Life Dies in Absence of Love

The surprise

In 2015, the Max-Planck-Institut für Kohlenforschung, one of the world’s best-regarded institutes for catalytic chemistry research, asked me to write and produce a film telling its story. In that year, the institute became 100 years old, a good reason for a promotional film.

While working on the topic, I learned some things about science. First, there’s always a patron of some sort who defines that particular research field; in that case, that is Karl Ziegler. He invented polyethene as we know it (plastic bags, for instance). In 1963, together with Giulio Natta, who worked in the same field, he was awarded the Nobel prize.

There is nothing remotely as important and rewarding as the Nobel prize in science. That was the reason why I interviewed the genial Nobel laureate Gerhard Ertl on the institute’s merits.

With Ben List, one of the institute’s directors, I talked about what drives a scientist. He was adamant that curiosity is the primary driving force. In that chat, he mentioned that he made some exciting discoveries on catalysis at the beginning of his career. But he was also absolutely sure that his findings weren’t Nobel price worthy at all. But I could see some glimmer in his eyes and the smile of a naughty boy.

On 6 October 2021, Ben List received the infamous “Stockholm calling”. He was making history as one of the youngest Nobel laureates and, quoting the commission, the happiest laureate ever.