The European Ceramic Society

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Feb 13, 2024

Obituary Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Günter Petzow

Sadly, The European Ceramic Society has lost an esteemed member – Prof. Günter Petzow died on February 4, 2024, at the age of 97. He was an emeritus director of the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Metals Research (now MPI for Intelligent Systems) and a professor at the University of Stuttgart and the Technical University Berlin.

Born on July 8, 1926, in Nordhausen during a time of formidable challenges, Prof. Petzow dedicated his life to science and education. His unwavering commitment, coupled with a unique passion and deep understanding of materials, made him a pioneer in his field and an exceptional educator.

With a degree in chemistry from the University of Stuttgart, Prof. Petzow laid the foundation for an extraordinary career in which he consistently approached materials science through a scientific lens. After completing his doctorate at the University of Stuttgart in 1959, he joined the MPI and took over the management of the Powder Metallurgical Laboratory (PML) in Stuttgart Büsnau in 1968, which thus became the nucleus of today's Max Planck Campus Stuttgart. Through groundbreaking contributions in powder metallurgy, metallography, and thermodynamics, he drove advancements across a wide range of material classes. Visits in Japan in the late 1970s, inspired him to explore “fine ceramics”. His group initially worked on zirconia toughened oxide ceramics and later more on silicon nitride-based ceramics. Prof. Petzow successfully acquired important investments for research into high-performance ceramics.  Thanks to generous financial support from the state, the PML expands and became the “Mecca of materials scientist from all over the world” and Prof. Petzow was jokingly referred to as the "Pope of Ceramics".

His dedication to international collaboration facilitated the global exchange of both young and seasoned scientists, guided by his belief that progress in science thrives through international and interdisciplinary cooperation – an ethos more crucial today than ever. As skilled networker, he built bridges within the scientific community, fostering collaboration across disciplinary boundaries. The blend of professional excellence and people skills made him a valued mentor to many who now hold important professorships and other leading positions around the world.

Delivering numerous invited lectures and publishing hundreds of papers, he left an enduring impact from various perspectives. His peers held his work in high esteem as indicated by the numerous national and international awards he received in different categories. Among these are the Cross of Merit 1st Class of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Honda Prize, and the Sosman Award as well as seven honorary doctorates and six honorary professorships. Other honors include the appointment as Honorary President of the German Society of Materials (DGM) and the election to Academia Europaea and the World Academy of Ceramics.

Prof. Petzow’s legacy is profoundly embedded in the invaluable contributions he leaves behind a wealth of knowledge that has pushed the boundaries of possibilities in materials science. He leaves behind a national, European, and global community that is open, trusting, and continues to be inspired by his legacy.

He will be remembered as not only a great scientist but also a revered teacher and friend.

Gerhard Schneider and Michael Hoffmann

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