Molecular Biology

Molecular Biology Experts

Reimar Lüst

Former Vice president
Molecular Biology
Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics
United States of America


People don't generally say that they have two dates of birth; however, physicist and science manager Professor Reimar Lüst is one who does. The first date of birth is his real one: 90 years ago, on 25 March 1923, is when he was born in Barmen (now a part of Wuppertal). He mentions his other birthday in the book Der Wissenschaftsmacher, a collection of conversations recorded between historian Paul Nolte and Lüst two years ago: that date is 11 May 1943. That's the day when Lüst, then an engineering officer, was the last man out of a submarine. The U-boat had been severely damaged by depth charges and artillery fire, and was going to be sunk to prevent it from getting into the hands of the enemy. Lüst swam over to the English frigate that had attacked the sub and was heaved onto the deck – one of 45 crewmembers to be rescued (eleven died). That's why he sees this date as his second birthday. But the day was to have a significance of another kind for Lüst, a mechanical engineer by background: He was taken into British captivity and later handed over to the Americans. They in turn put him in a prisoner-of-war camp where the inmates – all officers – had set up their own university. Here, the prisoners had the opportunity to listen to lectures given by their fellow prisoners, many of whom had highly specialised backgrounds. It was even possible to sit exams and have them marked. Lüst seized the opportunity and spent four semesters studying theoretical physics and mathematics. He was released from war imprisonment on 25 May 1946, his 23rd birthday. He then took up the studies he had begun in the camp at the University of Frankfurt. The university recognised two of the semesters he had completed in the camp, which enabled him to sit his degree examination as early as the beginning of 1949. He obtained his PhD in Göttingen in May 1951 under Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, who had given him a problem from theoretical astrophysics for his dissertation topic. With his doctorate under his belt, he took up a post at the Max Planck Institute of Physics, which he interrupted in 1955/56 upon receipt of a one-year Fulbright Scholarship for the US and in 1959 when he was given a guest professorship in mathematics in New York. In 1960 he eventually obtained his postdoctoral lecturing qualification for physics at the Universität München. Lüst became a Scientific Member at the Max Planck Institute of Physics and Astrophysics, which had since moved from Göttingen to Munich, and had added a separate department for extraterrestrial physics in 1963, of which he became Director.

Research Interest

Molecular Biology, Neurobiology

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