October 25, 2012
The Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz celebrated its hundredth anniversary with prominent guests from the fields of science, politics and business in attendance. Klaus Töpfer, former German federal Environment Minister and one-time Executive Director of the UNO environmental program, was the keynote speaker and addressed the global challenges of climate change. He also directed some personal words at Nobel Prize Laureate Paul Crutzen, who carried out pioneering research into the hole in the ozone layer. Historian Jeffrey Johnson from Villanova University recalled the history of the Institute since inception. It was one of the first two Kaiser Wilhelm Society research institutions to be located in the Dahlem district of Berlin in 1912. The Institute, which today primarily pursues earth system and climate research, re-located to Mainz in 1949.
The spectrum of research fields has broadly expanded during the past hundred years – an example of one of the Max Planck Society's guiding principles to continually pose pioneering questions and thus constantly open up new fields. During his address, Max Planck President Peter Gruss recognised contributions of the three Nobel Prize laureates from the Institute who had achieved excellence in quite different areas. “Their insights have each made a distinct contribution to a pressing problem of the 21st century. I am speaking of climate change and the inseparable question of how we can generate climate-neutral energy in the future," Gruss declared. As an example, Paul Crutzen conducted research on the associated human influence upon the geosystem, which has led to the worldwide social relevance of climate protection and the debate on an effective, globally-binding climate protocol.
Climate change fundamentally requires immediate, practical action, according to Gruss – and thus climate-neutral solutions for generating energy. One important option for CO2-neutral power generation is closely associated with the second Nobel laureate of the Institute, Otto Hahn, whose discovery of nuclear fission laid the foundation for development of nuclear power plants. Although atomic energy at present is not a model for the future in Germany due to safety aspects, research into fusion power plants is currently making great strides. The first Nobel laureate of the Institute was Richard Willstätter, who was honoured for his research on chlorophyll in 1915. This pioneering work is still relevant today when the chemistry of photosynthesis for energy production is involved.
Jos Lelieveld, Managing Director of the Institute, opened the ceremonies on 23 October. A welcoming address was delivered by Minister President Kurt Beck from Rhineland-Palinate. Musical accents were provided by around a dozen MPI staff members, who had formed into three bands. This included the Chemjazzel jazz group, who played to encores at the evening’s party.