14. July 2022

University and Nobel Laureates Celebrate Rudolph Clausius as Visionary University and Nobel Laureates Celebrate Rudolph Clausius as Visionary

Ceremony in honor of the 200th birthday of Bonn’s physics pioneer

Roughly 400 guests took part today in a ceremony at the University of Bonn celebrating Bonn physicist Rudolph Clausius. A range of speakers from research and politics hailed the man’s scientific breakthroughs, including his formulation of the second law of thermodynamics, the coining of the term ‘entropy,’ and his prescience in what we today call ‘sustainability.’ To commemorate the occasion, the Institute for Physical and Theoretical Chemistry has renamed itself the Clausius Institute. The highlight of the evening: speeches by Nobel Prize winners Professor Jean-Marie Lehn (Chemistry, 1987) and Professor Steven Chu (Physics, 1997).

Renaming ceremony
Renaming ceremony - The sign of the new "Clausius institute" was unveiled. From left: Rector Michael Hoch, Dean Walter Witke und Peter Vöhringer. © Photo: Barbara Frommann/Uni Bonn
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“Visionary and innovator Rudolph Clausius is among the most important minds in the history of the University and science in general,” declared Prof. Michael Hoch, Rector of the University of Bonn, to open the ceremony. “His discoveries in the field of thermodynamics and entropy remain foundational for physics, chemistry, and many other fields, even today. His insights into the limited stores of energy in nature and his admonition to sustainability clearly foresaw, 150 years ago, the drama in which we currently stand. His research, which explored the confluences of physics, chemistry, and mathematics, gave rise to incredible synergies. Clausius’ understanding of the importance of interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary investigation is our obligation today, more than ever before, as a University of Excellence.”

Katja Dörner, Lord Mayor of Bonn, saluted the importance of Clausius for the city: “He was a pioneer of modern climate research and a prophet in the field of sustainability, warning already in the 19th century that we needed to treat our natural resources with care, especially fossil fuels. As such, Bonn, the City of Sustainability, is the perfect place to honor Clausius. As a region of cutting-edge research that is already well-regarded internationally, Bonn has produced or nurtured many famous research personalities. Many of them are closely tied to the University. We Bonners are proud of our University. For good reason, because as a University of Excellence it is considered one of the finest research institutions in Europe.”

"In the beginning, there was physics"

Prof. Steven Chu, a Nobel Prize winner in Physics (1997), paid tribute to the work of Clausius is his speech: “The laws of thermodynamics are immutable. What distinguishes entropy from other fundamental quantities is that there is no direct measure for it. Yet these laws are at work everywhere in nature,” as Chu demonstrated using the example of motor proteins, which act as molecular machines in living cells. In addition, with regard to the finite resources of our planet, he showed how relevant Clausius’ insights still are to this day.

Prof. Jean-Marie Lehn, the 1987 Nobel laureate in Chemistry, took the audience on a journey through the evolution of the universe: “In the beginning, there was physics, only later came chemistry. Chemical research keeps advancing, creating ever more complex compounds. The driving force behind this ‘chemical evolution’ is self-organization, which in turn is driven by thermodynamics.”

Rudolph Clausius finally gets the visibility he deserves

“We’re renaming our institute to ensure that Rudolph Clausius finally gets the visibility he deserves at the University,” praised Prof. Peter Vöhringer, spokesperson for the Transdisciplinary Research Area ‘Matter’ and director of the Clausius Institute. “In recent decades Clausius has increasingly faded from memory, even as his research remains not only still valid, but tremendously relevant in many fields. Which is why I’m so pleased that this anniversary year and these festivities are finally bringing him back into people’s minds.”

Prof. Dieter Meschede of the Institute for Applied Physics, also emphasized the value of revisiting Rudolph Clausius and his importance to Bonn: “Clausius was a man working at the level of a Helmholtz or a Kekulé – only less well known. We saw it as our duty to shine a public spotlight on this brilliant mind. The speed with which Jean-Marie Lehn and Steven Chu agreed to take part only emphasizes that he is tremendously respected among experts in the field, and that we at the University of Bonn can and should be proud of this great physicist.”

The University of Bonn’s anniversary year commemorating the 200th birthday of Rudolph Clausius featured an extensive series of lectures, culminating with the renaming of the institute and the festive ceremony. More information about the anniversary year can be found on this TRA Matter web page: https://www.uni-bonn.de/clausius

Panel discussion
Panel discussion - Nobel laureates Jean-Marie Lehn (left) and Steven Chu discuss the significance of Rudolph Clausius' discoveries. © Photo: Barbara Frommann/Uni Bonn
Keynote speech I
Keynote speech I - Nobel laureate Jean-Marie Lehn talks about the evolution of chemistry. © Photo: Barbara Frommann/Uni Bonn
Keynote speech II
Keynote speech II - Nobel laureate Steven Chu paid tribute to Clausius as a visionary. © Photo: Barbara Frommann/Uni Bonn
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