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Obituary: Professor Dr. Wilhelm Brenig

Professor emeritus for Theoretical Physics (*04.01.1930 †12.05.2022)

June 2022 – News from the Physics Department

On May 12, 2022, Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Jakob Rudolf Brenig, full professor emeritus for theoretical physics at TUM, passed away at the age of 92. He was one of the founding fathers of today’s Physics Department at TUM.

Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Brenig
Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Brenig

After receiving his doctorate in 1955 from Richard Becker in Göttingen and a post-doctoral period with Werner Heisenberg and Viktor Weisskopf, Wilhelm Brenig was appointed to succeed Gerhard Hettner at the chair of Theoretical Physics at TUM and at the same time became a director at the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich.

The research of Wilhelm Brenig focused on the physics of many-particle systems in its entire breadth, from atomic nuclei, electrons and atoms in solids, quantum liquids to chemical processes at solid surfaces. An important criterion for his interest in theoretical physics was the relation to experimentally relevant problems. Together with Dietrich Menzel he developed surface physics into a focal point of physics at TUM from the mid 1970s, a field in which he remained active until many years after his retirement.

Wilhelm Brenig was one of the founding fathers of the present Physics Department at TUM. Together with his colleagues Heinz Maier-Leibnitz, Nikolaus Riehl and Wolfgang Wild, Wilhelm Brenig wrote a letter to the Ministry of Science in 1962, calling for a massive expansion of physics at TUM and for establishing a department structure based on the model of American universities.

This concept was realized in 1965 with the founding of the Physics Department. It was the first department of TUM to relocate to Garching, when the new building was completed five years later. One of the first professors appointed to the new Physics Department was Rudolf Mößbauer, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1961. Wilhelm Brenig has been instrumental in this department, and theoretical physics in particular until his retirement in 1998, except for a short interruption at the beginning of the 1970s when he acted as one of the founding directors of the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Physics in Stuttgart. As dean of the Faculty of Physics in the mid-1980s, Wilhelm Brenig was one of the initiators who played a major role in the founding of the Walter Schottky Institute for Semiconductor Physics at the TUM.

Beyond his own research, Wilhelm Brenig was a gifted university lecturer, who, with his concise and unpretentious manner, inspired a large number of students for theoretical physics over a period of 35 years. Many of his former doctoral students and collaborators were later appointed to professorships in theoretical physics, thus establishing his reputation as one of the fathers of many-body physics in Germany.

The Physics Department of TUM will honor Wilhelm Brenig’s memory.

Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Zwerger, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Domcke
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