In the last 130 years, 30 Swiss people have won a Nobel Prize, and one of them is Richard R. Ernst. He laid the foundation for magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which revolutionized medical diagnostics across the globe. In his autobiography, which the scientist completed shortly before he passed away at the age of 87, he talks about his life.
Prof. Ernst grew up in a family long-established in Winterthur, Switzerland, however his childhood and adolescence were overshadowed by a demanding father. He talks in detail about the start of his career in the 1960s, when he made a number of key discoveries at Varian Associates, Palo Alto, USA, as well as about his return to ETH Zürich, Switzerland, and the shark tank that university research is. The highly talented chemist reveals how his passion for Himalayan art began while travelling in Nepal, which ended in him building up one of the most significant collections of thangkas – the tantric Buddhist scrolls. In this book, Prof. Ernst discusses openly and directly about all aspects of his life, with humility and a wry sense of humor.
Table of Contents
1. Childhood and Youth, 1933–1952
2. Undergraduate Degree and Dissertation at ETH Zurich, 1952–1962
3. Silver Linings over the Pacific, 1963–1968
4. Return to ETH, 1968–1990
5. The Light at the End of the Tunnel: The Nobel Prize, 1991
6. Thangkas: The Other Dimension
8. Epilogue by Prof. Alexander Wokaun
Richard R. Ernst (14 August 1933 – 4 June 2021) was full Professor of Physical Chemistry since 1976. He directed a research group devoted to magnetic resonance spectroscopy, was director of the Laboratory of Physical Chemistry at the ETH Zürich and retired in 1998.
He was born as a citizen 1933 in Winterthur. He finished 1962 his studies at the ETH Zurich with a dissertation on nuclear magnetic resonance in the discipline of physical chemistry. 1963 he joined Varian Associates as a scientist and developed Fourier-transform NMR, noise decoupling, and several other techniques. 1968 he returned to ETH Zürich, became 1968 Lecturer, 1970 Assistant Professor, 1972 Associate Professor, 1976 Full Professor, and retired 1998. Since 1968, he was head of a research group concentrating on methodological developments in liquid state and solid state NMR. He developed two-dimensional NMR and many novel pulse techniques. He contributed to the development of medical magnetic resonance tomo-graphy, and in collaboration with Professor Kurt Wüthrich to the development of the NMR structure determination of biopolymers in solution. Lately, he was involved in the study of intramolecular dynamics.
In addition he was engaged in numerous activities. He was president of the Reseach Council of ETH Zürich and he is presently, among other duties, a member of the Swiss Science Council, of the COST Committee, of the Foundation Marcel Benoist, of the Hochschulrat of the Technische Universität Munich, and Vicepresident of the Board of Bruker AG, Fällanden. He is on the editorial board of 10 scientific journals.
He received numerous honours, including the Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1991), the Wolf Prize for Chemistry (1991), the Horwitz Prize (1991), and the Marcel Benoist Prize (1986). He received honorary doctors degrees of ETH Lausanne, Technische Universität Munich, Universität Zurich, University Antwerpen, Babes-Bolyai University, Cluj-Napoca, and University Montpellier. He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences, of the Royal Academy of Sciences, London, of the Deutsche Akademie Leopoldina, of the Russian Academy of Sciences, of the Korean Academy of Science and Technology, and honorary member of many further societies.
Matthias Meili, born 1966, is a freelance journalist and author since 2018. He completed his undergraduate and master’s studies in biochemistry from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH Zürich). He was a science editor at major Swiss newspapers, such as Weltwoche, NZZ am Sonntag and Tages-Anzeiger, from 1998 to 2018. His work focuses on scientific research and the history of science. After Prof. Ernst told him about his fascinating life in long conversations, the decision for a fruitful collaboration for this book was quickly made.