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08/03/12

100th anniversary: Prof. Dr. Günther Wilke gives a lecture at the Max Planck Institut für Kohlenforschung

100th anniversary: Prof. Dr. Günther Wilke gives a lecture at the Max Planck Institut 
für Kohlenforschung

 

100 years ago a very important meeting took place at the Solbad Raffelberg in Mülheim. The Max Planck Society, industrial representatives from the Rhineland and from Westphalia and the city of Mülheim founded the Kaiser Wilhelm Institut für Kohlenforschung.

To celebrate this anniversary, the Max Planck Institut für Kohlenforschung, the local group of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker and the JungChemikerForum Mülheim/Ruhr now organized a special event. Prof. Dr. Günther Wilke gave a lecture on the history of the institute. About 200 guests came to listen. Wilke was director of the institute from 1967 until 1993.

In his lecture Wilke told his audience about the Max Planck Society and the Max Planck Institut für Kohlenforschung in a very entertaining way. He explained that it was Adolf von Harnack, later on first president of the society, who had expressed his concerns about research in Germany. The theologian was afraid that at the universities scientists were not able to spend enough time doing research because they had to teach students. Therefore he proposed new research institutes under the patronage of the emperor – the idea of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society was born. Influential representatives of the coal industry, especially the Stinnes family, helped to bring one of those institutes to Mülheim.

Prof. Dr. Wilke explained the important chemical achievements that were made at the institute. He told the audience about the Fischer-Tropsch process, in which carbon is converted into liquid fuels. Today this synthesis is still in use to produce fuels in different parts of the world. Wilke also sketched the catalytic process that yields polyolefins. Karl Ziegler, former director of the institute, got the Nobel prize for this discovery in 1963. Wilke also mentioned the scientist Kurt Zosel. He found a way to produce decaffeinated coffee efficiently. Wilke also spoke about his own research that found use in the petrochemical industry and for the production of polymers.

Finally Wilke talked about the research topics of the present directors of the institute. Since the 1990s there are five scientific directors rather than only one. He emphazised another important difference to the past, namely the close network that the institute has built with the universities nearby.

In the picture you see from the left: Felix Richter (spokesperson of the JungChemikerForum Mülheim/Ruhr), Prof. Dr. Günther Wilke (former director of the institute), Prof. Dr. Walter Thiel (one of the current directors at the institute) and Prof. Dr. Christian Lehmann (chairman of the local group of the Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker).