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Milestones from the Foundation to the Present

  • 10/15/1958: Foundation of the independent Division for Biophysics at the Physiological Institute of the KMU Leipzig; appointment of the physicist Walter Beier as Professor and Chair of this Division at the Medical Faculty, later transformation into an independent Division for Biophysics which is directly subordinate to the Medical Faculty.
  • 01/01/1961: Foundation of the Institute for Biophysics within the Medical Faculty of the KMU Leipzig as the successor institute of the existing independent Division for Biophysics, with Dr. Walter Beier as Director.
  • 09/01/1969: Appointment of Walter Beier as Professor ordinarius for Biophysics at the Medical Faculty of the KMU Leipzig.
  • 03/01/1983: Retirement of Walter Beier for health reasons.
  • 09/01/1984: Appointment of the biophysicist Klaus Arnold as Professor ordinarius for Biophysics at the Medical Faculty of the KMU Leipzig. As a result, the Institute focussed mainly on “Membrane and Cell Biophysics” and major spectroscopic procedures (ESR, NMR and Fluorescence) were established.
  • 08/06/1993: The Institute for Biophysics was renamed “Institute for Medical Physics and Biophysics”.
  • Since 1993 the Institute for Medical Physics and Biophysics additionally carries out the undergraduate physics courses of the study courses Pharmaceutics, Bioinformatics and Medical Informatics, which were newly established after Germany’s reunification.
  • December 2004: The Institute moves from Liebigstraße to the restaurated Institute Building in Härtelstraße 16-18. This results in a major improvement of the conditions for research and academics.
  • 10/01/2008: Appointment of the physicist Daniel Huster as University Professor for Medical Biophysics and his appointment as Director of the Institute for Medical Physics and Biophysics.

Medical Physics and Biophysics at Leipzig University

As M. v. Frey stated in his comments on E.H. Weber’s “Wellenlehre” (Wave Science) as early as in 1981, “the middle of the 19th Century was extraordinarily fertile in its attempts at subjecting the performances of animal organisms to physical considerations and experimental tests”. Some of his contemporaries, such as v. Helmholtz and DuBois-Reymond considered themselves as “organic physicists”, a term which, unlike “organic chemistry”, has not survived into the present as such but has found its continuation in the subjects physiology, biochemistry, biophysics and medical physics. Being the root of the above subjects in their present forms, this novel direction of thinking and research became the counterpole of vitalism which postulated outstanding mystical forces as responsible for life procedures, which did not exist in the inorganic world.

With scientists like Ernst Heinrich Weber, Gustav Theodor Fechner, Carl Friedrich Ludwig, Wilhelm Pfeffer and Wilhelm Maximilian Wundt the University of Leipzig exerted a radiating force which extended far beyond the borders of the German Reich from the middle of the 19th century until well into the 20th century. Their work was highly interdisciplinary. They nursed close scientific and amicable contacts with colleagues from other disciplines. For example, anatomist and physiologist Ernst Heinrich Weber worked closely together with his brother, the physicist Wilhelm Weber, the successor of Gustav Theodor Fechner on the chair in physics. For example, after a respective inquiry by the biologist Rhumbler from Göttingen, the physicist Th. des Coudres developed a theory on the inclusion of small foreign bodies in fluid drops as a basis for explaining phagocytosis.

After Wilhelm Wundt and Adolph Fick it was in particular Otto Fischer in Leipzig who made the field of “Medical Physics” known, not only by issuing a textbook, but also by numerous scientific publications on the biomechanics of the human musculoskeletal system and joints. He always conducted his research in close cooperation with his medical partner and sponsor, the Leipzig anatomist Wilhelm Braune, and after Braune’s death with the physiologist Carl Ludwig. With his work, Otto Fischer laid the foundation on which the Leipzig Institute for Biophysics, today’s Institute for Medical Physics and Biophysics was established some 50 years later. Its founder was Walter Beier, who was supported by the renowned physiologist Erich Bauereisen. Therefore, the Leipzig Institute for Medical Physics and Biophysics directly continues the tradition of Ernst Heinrich Weber and the organic physicists.

While at the time the Leipzig Institute for Biophysics was founded the term Biophysics was basically referred to as determining the effect of ionising radiation on live systems, the Institute had explicitly committed itself to developing henceforth neglected fields of biophysics, continuing Otto Fischer’s tradition. These include for example examinations on the electrical properties of cells and tissue, the modelling of neural processes in the brain, work on the biomechanics of the blood stream and the skeletal system as well as on characteristics of ageing processes in the human organism. Walter Beier’s textbook “Biophysics”, which was issued in several editions, had a lasting influence on the development of biophysics, especially in our neighboring countries to the east.

In the tradition of Otto Fischer and his textbook “Medical Physics”, which has to be referred to as a classic, the education of medical students in physics was raised to a new level by replacing a low quality physics program in a minor subject with a focussed, application oriented education in Medical Physics and Biophysics. Unfortunately, this concept is no longer supported by the presently valid Medical Licensure Act for medical students. However, in the draft for the new Medical Licensure Act on the integration of the subjects physics, physiology and pathophysiology into a superordinate medical group of subjects, this concept has been explicitly confirmed once again. A newer outline of the education of medical students in physics was initialised by the textbook “Die Physik und ihre Anwendung in Medizin und Biologie” (Physics and its Application in Medicine and Biology) by W. Beier and E. Dörner, which was highly appreciated among medical students.

Professor Beier’s successor as Institute Director was Dr. Klaus Arnold. Under his leadership the institute extended its research work into new areas. The majority of research then focussed on interactions in biological systems on the molecular and cellular levels, diverse examinations of the properties of biomembranes and the application of modern methods of spectroscopy and various NMR techniques, including MRT and MRS in medicine. The high importance of cell membranes for the functioning of cells had already been recognized by Wilhelm Pfeffer, so that classic Leipzig traditions were carried on in this field, too. By the interdisciplinary examination object of cartilage/connective tissue it was possible to include the research of the Institute for Medical Physics and Biophysics into the clinical tasks of the Medical Department. With research projects in the Interdisciplinary Center for Clinical Research, Leipzig, Jena, the graduate college, and the innovation college the Institute of Medical Physics and Biophysics has contributed considerably to determining the research directions of the Universität Leipzig in natural sciences and medicine. A considerable number of publications in renowned journals and multiple dissertations are proof of the fertility of the underlying research concept.

Since October 2008 Prof. Dr. Daniel Huster has been Director of the Institute for Medical Physics and Biophysics.

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