum, Germany

More Facts

education: University of Göttingen

awards: Otto Hahn Prize (1962)
Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1967)
ForMemRS (1973

Childhood & Early Life

Manfred Eigen was born on May 9, 1927, to Ernst Eigen and Hedwig, nee Feld at Bochum, Germany. His father was a chamber musician.

He did his schooling from Bochum Humanistic Gymnasium.

Eigen was enrolled to be a part of the German army at the age of 15, where he was made to serve an anti-aircraft unit. He was captured by the Russians at the end of Second World War. He escaped captivity and joined the University of Gottingen in 1945, where he studied physics and chemistry along with a batch of other post-war students.

He obtained his doctorate in Natural Sciences in 1951, under the guidance of Arnold Euken. His doctoral work was based on the specific heat of heavy water and aqueous electrolyte solutions.

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From 1951 to 1953, Manfred Eigen worked as an Assistant Lecturer at the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the University of Gottingen. At this time, he began his work on fast ionic reactions which were detected by ultrasonic absorption measurements. In his research work, he collaborated with other colleagues, Konrad Tamm and Walter Kurtze. In 1953, the trio published their work on the absorption of sound by various salt solutions. With this they proposed, how sound absorption helped in detecting the speed of the fast reactions.

In 1953, he joined the Max Planck Institute of Biophysical Chemistry, Gottingen.

In the following years, Eigen developed several techniques to record time below nanosecond. Leo de Maeyer joined his laboratory in 1954, and helped Eigen in developing several techniques for his research. His research interest was in the area of reactions involving protons, and he was instrumental in finding out the speed of neutralization. Together, they also figured out the anomalous conduction properties of protons in ice crystals. Eigen and De Maeyer stayed in close collaboration in research at the Max Planck Institute, Gottingen.

During 1960s, his major work was in the area of physical chemistry of organic compounds. His profound interest in the study of reactions enabled him to determine the intermediate stages in a series of chemical reactions and experimentally prove it for an acid base catalysis reaction.

He was appointed the director of the Max Planck Institute in 1964, and served as the Institute’s Managing Director from 1967 to 1970.

He was also an elected member of the Council of Scientists of the Federal Republic of Germany.

Manfred Eigen also served as the Director Emeritus at the Max Planck Institute.

He used to travel with his friend and colleague Leo De Maeyer, to Boston, to conduct discussions of topics of common interests with American neurologists, biochemists and biophysicists.

Awards & Achievements

Manfred Eigen received the Otto Hahn Prize in 1962.

Eigen received the most prestigious Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1967, for his work on ‘Kinetics of extremely fast running chemical reactions with relaxation methods’.

In addition to the Nobel Prize, he has received several other awards such as Prize Bodenstein (1959), the Kirkwood Medal (1963), the Harrison Howe award (1965), the Carus Medal (1967) and Pauling Medal (1967).

He developed more than hundred research papers on thermodynamic properties of water and aqueous solutions, theory of electrolytes, thermal conductivity and sound absorption of fast chemical reactions.

Personal Life, Legacy & Death

Manfred Eigen was married to Elfriede Müller. They had two children, Gerald and Angela.

He later married his longtime scientific partner, Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch.

He was an amateur musician and loved to play guitar during his free time.

He also loved mountaineering, which was his favorite sport activity.

Manfred Eigen died on February 6, 2019. He was 91.

See the events in life of Manfred Eigen in Chronological Order

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