Mourning for Reimar Lüst

The Max Planck Institute for Meteorology has lost a great friend.

Reimar Lüst, brilliant astrophysicist, scientific statesman, former president of the Max Planck Society, and long-term visitor to our institute, died on 31 March 2020, at the age of 97.

Reimar Lüst as president of the Max Planck Society played a decisive role when the Max Planck Institute for Meteorology (MPI-M) was founded in 1974. He thus recognized the importance of climate research long before anthropogenic climate change became a pressing societal issue.  Reimar Lüst retired with his wife in Hamburg where he maintained his office within the MPI-M. Even well into his 97th year, he maintained an active presence at the institute, generously sharing his time as both advisor and advocate. We did not approach him often, but when we did, the matter was crucial, and his advice was unfailingly effective.

Reimar Lüst was born on 25 March, 1923 and can reflect back at a singular career in science. He studied physics and received his PhD in 1951 under Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Göttingen. After several research periods and teaching assignments at different renowned universities in the USA and three years as a scientific member at the then Max Planck Institute for Physics and Astrophysics, Reimar Lüst became the founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching near Munich in 1963, which he led until 1972. In Garching he laid the foundation for German space research and exploration. Using French rockets, barium containers were carried to high altitudes to create artificial comet tails. This work demonstrated that ionized particles in natural comet tails were oriented by the solar wind. During this time he was also instrumental in setting up the European space agency ESRO. He was ESRO’s Director of Science (1962 - 1964) and Vice President (1968 - 1970). From 1965 to 1972, Reimar Lüst also was a member of the German Council of Science and Humanities (Wissenschaftsrat), becoming its head in 1969.

In 1972 Reimar Lüst became the President of the Max Planck Society and served for two terms, twelve years in total. In the following six years he was the Director General of the European Space Agency (ESA), followed by his appointment as President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation from 1989 to 1999.

Reimar Lüst played an instrumental role in the founding of the Jacobs University Bremen. He became a member of the planning committee of the former “International University Bremen” in 1998 and chaired the Board of Governors of this newly launched university from February 1999 to December 2004.

Reimar Lüst received many awards for his achievements, among them the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany and the title of Officer of the French Legion of Honour.

Reimar Lüst spent his lifetime championing the ideas of scientific research, advancing scientific institutions, and expanding the frontiers of human knowledge. It is with the greatest respect and gratitude that we bid farewell to Reimar Lüst.

Obituary on the home page of the Max Planck Society:

Book recommendation:

„Der Wissenschaftsmacher - Reimar Lüst im Gespräch mit Paul Nolte“, Verlag C.H. Beck. A panel discussion of Reimar Lüst and Paul Nolte was recorded on 08.04.2008 at MPI-M. The DVD is available at MPI-M (in German).


Dr Annette Kirk
Max Planck Institute for Meteorology