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Eigen's research helped solve major problems in physical chemistry and aided in the understanding of chemical processes that occur in living organisms.
In later years, he explored the biochemical roots of life and evolution. He worked to install a multidisciplinary program at the Max Planck Institute to study the underpinnings of life at the molecular level. His work was hailed for creating a new scientific and technological discipline: evolutionary biotechnology.
Education and early life
Eigen was born on 9 May 1927 in Bochum, the son of Hedwig (Feld) and Ernst Eigen, a chamber musician. As a child he developed a deep passion for music, and studied piano.
World War II interrupted his formal education. At age fifteen he was drafted into service in a German antiaircraft unit. He was captured by the Soviets toward the end of the war. He managed to escape (he said later that escape was relatively easy), and walked hundreds of miles across defeated Germany, arriving in Göttingen in 1945. He lacked the necessary documentation for acceptance to university, but was admitted after he demonstrated his knowledge in an exam. He entered the university's first postwar class.
Eigen desired to study Physics, but since returning soldiers who were previously enrolled received priority, he enrolled in Geophysics. He earned an undergraduate degree and entered graduate study in natural sciences. One of his advisors was Werner Heisenberg, the noted proponent of the uncertainty principle. He received his doctorate in 1951.
Career and research
Eigen received his Ph.D. at the University of Göttingen in 1951 under supervision of Arnold Eucken. In 1964 he presented the results of his research at a meeting of the Faraday Society in London. His findings demonstrated for the first time that it was possible to determine the rates of chemical reactions that occurred during time intervals as brief as a nanosecond.
Manfred Eigen, "Molekulare Selbstorganisation und Evolution." (Self organization of matter and the evolution of biological macro molecules.) Naturwissenschaften58 (10). 1971 pp. 465-523. In English. Influential theoretical paper on origin-of-life biochemistry.