in memoriam - Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Wolfgang Flaig (1912 - 2004)
Honorary Member of the IUSS
After a life filled with humanity and dedicated to science Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Flaig left this world on 20 May 2004. Being the first director of the former Institute of Soil Biochemistry he was one of the pioneers of the Federal Agricultural Research Center (FAL) in Braunschweig, Germany.
Born on December 17, 1912 in Bonndorf, a small village in the south of Germany, Wolfgang Flaig was raised in Freiburg where he started studying chemistry in 1931, graduated in 1938 with a PhD (Dr. phil. nat.) in Wuerzburg and received his Doctor of Science 1944 in Halle. His professional career with FAL started on August 1, 1948 and he was dedicated to German governmental research for 29 years as the first director of the former Institute of Soil Biochemistry (today the Institute of Plant Nutrition and Soil Science) of FAL.
Realising that organic matter is one of the most important factors in soil fertility, and consequently for yield potential in agricultural production, he concentrated research in his institute on all aspects of the identification of organic carbon species in soils, their formation, and turnover of organic matter in soils. The results published by Wolfgang Flaig and his co-workers benchmarked international research on organic matter. His life as a scientist is best described by a quotation from the Lebanese-American philosopher Khalil Gibran: ‘Knowledge is life with wings’. The evidence for this is about 300 scientific publications and especially the numerous honours and awards he received: honour doctorate by the Catholic University of Leuven (Belgium), Member of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Scientificas in Madrid (Spain), the New York Academy of Sciences (USA), honourable member of the German and the International Soil Science Societies, bearer of the Cherubino order of the University of Pisa (Italy), bearer of the order of the Spanish Research Council, the gold medal of the University of Santa Maria in Brazil, the silver medal of the University of Helsinki (Finland) and the First Class Cross of the Federal Republic of Germany.
His professional period ended in 1977, but he still continued to serve the world of science by dedicating his inexhaustible knowledge on organic matter to balneology.
The most marvellous and unique achievement in the life of a scientist is being the first to discover some unknown secret of nature and to contribute knowledge to the benefits of future generations. Sometime, and somewhere, someone will discover the path left in eternity by the life’s work of Wolfgang Flaig. As the Italian theologian Romano Guardini wrote ‘Remembrance is the heart’s gratitude’.
“His” institute has enabled the life’s work of Wolfgang Flaig`s to be freely available to the scientific community (http://www.pb.fal.de).
Picture: “Wolfgang Flaig” Drawing by Svenja Starke (2004)