Year & Category
1967 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (shared with Ronald George Wreyford Norrish and George Porter, United Kingdom, who received the other half of the prize “for their studies of extremely fast chemical reactions, effected by disturbing the equilibrium by means of very short pulses of energy”)
“For his studies of extremely fast chemical reactions, effected by disturbing the equilibrium by means of very short pulses of energy”
At the time of the award he worked at
Max-Planck-Institut für Physikalische Chemie, Göttingen, Federal Republic of Germany
About his research
During a rich and varied research career Manfred Eigen has focused his attention on countless different questions. He received the 1967 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his pioneering work on extremely fast processes at the young age of 40.
Manfred Eigen has focused his attention not only on analysing the finest chemical processes, but also on research into evolution. He has demonstrated technical competence and visionary farsightedness in both disciplines.
Measuring the speed of chemical reactions
At the Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry (since 1971: Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry) in Göttingen the highly gifted inventor developed ingenious relaxation methods (for example, the temperature jump technique). Flash photolysis, another relaxation method, was developed by Ronald G. W. Norrish and George Porter, British scientists who were also honoured with the Nobel Prize. All relaxation methods are based on the same fundamental principle: if you briefly disturb the equilibrium of a chemical system, ascertaining the time the system requires to return to equilibrium (relaxation time) allows you to measure the speed of chemical reactions. That was how Manfred Eigen was soon able to investigate reaction states that only lasted a billionth of a second.
Answering countless questions
Relaxation methods became standard procedures and have made it possible to answer countless important biochemistry questions – for example, about metabolic processes. Manfred Eigen turned his attention to fundamental life processes early on in the 1960s. His pioneering research on the development of organisms also became the foundation for evolutionary biotechnology. Eigen developed “evolution machines” that support the search for new medical active ingredients. Drug discovery is also a key area of work for the Evotec biotechnology company that Eigen co-founded.
Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry
The Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry (Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer Institute) is one of the largest of the approximately 80 institutes constituting the Max Planck Society. It clearly demonstrates the research potential that can be generated by operating at the interfaces of the classical scientific disciplines: physics, chemistry, and biology. The unifying vision has been to characterize biological processes in a quantitative manner, as was already reflected in the focus of several of the founding departments on reaction mechanisms and dynamics. However, the fields of neurobiology, biochemistry and molecular biology were also represented at the outset, thereby ensuring that the institute would contribute to and exploit the dramatic advances in biology-related technology and knowledge of the next 30 years.www.mpibpc.mpg.de