August 03, 2012
President Staab was the first to convince politicians to grant the Max Planck Society sufficient security to plan for the future. The Education Summit in 1986, at which the Federal Chancellor met with the chief ministers of the states and the leaders of Germany’s scientific organizations, approved a five percent budget increase over five years – a turning point in research funding. This budget increase - that at last could be relied on - formed the basis for an innovative renewal of the Max Planck Society: In addition to 54 new appointments, Heinz Staab’s term of office saw the targeted development of existing Institutes such as the MPIs for Brain Research, Meteorology, Solid State Research, Metals Research and Immunobiology. New initiatives included the foundation of the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Societies in Cologne, the establishment of the structural molecular biology working groups at DESY (the German Electron Synchrotron) in Hamburg, the Max Delbrück Laboratory in Cologne, the Clinical Working Group for Rheumatology in Erlangen and the Cognitive Anthropology Project Group.
Also during Heinz Staab’s term of office, the Senate adopted a resolution to set up the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken, and plans were set in motion for the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen and the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg. At the same time, through his close relations with scientists in the former East Germany, Heinz Staab laid the foundation for the ground-breaking restructuring of the Institute network after the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The name Staab is also closely linked with moves to address the past history of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society (KWG), from which the Max Planck Society had shied away until the early 1980s. As a scientist who was active at an early stage in building contacts with Israel and the Weizmann Institute, this was a role he was predestined to take. In his address to the Annual Meeting in Aachen in 1986, Heinz Staab broke with another decades-old dogma: “The widespread opinion that the Kaiser Wilhelm Society survived the era of the Third Reich relatively unscathed is one that I do not consider justified.”
In 1990 Heinz Staab and his successor Hans F. Zacher were instrumental in arranging the burial of brain samples taken from concentration camp inmates and victims of “euthanasia” after a service of remembrance at the Waldfriedhof cemetery in Munich. The same year saw the publication of a volume on the ‘History and Structure of the Kaiser Wilhelm / Max Planck Society’ edited by historians Rudolf Vierhaus and Bernhard vom Brocke, which provided the starting point for the independent Presidential committee set up in 1997 to examine the history of the KWG in the national socialist era.
In 1990 Heinz Staab declined a further term of office in order to concentrate entirely on his research work at the Institute, which he had continued to pursue throughout his Presidency.
Having studied both chemistry and medicine, he worked in the field of heterocyclic compounds and biological chemistry. His interest lay in the physical characteristics of compounds, such as their electrical conductivity. He also produced important reagents for chemical synthesis, which remain current to this day and are used worldwide in preparative chemistry. In later years Heinz Staab devoted himself to the mechanism of photosynthesis and synthesised compounds with which he was able to recreate the key steps in biological energy storage.
Following his term of office at MPG, from 1994 until 1996 Heinz Staab was active as President of the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences. In recognition of his many services, Heinz Staab, who had held a professorship at Heidelberg University since 1963, was awarded the Medal of Merit of the State of Baden-Württemberg and the Federal Grand Cross of Merit with Star, and in 1996 he was presented with the Harnack Medal, the highest award for particular service to the Max Planck Society.