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Science and technology in Germany

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Science and technology in Germany

Max Planck presenting Albert Einstein with the Max-Planck medal in 1929

Germany's achievements in science and technology have been significant and research and development efforts form an integral part of the country's economy. Germany has been the home of some of the most prominent researchers in various scientific disciplines, notably physics, mathematics, chemistry and engineering.[1] For most of the 20th century, Germany had more Nobel Prizes in the sciences (physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine) than any other nation.[2][3]

Scientific research in the country is supported by industry, by the network of German universities and by scientific state-institutions such as the Max Planck Society and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. The raw output of scientific research from Germany consistently ranks among the world's best.[4]


  • Historical overview 1
  • Institutions 2
    • Foundations 2.1
    • National science libraries 2.2
    • Research organizations 2.3
  • Scientific fields 3
    • Physics 3.1
    • Chemistry 3.2
    • Engineering 3.3
    • Biological and earth sciences 3.4
    • Psychology 3.5
    • Humanities 3.6
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6

Historical overview

February, 1960. Return of German scientists from the Soviet Union. (See also Forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union).

Although the modern German state was only founded in 1867, the tradition of scientific research in the country is much older and can be traced back to the scientific revolution. Germany is home to some of the world's oldest universities (Leipzig, Heidelberg, Freiburg, Tübingen) although they were, at the time of their foundation, more centered on philosophy, theology and law than on science.

Germany and its scientific literature from the early 19th century through the beginning of World War II were very important for the development of science throughout the world.



National science libraries

Research organizations

Scientific fields


Albert Einstein

The work of Albert Einstein and Max Planck was crucial to the foundation of modern physics, which Werner Heisenberg and Erwin Schrödinger developed further.[5] They were preceded by such key physicists as Hermann von Helmholtz, Joseph von Fraunhofer, and Gabriel Daniel Fahrenheit, among others. Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen discovered X-rays, an accomplishment that made him the first winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1901[6] and eventually earned him an element name, roentgenium. Heinrich Rudolf Hertz's work in the domain of electromagnetic radiation were pivotal to the development of modern telecommunication.[7] Mathematical aerodynamics was developed in Germany, especially by Ludwig Prandtl.

Paul Forman in 1971 argued the remarkable scientific achievements in quantum physics were the cross-product of the hostile intellectual atmosphere whereby many scientists rejected Weimar Germany and Jewish scientists, revolts against causality, determinism and materialism, and the creation of the revolutionary new theory of quantum mechanics. The scientists adjusted to the intellectual environment by dropping Newtonian causality from quantum mechanics, thereby opening up an entirely new and highly successful approach to physics. The "Forman Thesis" has generated an intense debate among historians of science.[8][9]


Otto Hahn

At the start of the 20th century, Germany garnered fourteen of the first thirty-one Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, starting with Hermann Emil Fischer in 1901 and until Carl Bosch and Friedrich Bergius in 1931.[6]

Otto Hahn is considered a pioneer of radioactivity and radiochemistry and discovered nuclear fission, the scientific and technological basis of atomic energy.


Germany has been the home of many famous inventors and engineers, such as Johannes Gutenberg, who is credited with the invention of movable type printing in Europe; Hans Geiger, the creator of the Geiger counter; and Konrad Zuse, who built the first electronic computer.[10] German inventors, engineers and industrialists such as Zeppelin, Daimler, Diesel, Otto, Wankel, Von Braun and Benz helped shape modern automotive and air transportation technology including the beginnings of space travel.[11][12]

Biological and earth sciences

Ferdinand Cohn and Robert Koch, two key figures in microbiology, were from Germany. Alexander von Humboldt's (1769–1859) work as a natural scientist and explorer was foundational to biogeography.[13] Wladimir Köppen (1846–1940) was an eclectic Russian-born botanist and climatologist who synthesized global relationships between climate, vegetation and soil types into a classification system that is used, with some modifications, to this day.[14] Alfred Wegener (1880–1930), a similarly interdisciplinary scientist, was one of the first people to hypothesize the theory of continental drift which was later developed into the overarching geological theory of plate tectonics.


Wilhelm Wundt is credited with the establishment of psychology as an independent empirical science through his construction of the first laboratory at the University of Leipzig in 1879.[15] Sigmund Freud, who was the inventor of dream interpretation.


Besides natural sciences, German researchers have added much to the development of humanities. Contemporary examples are the philosopher Jürgen Habermas, the egyptologist Jan Assmann, the sociologist Niklas Luhmann, the historian Reinhart Koselleck and the legal historian Michael Stolleis. In order to promote the international visibility of research in these fields a new prize, Geisteswissenschaften International, has been established in 2008. It serves the translation of studies in humanities into English.[1]

See also


  1. ^ Back to the Future: Germany - A Country of Research German Academic Exchange Service (2005-02-23). Retrieved 2006-12-08
  2. ^ National Science Nobel Prize shares 1901-2009 by citizenship at the time of the award and by country of birth. From J. Schmidhuber (2010), Evolution of National Nobel Prize Shares in the 20th Century at arXiv:1009.2634v1
  3. ^ Swedish academy awards. ScienceNews web edition, Friday, October 1st, 2010:
  4. ^ Top 20 Country Rankings in All Fields, 2006, Thomson Corporation, retrieved 4 January 2007.
  5. ^ Roberts, J. M. The New Penguin History of the World, Penguin History, 2002. Pg. 1014. ISBN 0-14-100723-0
  6. ^ a b The Alfred B. Nobel Prize Winners, 1901-2003 History Channel from The World Almanac and Book of Facts 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-02
  7. ^ Historical figures in telecommunications. International Telecommunication Union. Jan. 14, 2004. Retrieved 2007-01-02
  8. ^ Paul Forman, "Weimar Culture, Causality, and Quantum Theory, 1918-1927: Adaptation by German Physicists and Mathematicians to a Hostile Intellectual Environment," Historical Studies in the Physical Sciences 3 (1971): 1-116
  9. ^ Helge Kragh, Quantum generations: a history of physics in the twentieth century (2002) ch 10
  10. ^ Horst, Zuse. The Life and Work of Konrad Zuse Everyday Practical Electronics (EPE) Online. Retrieved 2007-01-02
  11. ^ Automobile. Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-02
  12. ^ The Zeppelin U.S. Centennial of Flight Commission. Retrieved 2007-01-02
  13. ^ The Natural History Legacy of Alexander von Humboldt (1769 to 1859) Humboldt Field Research Institute and Eagle Hill Foundation. Retrieved 2007-01-02
  14. ^ * Allaby, Michael (2002). Encyclopedia of Weather and Climate. New York: Facts On File, Inc. ISBN 0-8160-4071-0.
  15. ^ Kim, Alan. Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Jun. 16, 2006. Retrieved 2007-01-02


  • Competing Modernities: Science and Education, Kathryn Olesko and Christoph Strupp. (A comparative analysis of the history of science and education in Germany and the United States.
  • English section of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research's website
  • Website of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
  • Germany's science and research landscape
  • Articles and dossiers about Research and Technology in Germany, Goethe-Institut
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