Harnack Medal

The Harnack Medal has been awarded only 35 times since 1924, including 10 times by the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft (1924-1936) and 25 times by the Max Planck Society (1953-2023). It was awarded for the first time "for special services to the Kaiser Wilhelm Society" in December 1925 to the Protestant theologian Adolf von Harnack, the co-founder and first President of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft (KWG). It was designed by the sculptor Georg Kolbe (1875-1947) and shows Harnack's profile on one side of the medal, the theologian's motto "Spiritus Creator" on the other, as well as the Roman goddess Minerva, protector of the sciences. It was not until 1953, after a 16-year hiatus, that the Max Planck Society (MPG), under its then President Otto Hahn, resumed this tradition. According to the statutes, the right of nomination lies with the President of the Society, who also presents the award. It is the highest distinction that the MPG can bestow, "with the awarding of which one must be very cautious," as Adolf Butenandt emphasized to the Senate in 1965.

In addition to other former Presidents and special scientific personalities of the KWG and later the MPG, numerous industrialists were also honoured with the Harnack Medal, such as the Berlin banker Franz von Mendelsohn (1932), who rendered outstanding services as treasurer in financing the KWG, especially during the inflation, or the influential head of I.G. Farben Carl Duisberg (1934), who contributed significantly to the founding of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institutes for Chemistry and for Coal Research, as well as to the creation of the Harnack House in Berlin. In 1970, the Max Planck Society honoured Carl Wurster, chairman of the supervisory board of BASF, with the Harnack Medal. Wurster held various offices at the MPG, first as a senator and, since 1960, as Vice President. Hans L. Merkle, chairman of the board of management of Robert Bosch GmbH, was presented with the Harnack Medal 14 years later, in 1974.

Other recipients of the Harnack medal included the German politician Kurt Birrenbach (1981), who rendered outstanding services to improving relations between East and West and with Israel, and two Presidents of the Weizmann Institute: Israeli biochemist and immunologist Michael Sela (1996) and Israeli physicist Haim Harari (2001), both of whom worked tirelessly to promote the exchange of scientists between Germany and Israel. Last but not least, the Harnack Medal has also been awarded to three former Federal Presidents who made a particular contribution to the reputation of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in the public eye - Theodor Heuss (1959), Heinrich Lübcke (1964), and Richard von Weizsäcker (1990). They all championed the autonomy of this research organization, which has had 31 Nobel Prize winners since 1911, which makes it one of the most successful scientific organizations in the world in basic research in the natural sciences.

Recipients of the Harnack Medal

  • Daniel Zajfman, 2023
  • Angela Merkel, 2021
  • Peter Gruss, 2017
  • Hermann Neuhaus (posthumously), 2008
  • Lu Yongxiang, 2006
  • Hubert Markl, 2004
  • Haim Harari, 2001
  • Hans F. Zacher, 1998
  • Michael Sela, 1996
  • Heinz A. Staab, 1996
  • Reimar Lüst, 1993
  • Richard von Weizsäcker, 1990
  • Hans Merkle, 1984
  • Kurt Birrenbach, 1981
  • Walther Gerlach, 1974
  • Adolf Butenandt, 1973, in Gold 1983
  • Carl Wurster, 1970
  • Alfred Kühn, 1965
  • Heinrich Lübke, 1964
  • Otto Heinrich Warburg, 1963
  • Georg Schreiber, 1962
  • Erich Kaufmann, 1960
  • Theodor Heuss, 1959
  • Otto Hahn, 1954, in Gold 1959
  • Gustav Winkler, 1953
  • Ludwig Prandtl, 1936
  • Albert Vögler, 1936
  • Carl Duisberg, 1934
  • Gustav Krupp v. Bohlen und Halbach, 1933
  • Max Planck, 1933
  • Franz v. Mendelssohn, 1932
  • Carl Correns, 1932
  • Friedrich Schmidt-Ott, 1929
  • Fritz Haber, 1926
  • Adolf v. Harnack, 1925

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