Conference Series

European Molecular Biology Organization






6 - 13 September | 2009 | Primošten | Croatia



This conference is dedicated to Prof. Erich Sackmann on

the occasion of his 75th birthday.

Prof. Sackmann is an experimental physicist who dedicated a lifetime of research towards probing  living cells and their components with the tools of physics, long before biophysics was the mode of the day. Considered by many as one of the fathers of biophysics in Europe, he pioneered, along with others,  the idea of a “bottom-up” approach towards understanding the cell – starting from relatively simple systems like lipid bilayers, giant vesicles and actin in solution and going towards more and more complex systems to reach eventually an understanding at the level of the entire cell. His work is indeed trans-disciplinary across physics, chemistry and biology. The choice of topics for this conference was partially inspired by the research interests – past and present of Prof. Sackmann.


Prof. Sackmann is not only a great scientist but also a passionate teacher. Throughout his career he taught at the university and continues to teach world-wide. His vision of biophysics has inspired many students and colleagues. For those of us who passed through E22, he remains, above all, a beloved advisor communicating his broad vision and enthusiasm for science.


“We will celebrate his 75th with a big party. So bring party clothes!!!”

“Calling all ex-E22 – you are specially welcome to the party even if your interests moved beyond biophysics ..."


A brief biography:

Prof. E. Sackmann was born on 26th November 1934 in Baiersbronn, Germany and studied in the University of Stuttgart where he obtained his PhD in physics in 1964 under the supervision of Prof. Theodore Förster. After a postdoctoral stay in Bell Telephone Laboratories in USA and in Max-Planck-Institut für Biophysikalische Chemie in Göttingen, in 1974 he became a  Professor in  Universität Ulm. In 1980 he shifted to the Technical University of Munich as the head of the Biophysics chair – E22, where he is now a professor emeritus. More than 200 publications and several books testify to his contributions to soft-matter physics and biophysics.


For about ten years in Göttingen, along with his then young colleague Helmuth Möhwald, he worked  on the physics of thermotropic liquid crystals and the photophysics of the organic solid state, in particular exciton transport in charge transfer single crystals. In 1972 Prof. Sackmann started to work on phase transition in natural membranes. This work, conducted together with his friend Hermann Träuble who tragically passed away at an young age, marked the beginning to Prof,. Sackmann's long and distinguished career in biophysics.


Afterwards he focused mainly on lyotropic liquid crystals and lipid mono and bilayers. His seminal early contributions include papers with Ringsdorf, Träuble, Gruler and Galla. Later, along with his students and co-workers, he laid the foundations of our current understanding of membrane adhesion.

Collaborations with theoreticians like Lipowsky, Seifert and R. Bruinsma as well as biologists like Gunther Gerish have led to seminal works on adhesion of cell mimetic giant vesicles and cells. Experimental and theoretical work of Sackmann, Evans and Merkel have extended our understanding of diffusion in a bilayer. Another of his interests is the mechanical properties of cell cytoskeleton. To study cytoskeletal viscoelastic properties his team developed magnetic tweezers capable of exerting very small forces. He has contributed to our understanding of actin cytoskeleton from single filaments, to actin networks as well as in intact cells.

Along with Reinhard Lipowsky, he has edited the Structure and Dynamics of Membranes. Currently he is engaged in writing, together with his former student and long time colleague, Rudolf Merkel, a text book on biophysics. In recognition of his research work, he was awarded the Stern-Gerlach-Medal in 2006 by the  Deutsche Physikalische Gesellschaft (DPG, German Physical Society).


Prof. Sackmann believes strongly that quantitative measurements are at the heart of science – in his lab instruments like film-balances, light scattering spectrometers, or optical microscopes were always being built or modified. However, he has never defined himself via a technique but was always motivated by specific scientific questions.

Throughout his career, Prof. Sackmann has worked towards communicating to a wide audience his conviction that an interdisciplinary approach to biology is necessary and essential. Together with his colleagues from the Physics, the Chemistry, the Biology Departments and the Max-Planch-Institute for Biochemistry, Prof. Sackmann founded a German research council programme SFB 246, which was probably the first such interdisciplinary center in the world, focussing on biofunctional surfaces - what is today called nano-biophysics. When this programm ended after running for 12 years, 30 professors of biophysics had emerged from its midst. Another of his achievements – which again concerns the spreading of biophysics, is the foundation of the Biophysics-Section of the German Physical Society.


Prof. Sackmann remains, above all, an impressively successful teacher. He always considered teaching to be as much a part of his calling as research. Although his lectures sometimes appear chaotic he invariably communicates his fascination of research and the possibilities of combining physics and biology to his students. The biophysics lecture in Munich was taught to a mixed class of biologists and physicists - and it always truly worked out. Not only his students but also the legion of PhD students and post-docs as well as the numerous visitors who passed through his lab benefited from his infectious enthusiasm.  He continues to give lectures around the world and inspire us with his clear vision of where biophysics is going and where it ought to go.














Best of E. Sackmann

Click HERE for the 100 most cited articles of E. Sackmann (Thank you Rudi for the list)





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