1958 Goethe Prize Winner

1958 Goethe Prize Winner:

Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker, Germany

Carl Friedrich Freiherr von Weizsäcker (June 28, 1912 – April 28, 2007) was a German physicist and philosopher. He was the longest-living member of the team which performed nuclear research in Germany during the Second World War, under Werner Heisenberg's leadership. There is ongoing debate as to whether or not he, and the other members of the team, actively and willingly pursued the development of a nuclear bomb for Germany during this time.

A member of the prominent Weizsäcker family, he was son of the diplomat Ernst von Weizsäcker, elder brother of the former German President Richard von Weizsäcker, father of the physicist and environmental researcher Ernst Ulrich von Weizsäcker, and father-in-law of the former General Secretary of the World Council of Churches Konrad Raiser.

Weizsäcker made important theoretical discoveries regarding energy production in stars from nuclear fusion processes. He also did influential theoretical work on planetary formation in the early Solar System.

In his late career, he focused more on philosophical and ethical issues, and was awarded several international honors for his work in those areas.


Born in Kiel, Schleswig-Holstein, he was the grandson of Karl Hugo von Weizsäcker, the Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Württemberg. His grandfather was ennobled in 1897, and raised to the hereditary nobility with the title of Baron (Freiherr) in 1916. As such, "Carl Friedrich Weizsäcker" became "Baron Carl Friedrich von Weizsäcker" at the age of four. Since 1919, noble titles have legally been considered parts of the family name.

Weizsäcker was raised in Stuttgart, Basel, and Copenhagen. From 1929 to 1933, Weizsäcker studied physics, mathematics and astronomy in Berlin, Göttingen and Leipzig supervised by and in cooperation with Heisenberg and Niels Bohr, among others. The supervisor of his doctoral thesis was Friedrich Hund.