Former Departments

Former Departments

Ludolf v. Krehl - Pathology (1929 - 1937)

Ludolf von Krehl, to whom the institute owes its founding, envisaged for it a department of Pathology under his own leadership, including a sick-bay for patients. This plan was never fully realized, and scientists in the department focused on laboratory studies of blood cells and the amino acid composition of various proteins, the effects of nutrition on metabolic processes and gas exchange in breathing. Krehl died in 1937, and the department became an army hospital (affiliated with the neighbouring surgical clinic next door) during the war.

Otto Meyerhof - Physiology (1929 - 1938)

The second founding director, Otto Meyerhof, had been awarded a Nobel Prize in 1922 for his demonstration that the disappearance of the lactic acid formed in muscle contraction is related to oxygen consumption. In Heidelberg he pursued studies of glycolysis and showed the common features of fermentation by yeast and the activity of mammalian cell extracts. These findings founded the science of intermediate metabolism. In Meyerhof’s department of Physiology, Karl Lohmann, who had just identified ATP as an energy intermediate in these reactions, explored its central role in cell metabolism.

Richard Kuhn - Chemistry (1929 -1967)

The third founding director, Richard Kuhn, achieved major success in organic chemistry, including the structure determination of carotines and the synthesis of vitamins BandB6. For these he received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1938. His department also studied polyenes, milk proteins, flavins, lactoflavin synthesis, natural pigments and cumulenes, and established vitamins as cofactors for enzymes. During World War II he pursued research on nerve gases, using for this work Meyerhof’s former laboratory space.

Karl-Wilhelm Hausser - Physics (1929 - 1933)

The fourth founding director, Karl Wilhelm Hausser (Physics department) studied the effects of light on skin (erythema) and their dependence on the wavelength of the light, and explored the relationship between the structure of organic molecules and their properties, e.g. paramagnetism. He collaborated with Kuhn on studies on polyenes, and developed new spectrographic techniques. He died in 1934 aged only 46.

Hans Sachs - Serology (1930 - xx)

Hans Sachs, director of the institute for immunity and serum research at the university from 1920, was appointed Scientific Member of the KWI in 1933. Ludolf v. Krehl had, even in his first plans for the new institute, considered linking Sachs’s Institute for Experimental Cancer Research to the KWI. However, it is not clear how far a working relationship between the two ever came about. He was put on forced leave in 1935 as a jew, and emigrated in 1938 finally to Dublin.

Walther Bothe - Physics (1933 - 1957)

Walter Bothe, already a professor in Heidelberg, succeeded Karl Wilhelm Hausser as director of the Physics department. At the KWI he developed the first German cyclotron. Isotopes which were produced in it were used, in collaboration with Meyerhof, in the first application of radioactivity in biochemistry. In connection with controlled nuclear chain reactions, he studied the absorption of neutrons by graphite. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1954 for his discovery of the coincidence method. Rudolf Mößbauer worked as a guest in the department from 1955-1957 and wrote there his doctoral thesis on recoilless nuclear fluorescence of gamma rays in 191 iridium. For the discovery of the effect that bears his name he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1966.

Isolde Hausser (1938 - 1951)

When Karl-Wilhelm Hausser joined the institute as founding director in 1929, his wife Isolde became a scientific assistant in his department and led a small group, working on ultrashort waves and vacuum tubes. When her husband died in 1934, she continued this work and also his studies on the effects of UV radiation on skin. In 1938, with the support of Richard Kuhn and of Krehl before he died in 1937, she became a Scientific Member of the KW society, only the third woman to achieve this status. She was able to form an independent department, if only with the title “Abt. Hausser”, with an independent budget. She also studied the effects of radiation on tumours.

Hermann Rein - Physiology (1952 - 1953)

Hermann Rein was appointed as head of the Physiology department, the first new director after the institute became a Max Planck Institute, but died before he was able to establish himself at the institute.

Hans Hermann Weber - Physiology (1954 - 1966)

Hans Hermann Weber succeeded Rein as head of the department of Physiology and pursued studies of the energetics and mechanism of muscle contraction in the tradition of Meyerhof. In his department, Wilhelm Hasselbach identified actin as a major protein in muscle. Jürgen Aschoff, who had accompanied Rein from Göttingen to Heidelberg, established himself in the department as a pioneer of chronobiology.

Wolfgang Gentner - Physics (1957 - 1967, kommissarisch)

Working in Bothe’s department, Wolfgang Gentner collaborated on the building of the first German cyclotron. After Bothe’s death in 1957, he agreed to succeed Bothe as head of the department, on the condition that the department became an independent institute with the space required for nuclear physics. His scientific connections and personal friendship with Frédéric Joliot-Curie opened the way to scientific contacts with Israel in 1959; they resulted in his mediating the establishment of the Minerva Foundation and thus of diplomatic relations in 1965, and he played a leading role in the planning of CERN.

Karl-Herrmann Hauser - Molecular Physics (1966 - 1987)

Karl Hermann Hausser, the son of Karl Wilhelm Hausser and Isolde Hausser, researched in molecular physics, using and developing NMR and EPR. He focused above all on the spectroscopy of organic compounds and radicals in solution and in solids, and on dynamic nuclear spin polarization. Kuhn’s interest in radicals and the interaction with oligosaccharides encouraged Hausser’s research and tied him in the long term to the institute. 

Hartmut Hoffmann-Berling - Molecular Biology (1966 - 1987)

Hartmut Hoffmann-Berling was one of the pioneers of molecular biology. Formerly a scientific assistant of Hans Hermann Weber, he studied the mechanisms of bacteriophage replication and in particular the duplication of their genetic information. He studied how the double helical strand of E.coli bacterial DNA was divided into single strands, and discovered and characterized the responsible enzymes, which he named helicases.  

Wilhelm Hasselbach - Physiology (1967 - 1988)

Wilhelm Hasselbach, formerly a scientific assistant of Hans Hermann Weber, studied the role of calcium in the regulation of muscle contraction and discovered the calcium pump of the sarcoplasmatic reticulum of muscle cells, a major breakthrough showing that ATP-driven active transport through membranes is possible and contributed greatly to knowledge of muscle and heart function.

Theodor Wieland - Natural Products Chemistry (1967 - 1981)

Theodor Wieland, previously a student of Richard Kuhn at the institute, studied the structure and mechanisms of toxins and antitoxins, in particular those of poisonous mushrooms and peptides with toxic hormone-related activity. He was particular interested in the mechanisms of inhibitors of oxidative phosphorylation. His studies led to the recognition and use of molecules that modify cellular and genetic processes.

Kenneth C. Holmes - Biophysics (1968/1973 - 2003)

Kenneth C. Holmes was invited in 1967 to form initially a guest department, due to his young age; from 1971 he was a full director. He developed the use of the intense X-rays from a synchrotron (DESY, Hamburg) for diffraction studies of biological structures, which made possible countless later breakthroughs in structural biology. His department pursued structural studies on nucleotide-related proteins, and he solved the structure of the muscle protein actin and provided key insights into the mechanism by which actin and myosin interact in muscle contraction.

Heinz Staab - Organic Chemistry (1976 - 1996)

Heinz Staab, who had likewise been a student of Richard Kuhn at the institute, focused on physical and biological properties of organic molecules such as glycosphingolipids and the cyclophanes. He also studied organic semiconductors and aromatic bonding systems.

Bert Sakmann - Cell Physiology (1989 - 2007)

Bert Sakmann, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1991 for his earlier development of the patch-clamp method, studied the mechanisms of rapid electrical transmission and synaptic coupling between nerve cells. He developed a new method for the electrical and optical recording of calcium transients, and studied the activity of single cortical columns.

Wolf Almers - Molecular Cell Research (1992 - 1999)

Wolf Almers researched on exocytosis, in particular the individual steps in the process of vesicle formation in neurons and endocrine cells and the role of calcium ions in their regulation.

Winfried Denk - Biomedical Optics (1999 - 2016)

Wilfried Denk’s research focussed on the development of radically new microscopies: first the 2-photon microscope, later the serial block-face scanning electron microscopy. He developed staining methods for making specific components of neurons visible in the latter technique, and made structure / function studies of pathways in specialized networks.

Peter H. Seeburg - Molecular Neurobiology (1996 - 2016)

Peter Seeburg studied the structure and composition of neuronal receptors and the role of RNA editing in the processes of learning, memory and neuronal diseases. In collaboration with Bert Sakmann he showed which learning and memory processes are associated with the receptors which he characterized.

Photographs were provided by the archive of the Max Planck Society in Berlin, Dahlem.

Go to Editor View