Lars Onsager (1975) - “Once Upon a Time….” (Questions on the Origin of Life) (German Presentation)

Lars Onsager (1975)

“Once Upon a Time….” (Questions on the Origin of Life) (German Presentation)

Lars Onsager (1975)

“Once Upon a Time….” (Questions on the Origin of Life) (German Presentation)

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At the time of Lars Onsager’s second and last lecture in Lindau 1975, he had only a little more than a year to live. His topic concerned the chemical processes that gave rise to life on Earth. It may seem a bold hypothesis, but it is based on several similar cases, that there is an inversely reciprocal relationship between your interest in the origin of life and the time you have left to live. With Onsager, no one could seriously believe that in 1975 he would speak about the so called Onsager reciprocal relations, the fundamental theoretical work on irreversible thermodynamics he published as a young man around 1930 and which was cited for his Nobel Prize in Chemistry about 40 years later. Maybe someone expected to hear about his brilliant mathematical solution of the so-called 2-dimensional Ising model, a model for ferromagnetism in statistical mechanics. Or about the quantization of vortices in superfluid helium, or… For the truth is that the Norwegian-born Lars Onsager, in his heavily accented English or (as in the present lecture) German could have told many fascinating stories. According to the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation, a Nobel Prize in chemistry is given for a discovery or an improvement. It is also stated that we must wait 50 years for the Nobel Archive to become accessible for study. For those interested in the history of the Nobel Prizes and still alive in 2019, the opening of the documents from 1968 might contain interesting discussions on exactly what discovery or improvement Lars Onsager should be given the prize for!

Anders Bárány

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