Manfred K. Fink wrote the story of his early life in Germany.
My father, Kurt Wilhelm Fink, was born in Speyer on September 24, 1908. He liked to read books when he was young, which he borrowed from a library in Speyer. When he got older, he often went to the libraries in Heidelberg, which received rich endowments from the State and from previous students, and therefore they were very well equipped. After some time, my father focused his interest on the development of maps.
On April 14, 1936, he married my mother, Auguste Handermann, who also lived in Speyer. She came from a family of bricklayers and her father ran his business with his three sons, Franz, Hermann and Wilhelm and a daughter, Louise.
My father's special interest in the developments of maps became known by librarians and he was invited to participate in the management of a library in Berlin. He accepted this offer, and he left Speyer with his wife two weeks later. At that time, most families could barely read and information concerning the affairs in the world were provided by a radio station, with only one station and the programs provided were messages strictly controlled by Hitler's officers. My mother told me that my father read to her after work and dinner. The most popular book at this time had the title ”Via Mala”, a 1934 novel by John Knittel.
Under those circumstances, going to Berlin 475 km away from Speyer, was a demanding challenge. Our mother got her formal education in elementary schools of Speyer, without any help. (The opinion at that time was, a lady needs to know how to cook, and to run a household, but has no need for an advanced education).
When my father met Auguste for the first time, he liked her knowledge of how she could run a local household and her self-confidence. She liked him, for his tenacity to succeed, and expected that he will take care of her. After her parents learned these details, they convinced her to marry him, because they considered this a phenomenal opportunity to see the world. The couple married in Speyer and packed their suitcase and traveled to Berlin with the railway.
After the couple arrived in Berlin, they had to become familiar with their new environment. They found a house, with nice apartments of three bedrooms at a street called Zwiselerstrase. This possibility was available for families, who had at least one person interested in libraries. My father fulfilled this requirement as a librarian and the couple could move in. The contract, connected to the military, also included access to a little garden, which my father used, for growing herbs, and vegetables.
At this time, our family did not notice the developments in the world. After several years, this harmonious atmosphere was interrupted because our father was drafted by the military. This was organized by Adolf Hitler's administration. But my father liked the Führer, and three days later, he left Karlshorst by train. My mother, I, my little sister, Rosemary, and baby Peter waved him goodbye.
Now, our mother was alone with the three children in Berlin. She remained there, because the administration continued to give her the salary of our father. In addition, she found help from the surrounding families. After some time, she considered Karlshorst her second home. She thought that she might not return to Speyer ever.
After my father traveled two months to join the soldiers on the eastern front, he met the local major general who ordered my father to train a group of German soldiers, stationed between Charkow and Poltava. These cities are located in Russian territory. My father had to show the soldiers how to clean the bottom surfaces and remove the dirt and activate land mines.
During one of these exercises, which included the covering of the mines, one of the mines exploded for unknown reasons, and 24 soldiers were killed, including my father. He died on April 24, 1943. At that time, I was almost six years old. Obviously, this was a catastrophe for our family. As our mother got this information, she cried for several days. Then, she decided to remain in Berlin for more time, to relax and to continue a little longer the close connection with her friends. Fortunately, her income remained the same and in Speyer, where we came from, there was no house available for our mother and the three little children. So, she decided to stay in Karlshorst in our apartment.
We followed the reports of the radio station, which described the slow movements of the Russian soldiers’ battalions toward Berlin. After two months, Russian airplanes approached Berlin. The local sirens of Karlshorst howled, and our mother and all the people of the neighborhood, hurried with their children to a bunker, which had enough space to house 100 families. Their walls here too thick for the bombs to penetrate it. Also, the airplane pilots did not aim very well, and few houses in our neighborhood were demolished and all our belongings like porcelain, jewelry and legal documents remained intact. This bunker is still there today.
Many days later, Russian soldiers marched into Karlshorst. We hurried into the cellars of our houses, to avoid the Russia bullets used to kill the German defenders. In our house, the cellar had ceilings with small windows, to slide objects into the cellar. The Russian soldiers knew that and they worried that snipers might be in these cellars, from which they could be killed. One day, our mother and the children and about ten more people hurried to hide in such a cellar. Suddenly, we heard steps coming down the stairs and Mongolian soldiers with machine guns appeared in our cellar. One ripped me from my mother lap. All ladies screamed, but behind the soldier there was a full-figured Russian lady and she kicked the soldier in the butt, and commanded him to stop, and sent him out of the cellar. The screaming of the ladies was enough, to convince her, that there are no snipers in the cellar. We were lucky that I, the oldest was chosen, and my little sister and Peter, my brother, were spared.
After this episode, my mother decided, there was no future in Karlshorst for her and the children. The next day, she loaded a four-wheeled children's wagon with food, and began our trip to Speyer. This was a bold decision, to hitchhike without documents and maps, the very long distance (475 km) with three little children, to her hometown Speyer, and hoping for sufficient help from the people on the way. She hoped also, that whoever we would meet, has suffered in the merciless war and would support us to succeed.
The start was relatively easy. There was a city train still functioning, serving the suburbs of Berlin. We walked to a station that was still in operation in the U-bahn system. The first train brought us to Potsdam. That took us 84 km out of Karlshorst.
After arrival, we asked for advice from the local people, about the best way to reach Brandenburg an der Havel which was 41 km away. Those people asked us what we wanted to see, and we told them that we want to go Magdeburg. They would not believe us and asked what will you do, with three little children. But our mother tried to convinced them that money was worthless, and thus we have no other options but to leave.
Often, the people wanted to know, where we came from, and what are our goals? We told them, that we come from Berlin and we intend to go to Brandenburg an der Havel. They shook their heads and tried to convince us that this was impossible, since it is 41 km away and the streets are only used by the farmers who worked in their fields. We could not believe this and continued on and after about five hours hiking, we saw a farm house. Our mother knocked on their door. A lady opened, and our mother asked if she could give us some water from her fountain for the little children. She was surprised and told my mother to please sit down with your three children in the grass, and I will bring some cups of water.
In the meantime, her husband came back from his work, and he wanted to know what is going on. When he heard our past and our future, he told his wife that we could stay a night with them. Our mother was surprised and she helped to set up two beds in the attic for Peter and me. Rosemary could sleep with mother on a sofa. During dinner, our hosts told us their history of living in Berlin. They did not like Berlin, since it was far too expensive. In the morning, we had breakfast and the hostesses gave us many tips, what to do on the way to Brandenburg. The master of the house, took one of his wagons, and we had to sit on the floor, and after five hours, he turned into a side street. There, he told us that that is all he can do. Then he showed us which way we should go to enter the border of Brandenburg an der Havel. So, he unloaded us. We walked on, and after three hours, we found a beautiful church called St Paul’s Monastery, build 1165. First, we visited the church, then we found a nice park with benches and fountains in the neighborhood. After two hours visiting the park, we found a row of bushes with dry sand. When it got dark, we returned to the benches and laid down on our blanket and slept till the sun awakened us in the morning.
While we walked on, we asked several local citizens if they could tell us what the next city was. The first people we met told us it would be Magdeburg. But they also warned us that it is very far away. Since we had no other options, we continued to walk in the same direction for several days and left Brandenburg.
The first village we came to was small. It appeared to be left totally undamaged by the war. We knocked randomly on doors, and often people gave us space to sleep and served us some well-done food. After two days, we reached Magdeburg. Our previous hosts gave us warnings that there are many little rivers which we have to cross, and we can become wet, depending on the last rain. These waters formed significant little rivers and all ended at the large river, called the Elbe.
When we came to the river, we had to cross a large bridge which was the entrance into Magdeburg. It is a large city, and it was still controlled by the Russian military. But when we arrived, the soldiers had already left, and we met with many citizens which were celebrating their leaving. They invited us to join them to celebrate the good luck we all had. One older couple was particularly curious to hear about our trip from so far. They lived in Berlin some time ago. They invited us to stay a day with them. This courtesy gave us the opportunity to rest, and they gave us an interesting visit through Magdeburg. We also talked about our future, and they knew a lot of the next city, called Bernburg, run by the Saxony-Anhalt administration. They told us that we will come very close to Halle after we have passed the little village Koennern. After two hours walking, we reached Halle an der Saale.
This was particularly important to us because the river was the border between the Russian and British-controlled territories. We walked to the shore of the Saale, and asked some local boys who were fishing in the river, how we could cross the river. After some hesitation, they told us there was previously a bridge over the river, but it was demolished by the Russian military. The Russians wanted to slow down the people who intended to flee from their soldiers. But they had already left, and we never saw Russian soldiers. Very quickly, we found out that we were not the only ones who wanted to leave the Russian-occupied sector. We met some local, young boys which knew their environment very well, and they were willing to help, for a bribe, to cross the river in the night. Money was not accepted; since it was worthless at that time.
Fortunately, our mother still had our father's wristwatch, and she offered it to one of the young men. He agreed to guide us over the river at 8 o'clock in the evening, with some moon illumination. So, we met at the set time and moved, step by step, one person at a time, over the stones which were large enough to stick out of the water's surface, to reach the other side. As promised, the guide took us, the children first, and after a longer pause, he appeared with our mother. I was worried very much that he would harm her. Later on, I learned that the rocks in the water over which we walked were not large enough to support two people, and he had to take a larger route with her. As the oldest of the children, I was so worried, that after all was over and we were safe, my digestive control was gone, and I had to run into the forest to relieve myse|f for a half hour. The most important issue was that we successfully crossed the river Saale and left the Russian controlled territory. This was the first half of our trip from Berlin to Speyer.
The situation in the British-occupied sector was very different. The local inhabitants had no money, since it was worthless. But, the fruits of their farms and their animals, like chicken, cows, and pigs, did make our survival easier in this very low-populated environment. Therefore, we hoped to find a local bus connection, or farmers, who will pick us up, like hitchhikers. We needed their help since we were still a large family and very much worn out. We were lucky. About 35 miles after Halle, a British gentleman passed us and stopped. He asked, where we wanted to go. Our mother said, Speyer. He had never heard of Speyer, but he generously took us 50 km closer to our goal.
We moved on, until we reached the point where there should be a formal border between the English and American sectors. But there were no controls and anyone crossing the border, just passed through, so did our driver. Sometime after the border, he dropped us, and we walked for two more days, and we reached the city Schwetzingen.
Our mother felt like home, but one problem remained for us. How will we cross the river Rhine, which still separated the British Zone from the French Zone? This was not trivial, because the bridge over the Rhine was destroyed previously by the German military. We arrived at 7 o'clock in the evening, and it was already dark. The French soldiers had some lights in the trees, and they wanted to see our identification papers. But we did not have any. Then, he ordered us to camp ten meters to the side under trees, and we had to wait till the commander was scheduled to come in the morning. Three hours later, the soldiers changed shift, as required by their service routine. The replacement was a Moroccan soldier. After a while, he came to us and motioned that we should follow him. We recognized the beginning of a pontoon bridge; he guided us toward it and after ten meters, he indicated that we continue walking to cross the river. Quietly, we collected our belongings, and told him goodbye. Three hours later, our family was back in Speyer in the Germanstrasse.
The following is an account of events after we left Berlin in 1945. I was almost eight years-old, and had not spent a single day in a school. Neither did Rosemary or Peter. However, we had many experiences, which helped us very much later.
Many things had changed in Speyer, due to the end of World War II. Many families, which had fled, had returned and tried to find the best schooling for their children. (I recalled today a discussion with a lady, who was our neighbor then and who asked me which profession I would like to study, and I answered her promptly,"I want to become an inventor." I was not even eight years old and had not a day in school. When school started, I selected the first course in science. Considering my chances were not too promising at this time as I had missed all formal education. Only the experiences from my past gave me lessons in tenacity, and I had a strong supporter in my mother.
She wanted to find all possibilities, which were available at this time in Speyer. The school system in Germany was well established. My mother discussed these problems first with her relatives, and they agreed that I should skip elementary school, and she went with me to the director of the Gymnasium to find out if they would accept me. She made an appointment without consulting me. She talked with one of the brothers for many hours to learn what the strong sides of my interests were and to determine if I would fit into a Gymnasium.
The School was only ten minutes from our house. We visited the director. He asked me, who I was, what I knew already, and what I wanted to achieve. I told him about my the experiences in Berlin, and how I had lost my father in the war and the details of our dramatic walk from Berlin to Speyer without any money and documents. All these details the secretary wrote down.
One week later, the director came to our house, and told my mother they would accept me, for one semester, to participate in courses covering German, French, Mathematics and Science and I would need to get at least a B- average grade. If successful, then, he would give me a certificate, which will allow me to continue the regular education routine. He also told her the tuition costs of the school would be forgiven because my father was killed in the war.
After I started school, I was invited to join a local group of boys and participate in meetings which were organized by the Evangelical Church. My mother came with me to the first meeting. The minister, Pastor Lafrenz received us very friendly and explained the procedures I had to pass in their programs, which were three years of classes with a bigger group of teenagers, leading to the confirmation on March 18, 1951. In the next service, the Pastor gave us a framed document, which made us a formal member of their community of Speyer. (today this document hangs in our bedroom.)
The lectures in school were usually interrupted in the morning and in the afternoon by twenty minutes for relaxation and, the opportunity for the students to talk to each other. Since I had lots of interesting events to tell of our family trip from Berlin to Speyer, most of the students wanted to know more details of my adventures. In one of Pastor Lafrenz ’s group, there was a student who was living a little bit outside of Speyer, and his name was Jungkunz. He was two years passed his confirmation. Twice a week, he interpreted the sermon which our pastor presented from the pulpit in church. We met mainly with the group of students in Speyer and I recognized that he had very friendly and helpful attitudes. For instance, he played the organ of the local church every Sunday and for weddings.
Visit with Albert Schweitzer
One Saturday, he chartered a bus with 10 seats, and I was assigned one of them, and we drove to a village in the French state of Alsace-Lothringen. Trimbach was known for its Gewiirztraminer wine, the best in the world. In this village lived a famous philosopher, writer and musician by the name of Albert Schweitzer, and Jungkunz admired him. One day, he asked Dr. Schweitzer if he would spare a little time and talk with us. When we arrived, he received us in a church and told us about his adventures in Africa, and while he talked, he played his small and very old organ. We learned more from him when he joined us on a visit to some vineyards of Alsace and the city, Strassburg, and its beautiful cathedral. (Albert Schweitzer died on 4 September 1965, in Lambourne, Gabon).
After I returned with Jungkunz, it was very hard to accept Speyer, which was a small town at that time, after the large cities we had seen. Speyer had only the offices for the administration of the State.
Speyer did have several advantages. It is situated on the Rhine river, which connects the south, starting with Basel, Strasburg, Ludwigshafen, Worms, Koblenz, Bonn, Düsseldorf, and ending in the north in Amsterdam on the North Sea.
Speyer celebrated its 2,000 year history in 1990. Around 1000 AD, Emperor Konrad II commisioned a large cathedral, which became Speyer Cathedral, the burial cathedral of many kings and queens; and, in its shadow, I grew up.
After this trip with Jungkuntz to Dr. Schweitzer I recognized that I needed to broaden my range of interests in order to have a chance to find a much more extended horizon. After I was back home, I told my family and the friends of the experiences I had during my trip. A friend of my mother proposed that I should try to find employment in the chemical industry.
There was a very large company close to Speyer in a city called Ludwigshafen, with the name, BASF. (The abbreviation for, Badiche Anlin- und Soda Fabrik). It still exists today and it is about 20 miles from Speyer.
At that time, about 20 percent of the Speyer work force were employed there. When my mother learned of this option, she asked a friend who worked there if he can help find a job for me. Two days later, he told her that the company was currently looking to enlarge the their work force and, if we are serious, he can investigate whether they would employ me. He requested a written summary of my life, which I supplied the next day. The gentleman told me that the office for new employees would be interested in interviewing me. I hoped that the company had problems finding new employees, since I was only thirteen years old. The next day, my sponsor picked me up at our house in the morning. We walked to the railroad station and fifteen minutes later, a train came from Germersheim. This city is very close to Speyer. Many people entered the train, and it stopped again in Schifferstadt to pick up more passengers, and the next stop was the BASF train station. It was identified by a large exit sign, which we all passed. There were some guards which checked all employees for their identification cards. My guide knew this, and he had, a time-limited visitor card, for me.
After we passed the controls, we entered the next building and a person asked us, "What are you looking for?" I replied I wanted to find a laboratory,where I could learn a special trade. My guide told him my history. This person gave me a list showing the fields in which BASF intended to expand their interest. Projects included the the production of paints and fertilizer and the future of new materials. After I read the document, I told my guide that the last topic on the list would be the most interesting to me. He made a note. Then, it was time to return to the railroad station. At 5 pm, we arrived in Speyer, and we walked together and talked about our families. On the way back, he asked me what I saw, and what was the most exciting. I told him I liked the future work the best. He told me that he will call his friend, and tell him my preference.
At 6 p.m, I arrived home. I told my mother and the children my impressions. My mother was excited and cried; she expected that, if I get this job with BASF, I will have it until I retire. The next day, my guide came by again, and he told me, that I was accepted as a go-for helper in the laboratory division. I interpreted this as I have to serve all employees in one part of the laboratories. For this work, they told me I will get one mark per hour. That ’’salary’’ was distributed every second week, to the precise penny.
The laboratory building I was assigned to was the last in a sequence of a three-story high block of houses. And every level was dedicated to building future material. It was divided in six rooms in a row. In these rooms, the senior employees searched for ways to make materials which were identified as promising. The leader of BASF asked the research director, "Have you found new ideas to create new materials or are we at the limit to improve our material?" None of the directors had an answer. This was unacceptable as the president of the BASF company required that all employees should be asked: Is it possible, that we are only considering what we are doing, and never analyzed in detail our failures? Being a very low-level employee, I was never asked. But in this discussion, I told a member of the directorate, you should have extended your interest, beyond paint and fertilizer, you should have investigated how to take a series of new molecules and explore their importance in chemistry. This suggestion had far ranging consequences for me.
At the beginning, I got the most degrading jobs, such as dirty glassware. But I was always very careful, cleaning the toilets, and the lab floors, and washing the glassware and seldom broke a container, and I was slowly given more responsible jobs. At that time, all major chemical companies tried to use organic chemistry to produce new compounds to replace the natural ones. For instance, the most common fibers were cotton which were grown and processed in Turkey. This fiber competes even today with wool and silk since it is much cheaper to produce and maintain. The goal of the BASF administration was to expend their knowledge to produce polymeric organic compounds and hoped that they can compete with those found in nature. Their most ambitious goal was to replace steel or aluminum with carbohydrates. Even today, these goals have not been successful; however, by trial and error, but they learned that plastics can be a flexible raw material.
The first polymers we produced were based on glassware polymerization of organic molecules. The most interesting at the time was styrene. It polymerizes at elevated temperatures and forms a hard and transparent plastic. When we injected liquid styrene into hot water, which was stirred vigorously to high angular moments, the two liquids mixed and looked like milk. When the droplets cooled down and solidified, they became pearls; their diameter could be controlled by the speed of the stirring rotation and temperature. These conditions had to be controlled and maintained very precisely. Otherwise, we ended up with with a big blob of gluey styrene, which stuck to the walls of the container. When this happened, I had to clean the stainless-steel containers with bronze chisels and hammer to avoid the production of scratch marks and sparks. Sparks could cause the carbohydrates to explode. After weeks of trials, the right conditions were found, and we generated pearls of polystyrene of any size which the supervisor required.
This success was appreciated very much by the administration, but our chemists had no idea how to exploit their achievements. As a laborer of the lowest rank, I don't remember who had the idea to bubble gas through the water, in which the pearls were formed. The gas chosen was pentane, which is chemically fairly inert. The styrene molecules in the pearls formed Van-der-Waals compounds with pentane, and it preserved its structure. When I heated the pearls with the dissolved pentane, they expanded and increased their volume manyfold, as much as forty times. The material, a foam, is now called EPS, expanded polystyrene. Using the EPS, we made a three-dimensional box, 2x4x4 cubic centimeter. After I got this polystyrene box of these dimension, I could put boiling water in the box and lift it with bare hands without getting harmed. I recognized that EPS was an excellent heat insulator. This work was around 1951. I was 14 years old at the time. Today, EPS is one of the most versatile and cost effective materials for both packaging and building/construction applications because of its benefits in product, performance and recycling. This was the greatest success of my work in the BASF. Now I had to make the next step, to open new possibilities and to find applications of the knowledge I gained in the BASF. The university closest to Speyer was in Heidelberg, but the university strongly emphasized languages and philosophy, and those were outside of my interest.
The next closest school which focused on teaching modern science was in in city of Karlsruhe. It was called ”Technische Hochschule Karlsruhe”. At that time, they maintained a well-established program in Applied Engineering, Physics, and Chemistry. I submitted an application with a detailed description of my experiences and hoped to be admitted to the physics department. I got an invitation to visit to be interviewed by the established tenured professors. There were more applicants, however, they accepted me.
One of the accepted students named Klaus Jost, had very similar interests, and we became friends. After accepting, we had to decide which research group will give us sufficient space and support to get an adequate education to find a job in the future. In this time, it was expected in German universities that each student must find a place to live, which is affordable and available for an extended period. Neither my friend nor I could afford to pay for a place close to the university. After several months of daily biking between Speyer and Karlsruhe, Klaus and I started to look in the suburbs, which we crossed daily. It didn't take long, and we found a place in a borough of Karlsruhe called Daxlanden which had about 10,000 inhabitants and a bus route which commuted between the suburb and Karlsruhe every hour. Klaus and I asked the bus driver, if he knew of a family which would be interested to rent a room in their house to two fresh students from Speyer, who would be studying at the university. Two days later, he told us there is a senior lady who lost her husband, and she might be interested. We made an appointment to visit her the next day at 10 a.m. When we arrived she served us coffee and some cake. She was very religious. One morning, after we were dressed, she came into our room and asked me to stop making these noises. It turned out that we hummed religious songs in her house. Since the connection from her house and the university was short, we stopped humming and we signed a rental contract for a year.
All departments of the university had a difficult beginning after the World War II. The available housing facilities were tall, refurbished, three stories houses. Previously, they were occupied by the French soldiers during the war, and they left the buildings in a rather dilapidated status. The government of Baden-Württemberg located in Stuttgart convinced the administrators that it would be to their advantage to have a respectable university in order to educate the children of all levels. In Germany, each state is responsible for the education of their students. This means each teacher is a tenured employee, and their salaries are annually adjusted. This makes the salaries of the professors or accountants equal, in the whole state.
The chairman of the Physic Department was Prof Dr. Buckel. His research focused on superconductivity, and the influences of impurities. He was encouraged to fill additional positions in theoretical physics, solid state physics, nuclear, atomic and molecular physics as well as statistics in his repertory. These positions were advertised in many newspapers and in all universities of Germany. Among the applicants was a person who occupied an assistant professor position at Silesia (Sch|esien), the most eastern state of Germany. He applied for one of these newly formed positions in atomic and molecular physics. His name was Joachim Kessler. He was interested in the experimental data and the predictions of theory. He had a preference for the latter since the experimental results are always questionable due to the ubiquitous error bars, Therefore, Kessler had to recruit students who were talented with their hands to set up a new laboratory. Some assets were already available, such as electric power and a well-equipped department machine shop. There was one supervisor and eight knowledgeable machinists. Klaus Jost and I tried to build a much-improved electron diffraction machine. Kessler inspected our drawings and made suggestions for improvements. When questions arose, mainly about money, then the chairman made the final decision. Klaus and I were new graduate students. We made an appointment with Kessler and asked him if he would accept us and teach us as his students. He accepted us, and we became known in the Department in Karlsruhe as the Kessler twins.
Kessler consulted Buckel about this endeavor and he consulted with the administration of the university. As mentioned before, till now, all work was done in the old rooms which were not suitable to setup large and delicate experiments. Buckel talked to the administration and they were impressed by our research effort, and cleaned out the cellar in our building and we had now a 40-meter-long hallway to build an electron diffraction apparatus. It was easy to convince the president of the institute since there was no educational research program in atomic and molecular research of this magnitude. However, there was a researcher in Michigan in the USA, called Larry Bartell; he heard from his former graduate student, Russell Bonham, that an experimental effort is on the way to build an electron diffraction unit which can provide data for him to compare his extensive calculations with the results of high energy electrons scattering. The goal was to determine the bond length of the atoms in free molecules. Then, all environmental influences can be avoided. The first issue was the production of a beam of focused electrons.
We built in the hallway an aluminum pipe 3.5 m long and 50 cm diameter. To deal with the vacuum in the pipe, each end had a welded flange to mount an electron gun and a photomultiplier. All the work had to be welded very carefully. Note that we started with 780 Torr and had to reduce the pressure to 10E-7 Torr.
The next step was to check de Broglie law and change the energy of the electrons and the magnetic fields. We called it an electron-optics electrostatic accelerator. We recorded the distribution functions with our detector. The pictures on luminescing surfaces agreed with the optics law. So, we submitted our manuscript to: ”The Journal of Physics” 174, pg. 197-203 (1963). We learned that this apparatus can analyze the structure of even complex molecules. We knew from classical scattering from a double slit that the diffraction pattern is a damped sinusoid curve. When the slits are wide, then the diffraction pattern is a sinusoidal wave with a small wave length. For our 5th paper we used nitrogen and oxygen as targets. They form double slit pattern for an electron beam whose de Broglie wave-length was small enough. Then, the wave lengths would tell us the bond length. We submitted these results to "J. Chem. Phys." They accepted our manuscript in 47, pg 1780 -1782 (1967). Our results received recognition and we got many requests for copies of these published results.
The most surprising response was a letter from America, sent by a gentleman, named Russell Bonham. He was a professor in the chemistry department in the US state of Indiana. He and his former graduate adviser from Michigan, Larry Bartell, liked the papers I wrote with Kessler, and the description of the electron diffraction machine. Bonham received a large grant from Washington due to the Sputnik launch of the Soviet Regime. That raised our hope that we might be invited to come to Bloomington, Indiana, and build the same diffraction apparatus as I had in Karlsruhe.
In the meantime, I met Ingrid in 1958 in Speyer. On weekends, I traveled by train to stay with my family. Ingrid worked at a big company in Speyer as an executive secretary and was very busy during the week. We got engaged after my Diploma, December 1962. Ingrid’s boss panicked and ordered a person in the company to make a payment on an apartment for us, so that Ingrid would not move to Karlsruhe. Apartments were extremely rare at that time. So we got married in July 1963; Klaus was born July 1964; and Rainer February 1966.
I received a grant from a German foundation to fly my whole family to Bloomington, Indiana for a year. We had to pay back after we made the decision not to return to Germany. After I was informed that they will provide housing, health insurance and a salary for the Fink family, I discussed the possibilities with Ingrid, and she found this an excellent opportunity to see other parts of the world; in particular, this offer included our two sons Klaus and Rainer.
At the end of July1966, we started the trip to the USA, planning to get a feeling of the work ethic in America. At this time, we were still poor. To make the trip, we looked for the cheapest way to get to New York. We were to visit with Ingrid's aunt and uncle, Hedwig and Willi Vogt, her mother's sister, who lived outside New York for over forty years.
First we drove by bus to Luxembourg. From there, we had tickets for a charter flight to Reykjavik, Iceland, and we stayed there for two days, to visit the huge glaciers. We boarded the next part of our charter flight to New York, however, just before landing, the plane suddenly started to ascend again. The captain informed us that New York was covered in fog and he had to go on to Pittsburgh. From there, we were taken by bus back to New York. We remained with them about five days. At the time there was a pilot's strike. And since we stayed with relatives (to be continued.)
Professor Fink was highly respected for his work on atomic and molecular structure. Here we included a comment in the book "My Life in the Golden Age of Chemistry, More Fun Than Fun" by celebrated chemistry Professor F. A. Cotton: "The year 1999 ended with the submission of a publication based on work by Liz Hillard and Hong—Cai (Joe) Zhou, entitled “After 155 Years, A crystalline Chromium Carboxylate with a Supershort Cr—Cr Bond.” Since 1844 when a French chemist, Eugene Peligot, reported the acetate, Cr2(O2CCH3)4(H2O)2, something on the order of a hundred Cr2(O3CR)4L2 compounds have been reported, but in every case either separate axial ligands (L) were present or the molecules formed inﬁnite chains in which the axial positions of each molecule were occupied by oxygen atoms belonging to its two neighbors. Therefore it had proved impossible to settle by X-ray crystallography the question of how short the Cr—Cr quadruple bond would be in a Cr2(O2CR)4compound if it were not lengthened by axial donors. My friend Manfred Fink, a physicist at UT—Austin, had performed an electron diffraction study of Cr2(O2CCH3)4 in the vapor phase above about 120 C and extracted a Cr—Cr distance of 1.97 +/- 0.02 A, by very meticulous analysis of the radial distribution function. However, theoreticians, including my own esteemed colleague Michael Hall, were skeptical about the electron diffraction results, which admittedly are less precise in general than our usual X-ray based structure analyses. Over many years, I had presented indirect arguments for a value below 2.00 and felt that Fink's work settled the matter in my favor, but it was clear that those who disagreed would never give in until confronted by a crystal structure, which they could not possibly refuse to accept. Finding a way to obtain such a structure had become an obsession with me. Over the years, several strategies had been tried, but failed. Finally, I hit on the strategy of using R groups that would both confer good solubility in a hydrocarbon solvent and prevent the oxygen atoms on one molecule from approaching the axial positions of an adjacent one. This was different from trying to block the axial positions themselves — and it worked. We obtained the crystals we wanted and found a Cr—Cr distance of 1.9662(5). The decade of the 1990s thus closed on several research notes that were very satisfying for me. Part of the satisfaction was due not so much to what had already been done, but to what we could look forward to doing in the next millennium."
Manfred was part of a very active atomic physics program. One of his long time pursuits was to measure the rest mass of the electron-type neutrinos. He was aided in this effort by many research grants. While he was unsuccessful, many graduate students received valuable training in designing, building and conducting an experiment at the forefront of physics.
Fink was the founder of a graduate seminar where graduate students and faculty, in an informal, freewheeling setting, would discuss physics. Student were required to ask questions and give talks. No question was considered too simple. Students across the department would voluntarily attend. They saw it as an opportunity to prepare for their comprehensive exams and hone their understanding of a variety of physics topics.
Manfred became interested in forensics and served as a consultant in a number of court cases. As a result of this interest, he developed a popuar undergraduate course for non-majors.
Professor Fink retired in 2020. He passed away on November 16, 2023 in Austin.
Manfred and his wife were long time members of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Austin.
Manfred is survived by his wife of 61 years, Ingrid, his sons Klaus and Rainer, daughters-in-law Denise and Tami, and 4 grandsons, Kristoff, Markus, Michael, and Stephen.
Manfred Fink Photo Album