The highest German award for theoretical physics goes to the “father” of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics

Jürgen Ehlers receives the Max Planck Medal of the German Physical Society (DPG)

December 17, 2001
Prof. Dr. Jürgen Ehlers

Prof. Jürgen Ehlers, Emeritus, of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) in Potsdam-Golm, Germany, was awarded the Max Planck Medal of the German Physical Society for his “significant contributions to Einsteinian gravitational theory - especially through the discovery of precise solutions - and to gravitational lensing and gravitational waves.” Ehlers is one of the most influential theorists of gravitational physics in Europe.

With the Max Planck Medal, the DPG honours outstanding achievements in theoretical physics annually, in particular those contributions that build on the work of Max Planck. The prize has been awarded since 1929. The prize-winners are, among others: Max Planck and Albert Einstein, Nils Bohr, Werner Heisenberg, Ehler’s doctoral advisor Pascual Jordan, Julius Wess and Bruno Zumino. The award ceremony will take place on 20 March 2002 at the main conference of the German Physical Society in Leipzig. The prize consists of a handwritten document on parchment, with an award text and laudation, as well as a golden medal bearing the portrait of Max Planck.

Jürgen Ehlers and his scientific work

Jürgen Ehlers has primarily dealt with questions of general relativity and cosmology. In his doctoral thesis, he already provided, among other things, one of the first contributions to what later became the theory of black holes. He defined the "point of no return,” the distance from the centre of a black hole that is now called the "event horizon,” where gravity becomes so strong that even light cannot escape and as a result no information is available about what is happening inside the black hole.

In his post-doctoral thesis and later work, Ehlers devoted himself to the description of matter within the framework of the general theory of relativity and the applications of models developed in this way to cosmology. Jürgen Ehlers also worked on the theory of gravitational waves. These "ripples of space-time" should be created through the accelerated movements of massive objects, such as the collision of black holes. With great interest, he is, of course, pursuing the preparations for the direct measurement of gravitational waves through the GEO600 project at the Sub-Institute of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hanover.

Curriculum vitae

Jürgen Ehlers studied physics, mathematics and philosophy in Hamburg. He obtained his doctorate in 1958 and earned his qualifications for a full university professorship under the guidance of Pascual Jordan at the University of Hamburg, in 1961.

After teaching and research in Kiel, Syracuse (USA) and Hamburg, he worked in the USA from 1964 to 1971, starting in 1967 as a Professor of Physics in Austin, Texas. He maintained contact with German colleagues as a visiting professor in Würzburg and Bonn.

In 1971 Jürgen Ehlers accepted a call to the Max Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics in Munich, where he led the division "Gravitation Theory" as a Scientific Member.

Ehlers gave a decisive impetus to the reorganization of the scientific landscape of the former GDR. At his suggestion, the Max Planck Society decided in 1994 to found an independent Institute for researching gravity. In 1995 Jürgen Ehlers became the first Director of the newly founded Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute) in Potsdam, the world's only research facility that unites all areas of research into relativity theory under one roof.

At the end of 1998 he retired, but still works extensively on questions of gravitational lensing and related questions of cosmology. In addition, he also devotes himself to the history of science.

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