IN MEMORIAM: TUM Emeritus of Excellence Franz Mayinger

“I had a lot of freedom in my research“

At TUM, Franz Mayinger received the education to become a specialist for Thermofluid Dynamics. As a highly esteemed expert for reactor design and safety, among other things, he was active in industry, research and as the chairman of the Federal Major Accidents Commission. He passed away in June 2021 at the age of 90.

“Actually, I wanted to become a physicist”, he said. “In my opinion, however, this profession was connected with teaching at grammar schools, which I did not like very much, and the possibilities of today’s Physics studies were unknown to me.” So he decided to study Mechanical Engineering at TUM, which was not too far away from his hometown Augsburg. In 1955 he completed his studies here. In 1961 a doctorate at the Chair of Thermodynamics followed.

Pragmatic schedule

Franz Mayinger’s career as one of the most distinguished minds in German engineering was already apparent during his studies and doctoral studies. While still a student, he was involved in a turbine construction project at TUM. In his professor’s office as a doctoral student he was chosen for a management position at MAN in Nuremberg. Even though his scientific career picked up speed quickly, he had planned neither his research focus nor his subsequent career. “My career was a chain of coincidences”, he said. “The only thing I had planned from the very beginning was to change my place of residence every seven to ten years.” Because the young researcher was dreading ay potential routine. When, at the end of the sixties, he was appointed to the newly created Chair of Process Engineering at the University of Hanover, he accepted it without further ado – because after seven years, it was time for a change of location anyway.

A passion for his profession

Franz Mayinger’s decision in favour of the university was initially due to his pragmatic plan for a rotational change of location, but this changed rapidly. He realised that, in contrast to working in the industry, he could now not only finally do what he wanted, but also that his academic responsibilities led him back to his great passion: Physics. As soon as laser technology was introduced, Franz Mayinger used it and developed his own optical measuring methods.

TUM offered me great freedom in my research.

Due to his achievements in Hanover, Franz Mayinger was literally courted by companies and universities alike, but rejected all offers. He did however accept the call from Munich to his return to his alma mater in 1981. “This offer had a certain appeal,” he smiled. “I liked the fact that the apprentice would be able to return to his old workshop.” For eighteen years until his retirement in 1999, Franz Mayinger headed the Chair of Thermodynamics at TUM. “I had great freedom in my research”, he recalled.

With an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and great enthusiasm, Franz Mayinger conducted research at TUM in the fields of Thermofluid Dynamics, Combustion Technology, material properties and heat transfer phenomena, particularly in connection with multi-phase flows as they occur in reactors and process engineering apparatuses. Together with his team, he consistently expanded the Chair of Thermodynamics and quickly gained international renown.

Highest standards for nuclear reactor safety

In addition to his research, Franz Mayinger was also active in many committees, for example as a member of the Reactor Safety Commission at the Federal Ministry of the Interior for more than two decades and later at the Federal Ministry for the Environment. In 1983, 1984 and 1990, he also chaired the committee. Furthermore, from 1992 to 1995 he was Chairman of the Major Accidents Commission of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety.

Together with his doctoral supervisor, TUM professor and Thermodynamics pioneer Ernst Schmidt, and TUM professor Ulrich Grigull, Franz Mayinger was one of the only three German researchers to receive the renowned Max Jakob Memorial Award. In 1991, he received the coveted award for his pioneering achievements in the field of holographic interferometry and multiphase flow, as well as for his visionary leadership in establishing the highest safety standards for nuclear reactor safety. “I just wanted to do my job with curiosity”, he said modestly. “I have to admit that I have never seen my work as a profession, but as a hobby.”