Press release

Helmut Schwarz celebrates 80th birthday

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation extends its congratulations to its honorary president.

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Helmut Schwarz anlässlich der Verleihung der Alexander von Humboldt-Professuren
Prof. Dr. Drs. h. c. Helmut Schwarz at the presentation of the Alexander von Humboldt Professorships on 12 May 2015
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On 6 August 2023, the renowned chemist, science manager and honorary president of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Helmut Schwarz, will celebrate his 80th birthday. One of the world’s leading researchers in the field of molecular chemistry, he was appointed president of the Foundation by Germany’s then foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, in 2008.

Helmut Schwarz decisively shaped the Humboldt Foundation over the course of his two terms of office as president”, said Enno Aufderheide, Secretary General of the Foundation. “We are grateful to have him an outstanding friend and supporter of the Foundation and we wish him a very happy birthday!” Important milestones during his 10-year tenure include the launch of the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship, an increase in the level of fellowship payments, and the establishment of the Philipp Schwartz Initiative to support threatened scientists. “His warm-heartedness, his enthusiasm and his passion for what he does are characteristic of him”, said Aufderheide. As a resolute advocate of academic freedom, Helmut Schwarz travelled the world tirelessly and with enormous dedication in his capacity as president of the Humboldt Foundation. He acted as an ambassador for cultural relations and education policy and was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2012 in recognition of his efforts to promote Germany as a location for conducting research. Time and again, he stressed the important role science plays as an element of international understanding. Scientific cooperation between Israel and Germany was particularly important to him.

“Of course, you’re pleased when you succeed. But that’s not really so important. What is more important is to understand something, to have discovered something that is really new”, Schwarz said when asked what success means to him in a “Selbstgespräche über das Leben” (Monologues about Life) interview conducted by the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 2021. “Life is change”, added Schwarz, who time and again discovered new things and even new roles for himself.

Born in Nickenich (Rhineland-Palatinate) in 1943, Helmut Schwarz first completed training as a laboratory chemist before obtaining university entrance qualification via Germany’s second-chance education pathway. He began studying chemistry at Technische Universität Berlin in 1966/67 and graduated in 1971. He gained his doctorate just one year later and earned qualification as a university lecturer (habilitation) in 1974. His first appointment as professor came in 1978 when he was appointed professor of theory and practice in mass spectrometry at Technische Universität Berlin. He has been a professor of organic chemistry there since 1983. Numerous research stays abroad led him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA; the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, Israel; the ETH Lausanne, Switzerland; and the Ecole Normale Supérieure Paris, France, to name a few. After 56 years of teaching, he retired in May 2022 and was paid tribute to at a formal farewell ceremony at the Technische Universität Berlin.

Among Helmut Schwarz’s many honours, he is a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, was a founding member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, where he served as vice-president from 1998 to 2003, and was vice-president of the DFG from 2001 to 2007. He remains active in research, works internationally to promote science policy, and continues to be associated with the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation as its honorary president and an active member of its Board of Governors.

(Press release: 20/2023)

Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time conducting research in Germany. The Foundation maintains an interdisciplinary network of well over 30,000 Humboldtians in more than 140 countries around the world – including 59 Nobel Prize winners.

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