The Institute under Günther Wilke (1969-1993)

Günther Wilke (1925-2016) took over directorship of the institute in 1969. After obtaining his doctorate in Heidelberg in 1951, he began working in Karl Ziegler’s research group in the same year so the two men knew each other well, both professionally and personally.

In his scientific work, Wilke and his research group focused on the organometallic chemistry of nickel: this was not only ground breaking in its immediate field, it also influenced the development of transition metal chemistry and catalysis as a whole.

From the point of view of application technology, two developments from Günther Wilke’s time are particularly worthy of mention. Firstly, the discovery of a process for decaffeinating coffee, which Kurt Zosel observed in 1970 as a side result of work on a build-up reaction of aluminium triethyl with ethylene. Secondly, Günther Wilke’s fundamental work on plastics made of polyamide-12, which are characterized by a high level of dimensional stability and durability. The German national football team wore shoes made of this material at the 1974 World Cup, prompting the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung to state the following on the occasion of Günther Wilke’s death: “Germany owes decades of coal research to him – and possibly also the 1974 World Cup win.”

Günther Wilke in the laboratory, 1985
Photo: Ingrid van Kruse

In the Lab Building, 1974
Photo: Peter Blachian

Physics Building, 1983

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