Nobel Prize winners from Wrocław

Wrocław still waits for its Polish Nobel Prize winner. Not so long ago did we keep our thumbs up for “our” Tadeusz Różewicz. But life can surprise us at any moment and, therefore, the Wrocław Nobel Prize remains an open issue.

And our city is marked by a peculiar "Nobel tendency”, which is reflected by the fact that as many as ten winners of this prestigious award founded by the Swedish discoverer of dynamite come from here (which means that they were born, learned or worked in Wrocław). Two prizes in literature, three awards in physics, three awards in chemistry, one award in medicine and one award in economy – this is the balance of Wroclaw Nobel prizes.

”Do they really come from Wrocław?”, some may ask. The history of Wrocław cannot be changed according to demand, nor should it be neglected or ignored only because it presents a difficult nationality issue for someone. We are a part of Europe. Part of the world.

Ten important people

Below you can read about Nobel Prize winners „from here”, how they were connected with Wrocław and how this was commemorated in the history of Wrocław.

Theodor Mommsen (1817-1903) was a lawyer specialising in Roman law and one of the particularly recognised historical writers and poets of the 19th century. In Wrocław, he was a professor at the Faculty of Law and at the Chair of Philosophy of the local University. In 1902, he received the Nobel Prize in Literature for his „History of Rome” (translated into Polish several times).

We also know that: he supported the German Eastern Marchers Society (popularly called “Hakata”), anti-Polish measures and the Germanisation of Poles.

Paul Ehrlich (1854-1915) was a chemist and bacteriologist (he invented Salvarsan – a drug for the treatment of syphilis and separated lymphocytes during a blood analysis). He is a graduate of the secondary school of St. Mary Magdalene (today this place is occupied by a department store ul. Szewska) in Wrocław and medical studies at the University of Wrocław. He received the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine for his research in the field of immunology in 1908.

We also know that: he was born in Strzelin (Strehelen) and was a poor student. After many years, he created the fundamentals of chemotherapy, and his image was put on a German 200-mark banknote in the 1990s.

Eduard Buchner (1860-1917) was a chemist who, among others, discovered Pyrazole – a substance used for production of drugs, colourants and pesticides, separated a number of enzymes: invertase, zymase and lactase, and explained the alcohol fermentation process). He was a professor of the University of Wrocław (Uniwersytet Wrocławski). In 1907, he received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for having discovered the fermentation processes without the participation of living cells.

We also know that: he worked in a field hospital on the Balkan front and died of wounds during World War I.

Phillip Lénàrd (1862-1947) was a physician who initiated research on the penetration of electrons through matter. He was a lecturer at the University of Wrocław. In 1905, he received the Nobel Prize in physics for his study of cathode rays.

We also know that: he supported Hitler and was an anti-Semite and a fascist. He coined the term “Deutsche Physik”, criticised Einstein’s work and ignored the achievements of Maria Curie-Skłodowska.

Gerhart Hauptmann (1862-1946) was a dramatist and novelist (his most important works include "The Weavers", "The Assumption of Hannele" and „The Beaver Coat”). In Wrocław he attended Realschule (the subsequent Technical School of Clothing at Pl. Teatralny) and studied sculpture. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1912 for his entire literary output.

We also know that: school was not what he liked best. He dropped school at the age of 15

Fritz Haber (1868-1934) was a chemist who developed methods of production of Zyklon B as a disinfectant.

Wrocław is the place where he was born and studied at the University. In 1918, he received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for having developed the ammonia synthesis method enabling the production of chemical fertilizers (which laid the foundation for a new branch of industry).

We also know that: he invented chemical warfare agents: phosgene and dichlorodiethyl sulphide and supervised their use during World War I, which made his wife commit a suicide. He was a supporter of Nazi ideology. Many of his Jewish relatives were killed by Zyklon B in gas chambers.

Max Born (1882-1970) was a mathematician and physician (he refused to participate in research on an atomic bomb.

He was born and raised in Wrocław. Here he graduated from the secondary school of Emperor William (its building, which no longer exists, was situated at ul. Pawłowa) and studied at the University. He received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1954 for his interpretation of the square of the wave function in the Schrödinger equation as the probability density of finding a particle.

We also know that: one of the Wrocław squares is named after him, and his granddaughter Olivia Newton-John was a star of the "Grease" – an American hit film from 1978.

Friedrich Bergius (1884-1949) was a chemist who developed methods of deriving sugar from wood and producing phenol and glycol.

He was born in Złotniki (today a housing estate in Wrocław); in Wrocław, he graduated from a secondary school and a university and worked on his doctoral dissertation. In 1931, he received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for the discovery and analysis of chemical high-pressure methods (including the invention of synthetic fuel).

We know that: in the Faculty of Chemistry of the Wrocław University of Technology, there is a memorial plaque dedicated to Bergius, which was founded by „Złotniki“ SA – a chemical production plant established in place of the pre-war factory of the Bergius family.

Otto Stern (1888-1969) was a physician and chemist.

From 1892, he lived with his family in Wrocław, where he graduated from the secondary school of St. John (today ul. Worcella 3), studied chemistry, defended his doctoral dissertation and was a lecturer at the University. In 1943, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for his contribution to the development of the molecular ray method and discovery of the magnetic moment of proton.

We also know that: he never started a family and died of a heart attack during a theatrical performance.

Reinhard Selten (1930) is a mathematician and an economist regarded as a founding father of experimental economics.

He was born in Wrocław. 66 years later, he was awarded the title of Doctor Honoris Causa of the Wrocław University of Economics.

He received the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences in 1994 (together with the American mathematician John Nash) for his achievements in game theory (research on the state of equilibrium in non-team games and its use in economic analysis, in research on the organisation of industry and monopolies and in the forecasting of potential actions of the central bank by financial markets.

We also know that: he is an Esperantist.

Małgorzata Wieliczko