FHI Centenary Group
Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft
Centennial Project
FHI Centenary Group
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Ernst Ruska, Electron Microscopy, and the Fritz Haber Institute

Speaker: Dr. Falk Müller (Johann-Wolfgang-Goethe-Universität, Historisches Seminar Wissenschaftsgeschichte)

The first electron microscopes were constructed in the early 1930s in Germany. Their further development was soon dominated by two major German electro-technological companies, Siemens & Halske and AEG (since 1941 in collaboration with Carl Zeiss). Siemens turned out to be more successful in pooling important patents and in attracting highly skilled engineers and scientists such as the electrical engineer and later Nobel prize winner Ernst Ruska. Since 1937 Ruska and his brother-in-law, Bodo on Borries (later accompanied by Ernst Ruska’s brother Helmut), managed to deveop an effective infrastructure—research, development, marketing, training of new users—which helped to establish electron microscopy as a new research technology. Until 1945, about 40 instruments were delivered to research institutions in Germany, Austria, Italy, and Sweden. One of these, the so called Super Mikroscop, was installed at the turn of the 1940s at the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institute for Physical Chemistry and Electrochemistry by its director Peter Adolf Thiessen. As head of the division of inorganic chemistry at the Reich’s Research Council, Thiessen was one of the main supporters of electron microscopy during the national socialist regime. In 1945, most of the research and production facilities and many of the electron microscopes were destroyed or moved to Russia, Britain, or the USA. In the late 1940s and early 1950s, researchers at Siemens, AEG and Carl Zeiss resumed their activities. Ruska continued his work at Siemens with the construction of the very successful Elmiskop I. Afterwards he sought new challenges; in 1953 he became director of the department of Electron Microscopy at the Fritz-Haber-Institute. In this talk, the primary focus will be on Ernst Ruska’s contributions to the history of electron microscopy from his early appointment at Siemens to his retirement at the Fritz-Haber-Institute in 1974. Ruska’s life’s work offers revealing perspectives on key aspects of the development of electron microscopy, and it sheds light on the history of the Fritz-Haber-Institute as well.

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