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Manfred Eigen
Eigen,Manfred 1996 Göttingen.jpg
Manfred Eigen, Göttingen 1996
Born (1927-05-09)9 May 1927
Died 6 February 2019(2019-02-06) (aged 91)
Göttingen, Germany
Nationality German
Alma mater University of Göttingen
Known for
  • Flash photolysis
  • Temperature jump method
  • Hypercycle
  • Quasispecies model
  • Diffusion-limited enzyme
  • Eigen cation
  • Eigen-Wilkins mechanism
  • Eigen paradox
Scientific career
Fields Biophysical chemistry
  • Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry
  • Braunschweig University of Technology
Thesis Ermittlung der molekularen Struktur reiner Flüssigkeiten und Lösungen aus thermischen und kalorischen Eigenschaften (1951)
Doctoral advisor Arnold Eucken
Doctoral students Geoffrey Hoffmann
Influences Werner Heisenberg
Arnold Eucken
Queen Beatrix meets Nobel Laureates in 1983c
Dutch Queen Beatrix meets five Nobel prize winners (1983): Paul Berg, Christian de Duve, Steven Weinberg, Manfred Eigen & Nicolaas Bloembergen

Manfred Eigen (German pronunciation: [ˈmanˌfʁeːt ˈaɪ̯ɡn̩]; 9 May 1927 – 6 February 2019) was a German biophysical chemist who won the 1967 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for work on measuring fast chemical reactions.

Eigen's research helped solve major problems in physical chemistry and aided in the understanding of chemical processes that occur in living organisms.

In later years, he explored the biochemical roots of life and evolution. He worked to install a multidisciplinary program at the Max Planck Institute to study the underpinnings of life at the molecular level. His work was hailed for creating a new scientific and technological discipline: evolutionary biotechnology.

Education and early life

Eigen was born on 9 May 1927 in Bochum, the son of Hedwig (Feld) and Ernst Eigen, a chamber musician. As a child he developed a deep passion for music, and studied piano.

World War II interrupted his formal education. At age fifteen he was drafted into service in a German antiaircraft unit. He was captured by the Soviets toward the end of the war. He managed to escape (he said later that escape was relatively easy), and walked hundreds of miles across defeated Germany, arriving in Göttingen in 1945. He lacked the necessary documentation for acceptance to university, but was admitted after he demonstrated his knowledge in an exam. He entered the university's first postwar class.

Eigen desired to study physics, but since returning soldiers who were previously enrolled received priority, he enrolled in Geophysics. He earned an undergraduate degree and entered graduate study in natural sciences. One of his advisors was Werner Heisenberg, the noted proponent of the uncertainty principle. He received his doctorate in 1951.

Career and research

Eigen received his Ph.D. at the University of Göttingen in 1951 under supervision of Arnold Eucken. In 1964 he presented the results of his research at a meeting of the Faraday Society in London. His findings demonstrated for the first time that it was possible to determine the rates of chemical reactions that occurred during time intervals as brief as a nanosecond.

Beginning in 1953 Eigen worked at the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry in Göttingen, becoming its director in 1964 and joining it with the Max Planck Institute for Spectroscopy to become the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. He was an honorary professor of the Braunschweig University of Technology. From 1982 to 1993, Eigen was president of the German National Merit Foundation. Eigen was a member of the Board of Sponsors of The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

In 1967, Eigen was awarded, along with Ronald George Wreyford Norrish and George Porter, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. They were cited for their studies of extremely fast chemical reactions induced in response to very short pulses of energy.

In addition, Eigen's name is linked with the theory of quasispecies, the error threshold, error catastrophe, Eigen's paradox, and the chemical hypercycle, the cyclic linkage of reaction cycles as an explanation for the self-organization of prebiotic systems, which he described with Peter Schuster in 1977.

Eigen founded two biotechnology companies, Evotec and Direvo.

In 1981, Eigen became a founding member of the World Cultural Council.

Eigen was a member of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences even though he was an atheist. He died on 6 February 2019 at the age of 91.

Personal life

Eigen was married to Elfriede Müller. The union produced two children, a boy and a girl. He later married Ruthild Winkler-Oswatitsch, a longtime scientific partner.

Honours and awards

Eigen won numerous awards for his research including:

Honorary doctorates

He received 15 honorary doctorates.

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Manfred Eigen para niños

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