TUM Emeritus of Excellence Wolfgang Domcke

“My life is governed by science and sports”

For TUM Alumni Wolfgang Domcke no goal is too challenging, neither in the areas of Physics or Chemistry, nor in Sports. As an Emeritus he still conducts frontier research at TUM, unless he is out and about on his mountain bike.

Already as a child Wolfgang Domcke was interested in Natural Sciences, read a lot and, under lenient connivance of his parents, conducted chemical experiments in the basement. “I had made explosives pretty early on in order to see what happens”, the native of Munich remembers with a smirk. Having to decide for a degree programme after graduating from high school he picked Physics. “I felt Chemistry was too easy. And at that time the Physics department at TUM was just being established by Nobel Prize laureate Rudolf Mößbauer. Obviously this appealed to me.”

Science as a sport

Especially the clearly structured lectures by his two great academic teachers and role models, the later TUM president Wolfgang Wild, and his future doctoral supervisor Wolfgang Brenig, encouraged Wolfgang Domcke in his desire to understand the fundamental theoretical correlations. “I wanted to understand how nature works”, the passionate theorist remembers. In 1972 he completed his studies with a diploma thesis in the field of Theoretical Nuclear Physics, three years later his doctorate on questions from Solid-state and Molecular Physics. Wolfgang Domcke still remembers the highly competitive atmosphere of his university time: “I was quite comfortable with that because I saw this performance-oriented degree as a sport.”

Science and mountaineering are sports disciplines you have to take seriously.

Having worked as a research assistant at TUM for one year Wolfgang Domcke became a research assistant at the University of Freiburg, where he did his post-doc in Theoretical Physics in 1979. After a DFG Research Fellowship at the renowned Caltech, the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, Wolfgang Domcke taught and did research in Heidelberg and Düsseldorf. Eventually in 1999 he was called to the Chair of Theoretical Chemistry at TUM, where he had already made ground-breaking contributions as an associate professor of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry for ten years. His work on the theoretical description of the dynamics of ultrafast photo-induced processes in polyatomic molecules made him one of the pioneers of Femtochemistry, which just came about at that time, and decisively contributed to a paradigm shift in this research area located on the borders of Theoretical Physics and Chemistry.

Sports to counterbalance Science

Aside from science mountaineering has also always been important to Wolfgang Domcke. Especially during the long time at TUM Wolfgang Domcke not only shared his knowledge on Theoretical Physics and Chemistry with his international students, post-docs and visiting academics, but having earned a mountain guide diploma from TUM, also his passion for mountaineering. He regularly took his working groups into the Bavarian Alps – even though not all members were able to follow the extreme mountaineer, who is used to challenging trips, up to the summit.

Since 2013 Wolfgang Domcke holds emeritus status. Apart from having added mountain biking to his sporting activities in addition to mountaineering, not much has changed.With his working groups in Garching he is still committed full-time to the two essential questions he stayed true to with unwavering interest: understanding ultra-fast processes in Chemistry and the highly relevant subject of photocatalytic splitting of water for the development of renewable energies. “I am very happy to be able to still conduct research at TUM as a theorist and to work as a consultant, as well, such as for the post-doc programme at TUM. I think it’s good that TUM is encouraging Emeriti of Excellence to continue to provide their expertise and thus inspire the young colleagues and relieve them a bit.”