Günther Wilke (1925 - 2016)

Director 1969 - 1993

Günther Wilke studied chemistry at the Universities of Karlsruhe and Heidelberg, where he graduated in 1951 under the guidance of Karl Freudenberg. His thesis was entitled "Investigations on the formaldehyde-releasing group in lignin and model substances”. In the same year, he joined the research group of Karl Ziegler at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung. He gained a “Habilitation” at the RWTH Aachen in 1960. In 1963, he was appointed to the Chair of Organic Chemistry at the Ruhr University of Bochum and also became a Scientific Member of the Max Planck Society. In 1967, he declined a Full Professorship at the ETH Zurich for the position of Second Director at the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung; in 1969 he became head of the Institute. Günther Wilke’s research was focused on the organometallic chemistry of nickel, which, in turn, strongly impacted on the development of homogeneous catalysis in general. In this context, his studies on the cyclodimerization and cyclotrimerization of butadiene deserve particular attention, as they arguably represent the first well-documented examples of ligand-controlled catalytic processes; moreover, these transformations are still used today on industrial scale. Therefore he is rightfully considered a “spiritus rector” of homogeneous catalysis.

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