Manfred von Ardenne (1907-1997)

The life’s work of Manfred von Ardenne reflects the personality of a highly gifted, visionary and tenacious researcher and inventor. Born in the German Empire, he grew up during the Weimar Republic, was a scientist under three dictatorships, lived through a century of complete economic and political revolution, and yet was able to establish himself as a successful businessman again and again.

By the end, he held about 600 patents in radio and television technology, electron microscopy, nuclear plasma and medical technologies and was the author of countless books and publications - without holding a degree or even a school leaving certificate! His clear sightedness and hard work was to thank for his progress from school dropout to famous scientist.

Manfred von Ardenne’s spirit lives on today. On this page you can find out more about the life and work of this great inventor.


1907

Birth and Family Background

Left: Manfred von Ardenne in 1908 | Right: Adela von Ardenne with her children Manfred and Magdalena, Hamburg 1912.

1907

Manfred von Ardenne was born in Hamburg on 20 January 1907, the first child of a family of Prussian officers. His father, Egmont Baron von Ardenne, was appointed to the Ministry of War in Berlin in 1913, and the family moved into a rented apartment in Berlin Hasenheide.

His mother Adela, née Mutzenbecher, devoted all her attention to the family and the children. Manfred von Ardenne had four siblings: Magdalena (1909-1985), Ekkehard (1914-1940), Gothilo (1917-1939) and Renata (1924-1999).

The younger brothers also followed a military career and died in the Second World War. Both served in the legendary Potsdamer Infanterie-Regiment 9, which was later the regiment of some of the conspirators in the plot to assassinate Hitler on 20 July 1944.

At a meeting between Manfred von Ardenne and Richard von Weizsäcker, the latter emphasized his respect for his former superior, Ekkehard von Ardenne, who did not hide his distance from the “brown regime of violence” even when addressing the troops, and who was also friends with his brother Heinrich von Weizsäcker.

The life story of his grandmother, Elisabeth Baronin von Ardenne, née von Plotho, was used by Theodor Fontane as the basis of his novel Effi Briest.


1907 - 1928

Childhood and Youth

Manfred von Ardenne was a practical, technically gifted child. Instead of following school, he conducted his own experiments, built models and circuits, tinkered and took measurements. His lack of interest in class had an effect on his achievements and he left Berlin Tempelhof secondary school after failing an exam. In his final report, his teacher wrote, “His knowledge and skill in a few areas of physics and chemistry are beyond the expectations of his class or of the school.” Von Ardenne subsequently changed to the Friedrich-Realgymnasium, which he left in 1923 with "Primarreife".

 

His parents recognized and supported their son’s potential and gave him the best room in the apartment in Hasenheide. This became Ardenne’s first private laboratory for radio technology.

1923

THE FIRST PATENT

In 1923, at only 16, the young researcher registered his first patent for a “method for sound selection, especially for the use of wireless telegraphy”.

From 1924, Manfred von Ardenne earned his living by selling his first books and technological developments and discoveries, and voluntarily paid the rent for his thirty square meter laboratory to his parents.

1926

STUDIES AND RESEARCH

The two radio pioneers Georg Graf von Arco and Geheimrat Walther Nernst put pressure on Manfred von Ardenne to take a degree. Thanks to their help he enrolled at the University in Berlin in 1925 without a school leaving certificate, and attended lectures on physics, chemistry and mathematics. After four semesters of basic studies he was seized with impatience and went back to his private research.

In 1926, the 19 year old became well-known through his idea of the multi-system electron tube. This was the technological basis for what was later to become the mass-produced Loewe-Opta radio set. It was also one of the first integrated circuits in the history of electronics.


1928 - 1945

Berlin Years

At the age of 21, the man of many talents founded the VON ARDENNE Laboratory for Electron Physics at Jungfernstieg 19 in Berlin-Lichterfelde, which he led until 1945. Until its forced closure, this laboratory was the birthplace for pioneering contributions in television technology, image conversion, electron microscopy, scanning microscopy, isotope separation and electron and ion beam technology.

1938

MERRIAGE TO BETTINA BERGENGRUEN

In 1938, Manfred von Ardenne married Bettina Bergengruen, born in 1916, granddaughter of the writer Wilhelm Meyer-Förster and also niece of the author Werner Bergengruen. It was his second marriage, and it produced four children: Beatrice, Thomas, Alexander and Hubertus.

1930

FIRST ELECTRONIC TELEVISION TRANSMISSION

Von Ardenne succeeded in presenting the first completely electronic television transmission in the world, as he suddenly realized that all the essential components were available in his laboratory in Lichterfelde. His close collaborator Emil Lorenz was present. Manfred von Ardenne on the events of that day:

“In feverish haste we took two electron beam tubes out of the stores, assembled two installations to produce the deflection tensions out of components from the low frequency lab, prepared one of the broadband amplifiers and borrowed a lens with high light intensity and a low inertia photocell from the optical lab.

On the same evening, 14 December 1930, Emil Lorenz and I had a decisive experience. I held a pair of scissors in front of the screen of my bright spot scanner and saw exactly how its contours appeared on the fluorescent screen of the receiver tubes at the other end of the room. We repeated the experiment with a slide and had even greater success.”

The following year, Manfred von Ardenne presented his ground breaking discovery at the "Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA)" trade show in Berlin, which made the front page of the New York Times.

1937

SURVIVAL AND SCANNING ELECTRON MICROSCOPE

The von Ardenne family had no sympathy with National Socialism. When Hermann Göring invited Manfred’s father to take up a leading position in the NSPAD, he refused categorically. Egmont Baron von Ardenne had got to know the later Reichspostminister and physicist Wilhelm Ohnesorge during the First World War. Later, Manfred von Ardenne made use of this contact as a source of money for his research work and for securing the existence of his laboratory, but without any kind of political background. He also turned down an invitation from his benefactor to join the Party.

In 1937, von Ardenne developed the first high-resolution scanning electron microscope, without which biological research would be unimaginable right up to the present. It was followed two years later by the universal electron microscope with the highest resolution in the world.


1945 - 1955

RESEARCH INSTITUTE NEAR SUKHUMI

The Soviets reached Berlin before the Americans in May 1945, and placed the famous von Ardenne Laboratory under the “protection” of Russian military headquarters.

A few days later, an offer was made to Manfred von Ardenne to set up and lead a technological-physical research institute which would work for the Soviet Union on electron physics, nuclear-physical measurement, magnetic isotope separation and mass spectrometry. Von Ardenne agreed, and the Berlin laboratory was transferred to Sinop (Soviet Union) near Sukhumi in the same year. At that time, he had no idea that ten years would go by before he and his family would tread German soil again.

Left: Manfred von Ardenne on the way to inner Svaneti | Right: The family on an automobile trip in 1946

INTERNMENT AND THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE ISOTOPE SEPARATION PROCESS

After the dropping of the atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, von Ardenne and other leading German scientists, including Nobel Prize winner Gustav Hertz, the physicist Max Steenbeck and the nuclear chemist Nikolaus Riehl, became caught up in the network of Soviet nuclear armaments. Whereas the Soviet specialists perceived Manfred von Ardenne as a specialist in electron optics and the construction of electron microscopes first and foremost, political events determined research work from then on, and he was brought in to collaborate on the Soviet atomic program. The Soviet side was obsessed with closing the gap and being able to compete with the USA. The head of the Soviet secret service, Lavrentiy Beria, tried to entrust the project to von Ardenne during a meeting. Von Ardenne himself on the aforesaid meeting:

"I had about ten seconds to think it over. My answer was as follows: I regard the proposal just made as a great honor for me, as it is an expression of an unusually great trust in my abilities altogether. But the solution to the problem we have here has two different areas: 1. the development of the atom bomb itself and, 2. the development of the isotope separation process for obtaining nuclear explosives such as uranium-235 to industrial standards. Isotope separation is the real and very difficult bottleneck for development. Therefore I propose that isotope separation alone should be the main task of our institute and the German specialists, and that the leading nuclear scientists of the Soviet Union that are sitting in front of me should bring about the development of the atom bomb as a great deed for their own motherland."

Beria accepted this recommendation. Years later, when Manfred von Ardenne was introduced to the Soviet Prime Minister Khrushchev at a state reception, the latter reacted spontaneously, "Ah, you’re the Ardenne who saved his neck so cleverly!"

In the end, industrial isotope separation became the main task of the research institute for Manfred von Ardenne and his colleagues. The processes developed by them for the production of uranium-235 for bombs turned out to be too complicated, and the gas centrifuge developed by Steenbeck eventually contributed to the building of the first Soviet atomic bomb. Later von Ardenne saw his contribution to the acceleration of the nuclear arms race as "the most important deed that fortune and post war events had led me to."


1955 - 1990

NEW HOME IN DRESDEN

After ten years of internment in the Soviet Union, Manfred von Ardenne decided on a life in the socialist part of Germany. Looking back in his biography of 1997, he explained that this choice prevented him having to give up the equipment which came from the laboratory at Lichterfelde. This had the highest priority with regard to his future research work.

But the memories of the rule of terror of the National Socialist regime and the resulting hope of actively influencing the young socialist state played a significant part in the making of the decision.

25th anniversary of the Research Institute in Weißer Hirsch

MANFRED VON ARDENNE INSTITUTE

The new beginning in the German Democratic Republic was made easier by a series of concessions and privileges on the part of leading politicians, who promised themselves an international image triumph thanks to the decision of the scientist.

The researcher chose Dresden as a new home for himself and his family as well as a new location for his institute. He had already begun planning during internment in 1951 and he asked his brother in law Otto Hartmann, who lived in West Berlin, to find a suitable property. He in his turn engaged Johannes Richter, an engineer from Zwickau, who found two attractive properties at "Weißer Hirsch", a suburb of Dresden.

The answer from the Soviet Union was positive and clear; and although von Ardenne only got to see photographs of the house, he pressed for an immediate purchase. A short time later he set up his research institute at “Weißer Hirsch”, and also lived there with his family.

MAIN RESEARCH AT THE INSTITUTE

Manfred von Ardenne led the institute that bore his name from 1955 to 1990, at times employing about 500 staff. It acquired an international reputation as the birthplace of important innovations.

At the beginning, the focus of the work was in electron, ion, nuclear physics and over microscopy, and later in medical electronics and basic research in biomedicine. The institute pursued research in close connection with industry. Industrial facilities using melting, cutting and coating were developed from different materials, all based on electron and ion sources.

1960s

MEDICAL RESEARCH

In the 1960s, von Ardenne met the Nobel Prize winner Otto Warburg several times. Inspired by Warburg’s research into aerobic changes in fermenting agents in cancer cells, he turned to a completely new area of interest: medicine, and especially cancer therapy.

After a period of research over several years, the polymath scientist and his staff developed the systemic Cancer Multi-step Therapy (sKMT), in which cancer cells and metastases were combated in a defined combination of steps, using chemotherapy where necessary.

The basis of this therapy is an extreme hypothermia of the whole body combined with targeted over-acidification of the tumor and an oxygen feed. Manfred von Ardenne worked on cancer research up to the end of his life.

1970s

OXYGEN MULTI-STEP THERAPY

In the 1970s, regular clashes with the authoritarian state and the uncertain outcome for the institute which resulted took their toll: Manfred von Ardenne suddenly became severely bedridden without however losing his mental capacities. The doctors treating him could not discover any organic cause and estimated he would live for two more years.

Von Ardenne accepted that his illness was a “general lack of energy” and hit up on the idea of inhaling from an oxygen gas cylinder several times a day. Thanks to his research in cellular energy status while working on systemic cancer multi-step therapy, he knew the importance of oxygen as an agent against debilities and was proved right. With a few days he regained his old quality of life, and from this experience developed the Oxygen Multi-step Therapy, which is today an internationally well known and widely used natural medical treatment.

The scientist was able to protect his institute - which as a private enterprise was unique among the socialist states - from nationalization and survived as a businessman under socialism up to German reunification.


PRIVATE LIFE

Much has been written about Manfred von Ardenne, and he is often referred to as the "Pioneer of radio and television technology", "The Red Baron" and "The Sage of Weißer Hirsch". The most important thing in the life of this great man was his work – otherwise he would scarcely have been able to achieve such extraordinary scientific and technical accomplishments. What else apart from science was important to this genius, and what was he like as a boss?

Dr. Peter Lenk, Chief Executive Officer of VON ARDENNE from 1991 to 2006, on Manfred von Ardenne as a boss:

"Reliability, hard work, punctuality were qualities that a member of staff had to have. We learned very quickly that is was great fun to work in his establishment, as we had considerable freedom. And at some stage you gave up looking at the clock and went home when the work was finished."

Manfred von Ardenne with his sons Alexander and Thomas, his daughter Beatrice and his wife Bettina

Von Ardenne was also a family man and a father several times over. His second marriage to Bettina Bergengruen produced four children: Beatrice, Thomas, Alexander and Hubertus. The marriage was very close and lasted right up to the end of his life. In a television interview at the age of 85 Manfred von Ardenne spoke about love: "Love, God’s most successful device for mankind, or to put it another way, the greatest discovery of the endless wisdom of nature, has always throughout my life given me the strength to achieve more than the world expected."

He needed the support of his family for his work, which enabled him to complete great untertakings. The children appreciated the liberal atmosphere at home which encouraged debate: “Independent criticism was not only tolerated – it was encouraged,” said one of his sons. They learned how to take responsibility early, and still continue the life’s work of their father today.

For relaxation, the inventor liked to listen to classical music – Mozart above all: "I have the highest admiration for Mozart’s genius. It is incredible that a human being who only lived to be a little over 30 contributed so much to a specific field and that his influence on it has lasted for centuries." With regret he maintained that truly great composers had existed only up to the beginning of the 20th century, and that much in classical music had been exhausted.

Without a doubt, Manfred von Ardenne was more than a charismatic scientist and thinker. A look at his life reveals many facets of his personality which can only be judged in this context with difficulty.


THE VISIONARY

In his 1962 essay “Visions of Technology in the Year 2000”, which appeared in the periodical “Technische Gemeinschaft”, Manfred von Ardenne demonstrated that he was a scientist and thinker of vision. In his opinion, all that one needed for such prophecies was to “estimate each research result with a little imagination which is anyway part of the first stage of development”, and that the scientist should carry within himself “the attributes of great importance for the future”.

Most of his prophecies have indeed come true and have been part of our daily life for some time. Here is a selection of them:

THE VISION OF WALLPAPER MADE OF LIGHT

Concerning telecommunications he made a prophecy that has turned out to be exactly true to an astonishing extent:

“At the end of the development, for example, every telephone subscriber will be able to dial every other subscriber in the world using a dialing system without any delay.”

And in semiconductor and display technology, as far back as 1962 he announced the so-called OLEDs (organic light emitting diodes):

“In lighting technology diffuse ambient light using electroluminescent panel lights will find many friends. It will replace the light bulb or the fluorescent tube with luminescent panels, which can be fitted on the wall of the room partially or wholly.”

The current development projects at VON ARDENNE are precisely on this technology.

What was unbelievably remarkable about von Ardenne’s thoughts at the time was the sweeping way he cut through the most different scientific disciplines and how exact his prognoses were.

THE VISION OF THE MICROCHIP AND THE INTERNET

As for the miniaturization of electronic components, the semiconductor and molecular electronics, he foresaw the microchip and the wild developments that are connected with it, which even “specialists find it difficult to keep up with.”

Even more astonishing was his vision of the internet:

“Within a few decades, electronic data processing and storage (including that in miniature design) will increase the capacity of the human brain to an extent that can scarcely be conceived today.  With every passing day, the increasing power and rapid specialization in the sciences demands the use of carefully arranged methods for storing scientific material, which today still strains the brain unnecessarily”, he concluded in his essay.

THE VISION OF GENETICS AS BLESSING AND CURSE

After the decoding of human DNA, Manfred von Ardenne foresaw genetics as both a blessing and a curse for humanity:

“Now that the synthesis of nucleic acids has been achieved recently, we may hope that the synthesis of important proteins can be achieved within the near future. Given the current status of this work, we can predict the solution to the riddle of the heredity of protein structure. And with that humanity will be granted the great but also terrifying possibility of creating living entities at will.”


LEGACY

Left: One of the last pictures of Manfred von Ardenne at the age of 90.

Manfred von Ardenne died on 26 May 1997 at the age of 90. The funeral took place in the chapel of Bad-Weißer-Hirsch cemetery. The theologian Klaus Peter Hertzsch gave the address before about 500 people who had come to pay their last respects. To the members of his family he left behind the results of a life rich in invention together with a famous name.

In Dresden, there is a "Manfred-von-Ardenne-Ring" and in Hamburg a "Manfred-von-Ardenne-Platz" in memory of the technological pioneer. A secondary school in Berlin bears his name and there is a "Manfred-von-Ardenne-Gewerbezentrum" in the "Innovationspark Wuhlheide" in Berlin. The “URANIA-Vortragszentrum" in Dresden holds an annual event on the day of the death of Dresden’s honorary citizen, and since 2002 the European Society of Thin Films has awarded the "Manfred-von-Ardenne Prize for Applied Physics".

THE VON ARDENNE COMPANIES

The entrepreneurial spirit of the polymath is represented by VON ARDENNE GmbH, whose shareholders are Manfred von Ardenne’s descendants. The internationally successful company is today led by Pia von Ardenne-Lichtenberg and Hans-Christian Hecht.

The life’s work of Manfred von Ardenne in medicine is being carried on in the Von Ardenne Institute for Applied Medical Research (Institut für Angewandte Medizinische Forschung), which is led by Dr. Alexander von Ardenne.

Since 1991, ardenne tec has been active on the market selling security technology.


SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERIES AND INVENTIONS

The most important inventions and discoveries made by Manfred von Ardenne and his team:

1923

First patent filed on “Method for sound selection” at the age of 16

1925

Broadband amplifier using HF dual tube systems with a bandwidth of 106 Hz as the foundation of the later development of the fully electronic television

1926

Development of a resistance radio receiver with three-stage tube (together with LOEWE radio), thus making an affordable radio for a wide range of social classes possible.

1928

Founding of the VON ARDENNE Laboratory for Electron Physics in Berlin-Lichterfelde

Inertia-free brightness control of the light-spot of Braun tubes by the introduction of a negative pre-stressed control electrode for the electron beam, called the “Wehnelt Electrode” in honor of his teacher

1930

On 14 December 1930, the first fully electronic television broadcast in the world was produced in the Lichterfelde laboratory using Flying Spot Scanners (FSS), which are still in use today.

1931

The first public film transmission at the Berlin Radio Exhibition using the Flying Spot Scanner (180-lines-technology), regarded by specialists as the birth of completely electronic television using electron beams

1933

Precision electron beam oscillograph for electronic measurement

1934

The electron-optical image converter (X-ray and infrared image converters)

1937

The scanning electron microscope (SEM), which was perfected in the 1960s, is still the most important analysis instrument in biomedical and microbiological research

1938

First usage of the electron beam as a laser tool for production of microstructures

1939

High-resolution magnetic universal electron microscope for bright, dark field and stereo scope; the X-ray projection microscope and electron beam micro-oscillograph

1941

Development of the 200 kV universal electron microscope, the first emission electron microscope for object temperatures of up to 2 500 °C, electron optic shadow image method

1942

1 MeV van de Graaff neutron generator

First fine beam electron diffraction in the electron microscope

1943

Construction of the Cyclotron with 60 t magnet for nuclear-physical research

1944

Increase of the resolution of the universal electron microscope to 12 AE (the highest resolution in the world until 1954)

1945-1955

Magnetic mass separator for industrial isotope enhancement

Duoplasmatron ion source for high ion flow concentration on the basis of strong inhomogeneous magnetic fields – the Duoplasmatron is still used in particle acceleration and as a correction drive mechanism in space technology today.

Precision oscillograph with 2 μm scanning spot

Precision mass spectrograph with double focusing and ion image converter

1955

Establishment of the Manfred von Ardenne Research Institute in Dresden:
From the very beginning, physical-technological development projects with a high practical relevance occupied center stage. New fields of application were continually developed for the electron beam, the importance of which as an energy intensive and highly flexible laser tool for a host of industrial processes Manfred von Ardenne recognized early on:

  • Vacuum melting and refinement of reactive and refractory metals
  • Cutting and welding
  • Thermal and non-thermal microstructuring
  • Textured surface coating
  • High-rate evaporation of metals and dielectrics
  • Radio polymerization of synthetic materials
  • Radio sterilization of crop seeds or disposable medical products

1957

Ingestible intestinal transmitter for measuring pressure and pH values in the gastrointestinal tract

1958

Electron attachment ion source for organic molecules of lower binding energy

1959

The 45 KW electron beam multi-chamber furnace (EMO) for vacuum melting and refinement of reactive and refractory metals

1961

Safety belt for extending the inner braking distances in automobiles

1962

Operating room with electronic patient surveillance for surgery at the Medizinische Akademie Dresden;

Formulation of the first concept of cancer multi-step therapy (KMT);

Development and small-scale production of heart and lung machines for the heart centers in The German Democratic Republic;

Development and small-scale production of ultrasonic diagnostic units

1964

Installations for industrial micro processing of microelectronic circuits using electron beams

1965

Installations for evaporation coating of thin films in a high vacuum for industrial applications

Two chamber tank for extreme whole body hyperthermia

1968

Discovery, purification and implementation of lysosomal chain reaction of cancer cell deterioration, foreseen in 1965;

Discovery of the sensitization of tumor cells against hyperthermia by targeted overacidification

1970

Systemic Cancer Multi-step Therapy (sKMT)

Discovery of the blood-nerve-barrier and a primary process of pain release

Mechanism of anesthetic death and death during hyperglycemic coma

1972

Oxygen Multi-Step Therapy (SMT) and beginning of work on the extraordinary pharmacokinetics of the cardiac agent g-Strophanthin

1976

SELECTROTHERM method for two step deka wave raster hyperthermia for a homogenized energy supply for treatment of cancer

1987

IRATHERM® method with water filtered infrared-A radiation for whole body hyperthermia in treatment of cancer

1990

Foundation of the VON ARDENNE Clinic for Systemic Cancer Multi-step Therapy (sKMT) for the evaluation of sKMT and treatment of patients with cancer at an advanced stage

1994

IRATHERM® 1000 for non-oncological treatment of patients for mild and moderate whole body hyperthermia