Symposia within the Festival of European Culture in Karlsruhe (EKT) 2014


Prof Dr Wolfram H.-P. Thiemann

Poison Gas and Janus-Faced Science.
The Example of Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Fritz Haber in World War I

Curriculum Vitae

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Wolfram H.-P. Thiemann wurde 1938 in Oppeln, Schlesien geboren. Er studierte Chemie an der LMU München und der Wesleyan University Middletown/Conn, USA. Sein Diplom im Fachbereich Chemie erlangte er 1963 an der FU Berlin. 1966 promovierte er zum Dr. rer. nat. über ein kernchemisches Thema am HMI und TU Berlin.

1976 nahm er einen Ruf als Professor für Physikalische Chemie an der Universität Bremen an. Er hatte zahlreiche Forschungs- und Lehraufträge in den USA, Indien, VR China, Vietnam, Ägypten, Brasilien, Japan, Malaysien, Indonesien, Südkorea.

Seine Hauptforschungstätigkeiten lagen im Bereich Wasserqualität (Trink-, Brauch-, Oberflächen-, Schwimmbadwasser), Neue Wasseraufbearbeitungstechnologien mit physikalischen Methoden, Alternativen zur gesundheitsschädlich bedenklichen Chlorung, Entstehung von Leben auf der Erde und außerhalb derselben, Ursprung der Homochiralität, Suche nach Lebensspuren im Weltall (u. a. Co-Investigator in der ESA-Kometen-Mission ROSETTA/PHILAE u. a. Projekte für die Mars-Exploration).

Er erforschte die Exposition des Menschen durch Umweltschadstoffe, und hier auch der Wirkung von kriegswichtigen Giftstoffen auf betroffene Menschen.

Im Jahr 2003 erfolgte die Emeritierung, er ist aber weiterhin an der Universität wissenschaftlich tätig.

Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Wolfram H.-P. Thiemann ist Autor von über 300 wissenschaftlichen Beiträgen in Fachzeitschriften und 3 Büchern, Mitglied in verschiedenen wissenschaftlichen Gesellschaften, wie GDCh, (zeitweise mit Unterbrechung) Bunsengesellschaft, International Society for the Study of Origins of Life, Koordinator von mehrjährigen regen internationalen Universitätspartnerschaften wie mit der University Pune in Indien und University of Maryland, USA.




Poison Gas and Janus-Faced Science.
The Example of Nobel Laureate in Chemistry Fritz Haber in World War I

Today, in 2014, almost exactly 100 years after the outbreak of the First World War, an awful question in being raised again, unexpectedly and shockingly: the question of using deadly poison gas as a means of achieving military ends, both in the moral sense and as a technological instrument of warfare whose efficiency can be analysed.

Sadly, the German chemist and Nobel Prize winner Fritz Haber is considered the inventor of poison gas used on the front lines. I will here attempt to clarify, first, whether this sweeping assertion is actually true, and second—if the assertion is true—whether Fritz Haber could still today be considered as a serious “war criminal”, and third, whether humanity could ever manage to definitively end the use of poison gas as a weapon on this earth. It is quite reasonable to have doubts about this latter point; the case of Syria is showing us once again that despite major international successes with regard to outlawing the use of toxic substances in ceremoniously celebrated accords, the use of such heinous weapons cannot be prevented. And if we were to actually manage to one day destroy, once and for all, this special arsenal that is apparently still secretly being stored in some dark spaces, then surely even worse and more effective weapons would immediately be revealed—weapons that were made to destroy individuals or masses of people. And so it is that the full title of this event here is to be read as: “War: Still Going! From Poison Gas to Drones”.

What remains for us, the living, to do? “Remember for the sake of the future,” a maxim which involves examining the dark sides of scientific and technological progress more closely… Should one make potentially ever-more-effective lethal technologies public; or would it be better to keep them secret in order to prevent their misuse, so that they do not fall into the wrong hands? And what about the “case of Fritz Haber”? Does it still affect us today? I think it does: there is a famous “Fritz Haber Institute”, the flagship of the highly acclaimed and venerable Max Planck Society in Berlin. Isn’t it time to get rid of that name, given its horrible significance, and instead quite simply give the institute in Berlin-Dahlem the same name as all its sister institutes in Germany, namely the “Max Planck Institute for Physical Chemistry and…”? Or, instead of adorning the institute with the name of Fritz Haber, how about using the name of his wife Clara Immerwahr—a woman who was a superb scientist but was repressed by the male-dominant society of the time, and who chose suicide (which she committed with her husband’s service pistol) in protest of the research activities that her husband was conducting in the name of the German Wehrmacht?

My friend and colleague Dieter Wöhrle and I have launched a website calling for the renaming of the Fritz Haber Institute in Berlin: it can be found at