Karl von Meyenn 1937–2022

7 August 2022
Karl Von Meyenn

Physicist and historian of science Karl von Meyenn passed away on 18 June 2022 in his hometown of Neuburg an der Donau. Karl was a CERN associate for many years, often to be found in Salle Pauli amongst the archive and library of Wolfgang Pauli, on whom he was one of the world’s leading experts. 

Karl was born in Potsdam in 1937 and began studying physics in Chile, where his parents emigrated. He completed his doctorate in 1971 with Siegfried Flügge in Freiburg im Breisgau, then returned with his wife to Chile and taught at the Pontificia Universidad Católica until the military coup of 1973. Back in Germany, he worked first as a senior assistant to Helmut Reik at the faculty of physics in Freiburg, before specialising in the history of science with Armin Hermann at the Historical Institute of the University of Stuttgart in 1975. From 1985 to 1990 he was a professor of history of science at the Universitat Autònoma in Barcelona, after which he joined Hans-Peter Dürr at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich. He also carried out research at the Institute of Theoretical Physics (with Frank Steiner) at the University of Ulm, and at CERN, where he devoted himself to Pauli’s scientific legacy.

Franca Pauli donated her husband’s scientific writings, library and other items to CERN during the 1960s and 1970s, and CERN took responsibility for safeguarding and making this valuable collection available. The Pauli Committee turned to Karl von Meyenn, who tracked down copies of other letters in public or private ownership, then collated this wealth of material into publishable form. Besides the monumental eight volumes of Pauli correspondence, Karl published a biographical anthology on the great physicists (Die großen Physiker) in 1997–1999, a two-volume selection of Erwin Schrödinger’s correspondence in 2011, and numerous essays, lectures and collaborative books on individual scientists and their interactions in developing new concepts in physics. In 2000 he was awarded the Marc-Auguste Pictet Medal of the Société de Physique et d’Histoire Naturelle de Genève for his work on the history of modern physics. Karl was a member of the Pauli Committee from 1994 and an honorary councillor at ETH Zurich since 2006. The library he leaves in Neuburg is a testimony to his great love of classical culture and broad cultural life. Combining great learning and rigorous scholarship with an engaging curiosity and enthusiasm, Karl was a stimulating and extremely likeable colleague. He will be sadly missed. 

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