Manfred Eigen turned 90 on May 9th, 2017. He celebrated with a small group of colleagues and friends on behalf of the many inspired by him over his lifetime—whether scientists, artists, or philosophers. A small group of friends, because many—who by their breakthroughs have changed the face of science in different research areas—have already died. But it was a special day, devoted to the many genius facets of Manfred Eigen’s oeuvre, and a day to highlight the way in which he continues to exude a great, vital and unbroken passion for science as well as an insatiable curiosity beyond his own scientific interests. He continues to dismiss arguments such as, that scientific problems cannot be solved because of a current lack of appropriate tools, or because of the persuasion of the community that certain things are immeasurable. He has lived up to and accepted only the highest scientific standards with his fundamental contributions in widely differing research fields, for which he has received numerous prizes and honorary doctorates, including the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1967. Some of his outstanding contributions to science and technology are honored in the following chapters. Here, we will report some characteristic traits of Manfred Eigen, and his personal development. We highlight his visionary foresight regarding how multidisciplinary science should combine to study the complex processes of life and its evolution in establishing an institute that applied biological, chemical, and physical methods, and how his vision became sustained reality. Keyword Manfred Eigen Science or music? practicing piano playing to other meaningful activities. To the concern of his mother, he established a small laboratory Manfred Eigen grew up in a musical family. Concerts and at home, which he extensively used for experimentation: “It piano music were a characteristic part of his childhood. At was a real laboratory, which my mother was not at all happy pre-school age, he started to play the piano and practiced with, especially when something exploded yet again”, Man- intensively, but after a few years, he felt that his enthusiasm fred Eigen remembered, and so it was initially no problem for playing music faded, and admitted so to his father, a pro- for him to obey his father’s precept. fessional cellist of the Bochum Symphony Orchestra. Much However, Manfred Eigen’s passion for music was greater to his surprise, his father accepted his wish, but imposed two than he thought when making the agreement with his father, conditions. Firstly, he should give up piano playing entirely possibly also because he was constantly surrounded by because tinkling would not be tolerable for his father. music in his parents’ home where chamber concerts regu- Secondly, he should devote the time he would have spent larly took place. He met well-known artists not only at offi - cial concerts, but closely and personally at home. These events increasingly strengthened his desire to continue with Special Issue: Chemical Kinetics, Biological Mechanisms and music, and he secretly started again practicing to finally Molecular Evolution. surprise his father with a special birthday present—to play * Herbert Jäckle Schubert’s Arpeggione Sonata together with him. His father firstname.lastname@example.org was so impressed by his son’s talent that he insisted on send- ing him to a first-rate teacher for piano lessons. Manfred Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Am Eigen did what he always does—he brought his piano play- Faßberg 11, 37077 Göttingen, Germany ing to perfection. As a 12-year-old child, he gave public per- Present Address: Okinawa Institute of Science formances including piano concerts by Bach, Haydn, and and Technology, 1919-1 Tancha, Onna, Kunigami, Okinawa 904-0495, Japan Vol.:(0123456789) 1 3 320 European Biophysics Journal (2018) 47:319–323 Dittersdorf. His future was predetermined towards a career way to Göttingen to enroll there in physics and chemistry in as a pianist! 1945. The University of Göttingen was one of the first Ger - The Second World War interrupted his dreams. Fifteen- man universities to open up again after the Second World year-old Manfred Eigen had to serve in an anti-aircraft unit War. The young student immediately had contact with out- with no chance to practice piano playing. When he returned standing scientists: he attended physics lectures by Werner from the war, he therefore decided to follow his second pas- Heisenberg and Wolfgang Paul; the former was already a sion—to the great benefit of science as it turned out later— Nobel Laureate, the latter would become one. and matriculated at the University in Göttingen, where he He completed his diploma thesis with Arnold Eucken, became a full-time student of physics. There was only lit- who was so impressed by his outstanding abilities that he tle time left to practice piano for some years until he again proposed that Manfred Eigen should enroll immediately as a devoted time to active piano playing in the late 50s by taking doctoral student. He effortlessly measured up to the expecta- lessons from Rudolf Hindemith, the younger brother of Paul tions placed upon him. He was only 24 years of age when Hindemith, and his wife Maria Landes-Hindemith. Many he successfully completed his PhD in physical chemistry, who participated in workshops and conferences with Man- subsequently becoming a research assistant at the Institute fred Eigen experienced his delightful piano interludes. Two for Physical Chemistry at the University of Göttingen. of his piano concerts of Mozart, accompanied by the New Orchestra of Boston under David Epstein and the Basler Measuring immeasurably fast reactions Kammerorchester under the direction of Paul Sacher, are immortalized on CD. “The rate of true neutralization reactions has proven to be In one of his concerts in Basel, Sydney Brenner was in immeasurably fast”. Manfred Eigen had found this quote in the audience, sitting next to a professional pianist. Sydney Arnold Eucken’s chemistry textbook Lehrbuch der chemis- asked what she thought about the quality of Manfred Eigen’s chen Physik while preparing for his PhD examination. This performance. “Not bad for a chemist” was the answer. That book was his “bible of physical chemistry”, but he was then evening, Manfred Eigen told Sydney his ideas about the of an age at which one accepts practically nothing without hypercycle, which he developed together with Peter Schus- asking critical questions. So he started to reflect on just how ter, and his quasispecies model. “Not bad for a pianist…” fast an immeasurably fast reaction might be. In 1953, he was Sydney’s reaction. Not bad…! accepted a position as an assistant at the MPI for Physical Together with his friend Paul Sacher, Manfred Eigen tried Chemistry, with Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer as a supervisor to convince the Max Planck Society’s leadership to establish and mentor. He turned his attention to the study of extremely a kind of “Musik-Bauhaus”, which would connect research fast chemical reactions, focusing on “the immeasurable”. in art and science by bringing together renowned scientists At that time, chemical reaction rates could be measured and musicians in one institute. This idea was preceded by the down to a thousandth of a second. Convinced that nothing “Hinterzartener Kreis”, where he and leading natural scien- in chemistry was immeasurable and that the problem was tists of different research areas—including Werner Heisen- simply a matter of unsuitable experimental tools, Manfred berg, Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, and Konrad Lorenz, Eigen successfully began to develop the so-called relaxation the philosophers Georg Picht and Theodor Adorno as well as measurement methods. He was fortunate: Leo De Maeyer, musicians like the violinist Yehudi Menuhin, the composer who later became a director at the new MPI for Biophysi- and conductor Pierre Boulez, and the flutist Aurèle Nico- cal Chemistry, joined his group and it turned out that he let—met to discuss the concept. This project failed, since was essential for developing the necessary equipment for the Max Planck Society decided that Manfred Eigen’s idea measuring ultrafast reactions. The approach involves the should not be realized. Therefore, no surprise, he smiled perturbation of a system in chemical equilibrium, by sound when the society discussed much later his initial idea again wave, for example, to then measure the time the system and subsequently founded the Max Planck Institute (MPI) requires to return to its original state of equilibrium. Due for Empirical Aesthetics in Frankfurt in 2012. Manfred to this “trick”, the “immeasurable” became measurable. Eigen’s proposal failed, fortunately for us, because he then Manfred Eigen presented his results to the British Faraday devoted all his efforts to establish our institute, the MPI for Society in 1954, showing that this method made it possi- Biophysical Chemistry. ble to determine reaction rates at the micro- and nanosec- This brings us back to his scientific roots and the uni- ond scale—a scientific sensation! Manfred Eigen’s method versity years of Manfred Eigen. As already mentioned, due solved key issues not only in physical chemistry but also in to the lack of practice, Manfred Eigen gave up the idea of biochemistry, for example, by allowing an understanding of becoming a professional musician. When he returned from how enzyme activities are controlled. the war, after managing to escape from an American pris- In 1958, Manfred Eigen was appointed a Scientific Mem- oner-of-war camp near Salzburg (Austria), he walked all the ber of the Max Planck Society. Four years later he became 1 3 European Biophysics Journal (2018) 47:319–323 321 head of the Department of Chemical Kinetics at the MPI for inseparably linked to his name. Furthermore, fascinated by Physical Chemistry, and was appointed as director in 1964. the idea of establishing a multidisciplinary institute that His laboratory in Göttingen attracted chemists from all over studies these complex processes as well as the molecular the world who wanted to investigate ultrafast reactions. evolution of life using biological, chemical, and physical Just about 10 years after measuring the immeasurable, methods, three new directors were recruited in addition to Manfred Eigen’s major scientific breakthrough was hon - the six directors who joined Manfred Eigen’s new institute ored with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, which he received at its foundation. The first nine departments were designated together with Ronald G. W. Norrish and George Porter in to Biochemical Kinetics (Manfred Eigen), Experimental 1967. Methods (Leo De Maeyer), Molecular Biology (Thomas Jovin), Kinetics of Phase Transitions (Manfred Kahlweit), Electrochemistry and Reaction Kinetics (Hans Strehlow) Setting up an institute devoted and Spectroscopy (Albert Weller) of the MPIs for Physical to multidisciplinary life sciences Chemistry and for Spectroscopy. Three new departments were added by external recruitment, namely Neurobiology Nowadays, it is undisputed that research in life sciences (Otto D. Creutzfeldt), Molecular Systems (Hans Kuhn), and should be multidisciplinary, involving physics, chemistry, Laser Physics (Fritz Peter Schäfer). biology, and mathematics. Already in 1968, Manfred Eigen Obviously, in the beginning the institute was still heavy offered the Max Planck Society ideas for establishing a new on physical chemistry-related research, but soon after and interdisciplinary institute. Initially, the Max Planck Society over the years, a second generation of departments address- was somehow skeptical. However, Manfred Eigen was suc- ing directly biological problems were added to the institute, cessful, possibly because of his internationally recognized including Neurochemistry (Victor Wittaker), Biochemistry achievements. Also, most likely his Nobel Prize helped to and Cell Biology (Klaus Weber), Membrane Biophysics convince the leadership and, in fact, he was not short of (Erwin Neher), Cell Physiology (Bert Sakmann), Molecular offers to continue his research at renowned research institu - Genetics (Dieter Gallwitz), Molecular Cell Biology (Peter tions all over the world. No matter for what reason, the Max Gruss), Spectroscopy and Photochemical Kinetics (Jürgen Planck Society offered Manfred Eigen the opportunity to Troe) as well as Molecular Developmental Biology (Her- build this new institute by fusing two MPIs in Göttingen, the bert Jäckle). Manfred Eigen guided the establishment of MPI for Physical Chemistry and the MPI for Spectroscopy, these new departments according to his philosophy: “It is to find a place for its location, and to design it both in archi- not the research area that counts, it is the excellence of the tectural (together with his colleague Manfred Kahlweit) and individuals”. scientific terms, before leading the new institute as a per - Currently, the third generation of department directors manent “managing director”. He turned down the last part has been appointed according to the same philosophy, still of the offer and headed only the Department of Biochemi- focusing in his spirit on the biological questions and the nec- cal Kinetics until he retired in 1995. His personal modesty, essary tool development: once a department director retires, his respect for his colleagues, and his way of solving prob- and continues as emeritus as Manfred Eigen did himself, lems with the best factual and transparent solution instead new recruits are not selected on the basis of “best scien- of imposing his unquestioned authority shaped the spirit of tific fit” to ongoing research but by asking the question of the institute, which he devoted to his mentor: Karl Friedrich whether the person would add excellence to the institute. Bonhoeffer. Officially, the institute opened its doors in 1971. And—also in the spirit of Manfred Eigen—young investi- One year after having been awarded the Nobel Prize in gators are given the chance to develop and follow their own Chemistry, Manfred Eigen turned his attention with his usual ideas during a transient stay of up to 9 years at the institute intensity to the problem of self-organization of matter and without the possibility of getting a tenured position. How- the evolution of biological macromolecules. While investi- ever, exceptions are the rule and actually, several of the very gating reaction mechanisms of biochemical processes, he best young investigators have been offered the chance to stay, had been fascinated time and again by the optimal efficiency being promoted by the Max Planck Society to department and precision of the molecular interactions in biology. How- directors at the institute. This practice is based on the insight ever, he was not satisfied with a purely phenomenological that the best people should not leave the institute, and it has explanation such as optimum adaptation as put forward by turned out to be a successful strategy: scientists of each of Darwin. He put Darwin’s idea of evolution by means of the by now three generations of directors at the institute have natural selection on a firm physical footing and applied it been awarded the Nobel Prize—Manfred Eigen himself, to molecular systems, thereby establishing a fundamental Erwin Neher, and Bert Sakmann of the second generation bridge between biology and physics. The concepts of hyper- and Stefan Hell of the third generation. Each of them started cycle, quasispecies, error threshold, and sequence space are a career as a research group leader at the institute. 1 3 322 European Biophysics Journal (2018) 47:319–323 Currently, the institute hosts 13 departments including public, may it be through TV shows or by his famous book Neurobiology (Reinhard Jahn), Cellular Biochemistry (Rein- “Das Spiel” (English version: “Laws of the Game: How The hard Lührmann), NMR-based Structural Biology (Christian Principles of Nature Govern Chance”, 1983) which he wrote Griesinger), Genes and Behavior (Gregor Eichele), Cellular together with his life-long scientific partner and second Logistics (Dirk Görlich), NanoBiophotonics (Stefan Hell), wife, Ruthild Oswatitsch-Eigen. It also includes his latest Molecular Developmental Biology (Herbert Jäckle), Theo- book “From Strange Simplicity to Complex Familiarity. A retical and Computational Biophysics (Helmut Grubmüller), Treatise on Matter, Information, Life and Thought.” which Physical Biochemistry (Marina Rodnina), Dynamics at Sur- he published—again with the help of his wife Ruthild—in faces (Alec Wodtke), Molecular Biology (Patrick Cramer), 2013. Meiosis (Melina Schuh) as well as Structural Dynamics More than anything else, Manfred Eigen liked to listen to (Holger Stark). In addition, the institute continues to sup- the latest results during the weekly “Teestunde” (tea hour) port young investigators by hosting 23 research groups as a in his department, and he immediately got to the strong and springboard for the careers of junior researchers. In setting weak points no matter which subject was reported. His own up the institute, Manfred Eigen—despite his strong love for lectures reflected not only his wide range of interests and theoretical biology—applied his leitmotif: “In biology, pure broad spectrum of knowledge, but also his enormous enthu- theory—in the absence of experimental results—proves to siasm for research, which he communicated to his audiences. be poor theory”, a motto of the institute that has been main- The Molecular Biology Colloquium founded by him together tained for almost half a century. with Fritz Cramer in Göttingen, and the Winter Seminar Eigen established in 1966, became traditions. What started out as a departmental meeting involving a small circle of Another proposal that failed: unfortunately! people turned into an ever-increasing meeting in the years that followed: Renowned scientists from all over the world, The many creative ideas of Manfred Eigen included the including more than 50 Nobel Laureates to date, are among proposal that the Max Planck Society should establish an those who have taken part in the legendary “Winter Semi- “Institute for Theoretical Biology” by combining theory nar” in Klosters, Switzerland—surroundings much loved and modeling with corresponding experiments, as in part by Manfred Eigen, a passionate skier and hiker. And—of encompassed by the research done at the institute he suc- course—as a passionate musician he quite often turned the cessfully established. This proposal was put forward in the meeting room in Klosters or the close by abbey church into early 1990s, before the Institutes for Systems Biology were a “concert hall” where the multi-talented scientist performed established in Seattle (USA) and Tokyo (Japan). It was also a musical interlude. before systems biology emerged as a movement in its own right, and also in advance of the claim of the US National Science Foundation, which put forward a grand challenge for systems biology in the 21st century to build a mathematical Founder of evolutionary biotechnology model of the whole cell. Manfred Eigen’s postulation was based on his foresight of holistic approaches such as genome “Everything which is new has to come out of fundamental projects, the large increase in data from the omics and the research, otherwise it’s not new”. Manfred Eigen has not accompanying advances in high-throughput experiments as only discovered new things but has also applied them to cre- well as bioinformatics and an era of “big data”, which is ate new products. In fact, his theories on the self-organiza- coming now. It is possible that the Max Planck Society again tion of complex molecules and his development of evolution missed a chance by not participating in the foresight of an machines, in which he put these theories into practice, gave intellectual giant! rise to a new branch of biotechnology—“evolutionary bio- technology”. The evolution machines, developed to a level of industrial applicability by Manfred Eigen’s team at the Conflating ideas institute, were used successfully to investigate basic mecha- nisms of evolution at high speed in the laboratory. They “You must be hungry for science”—this attitude has ena- were used to learn and exploit the tricks of, for example, bled Manfred Eigen to make a formative impact on the lives the AIDS virus and other pathogens to outwit the immune of many staff and research colleagues in “his institute” and system. Such evolution machines were moreover employed beyond, who are unanimous in their enthusiasm about the in single molecule detection to help in finding new active inspiration and unselfish support which he has always been substances and to use them for drug development. Evolu- prepared to give. “You must communicate!” Communication tionary biotechnology is being taken over and applied by also meant to him explaining the secrets of science to the companies co-founded by Manfred Eigen, such as Evotec 1 3 European Biophysics Journal (2018) 47:319–323 323 AG and DIREVO Biosystems, which became later part of most versatile German researchers. Bochum, the city of his Bayer HealthCare AG. birth, named him as Honorary Citizen of the University, and the city of Göttingen awarded him an honorary citizen- ship. His scientific prizes, awards, and honors are numer - Leaving active science without losing ous, acknowledging not only his impact on various scientific curiosity and impact fields but also underlining his decisive impetus that was in a big way responsible for advancing science beyond the Manfred Eigen retired in 1995 but continued with his founding and fostering of the MPI for Biophysical Chem- research both in Göttingen and at the Scripps Research Insti- istry. To name a few activities, he served as Chairperson tute in La Jolla (California, USA). The Scripps Research of the EMBO Council and as Chairperson of the Scientific Institute became a second home for Manfred Eigen to which Advisory Board of the Basel Institute for Immunology he was attracted to by his friend Richard Lerner, the presi- (Switzerland). In the 11 years he served as president of the dent of the institute at the time. After finishing his latest Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes (German Academic book in 2013, Manfred Eigen retired from participating in Scholarship Foundation), he demonstrated his great com- meetings because he was not in the best of health. However, mitment to the next generation of scientists and established he continues to curiously and hungrily follow the latest pub- doctoral grants for the very best. Having Manfred Eigen as a lications and he loves to listen to the latest results obtained mentor, both for scientists and for the institute, was a bless- at “his” institute in Göttingen. And, as always, he critically ing. His vision, successfully realized under his guidance, points out what is missing in order to convince him of the as well as his integrative way of interacting with people, conclusions: non-aggressive but distinct, generally sprin- imprinted his spirit at the MPI for Biophysical Chemistry, a kled with his humor. Beyond science, he continues to give spirit which remains a permanent challenge for the institute advice to his colleagues at the institute, insinuating what to live up to. could or should be planned and handled in a better way. Not Acknowledgements Open access funding provided by Max Planck as a teacher, but as a friend, a quality that has molded the Society. togetherness of the faculty and shaped the spirit of the insti- tute. His integrating and modest personality set a sustainable Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative standard of how colleagues interact at the institute. This is to Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http://creativecom- mons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribu- highlight that Manfred Eigen not only served as a scientific tion, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate role model, but he also set the standard for the social inter- credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the course among colleagues and for the next generation(s) of Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. scientists at the institute. Because of his numerous achievements and highly acknowledged publications in different fields of science, Manfred Eigen acquired the reputation of being one of the 1 3
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