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Who says that all beautiful woman are mobile phone junkies ?

She was the first actor to feign an orgasm on screen, and she invented technology that would lead to the mobile phone. The remarkable life of Hedy Lamarr shows that there is no contradiction between being a racy actor and technology pioneer.

It’s a common enough story. Publisher prints salacious book about Hollywood star’s love life. Hollywood star takes publisher to court. But in one key respect, the case of Hedy Lamarr v Macfadden-Bartell was wonderfully unusual: the book that prompted her to sue was her own autobiography. Having been celebrated as ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’ in the 1930s and 1940s, Lamarr had hoped that her ghost-written memoir would revive her career in 1966, but when she read the finished text of Ecstasy and Me, she deemed it “fictional, false, vulgar, scandalous, libelous and obscene”. Alas, the judge ruled against her, publishing went ahead, and Lamarr got the kind of publicity she hadn’t bargained for.
Readers everywhere learned how she and her third husband, John Loder, attempted to beat an acquaintance’s 19-times-in-one-weekend lovemaking record. They learned how another of Lamarr’s partners hired a team of sculptors and make-up artists to fashion a rubber sex doll that was identical to her in every detail. They also learned about a less spurious claim to fame: when the teenage Lamarr starred in a Czech-Austrian romantic drama, Ecstasy, in 1933, she became the first actress in history to feign an orgasm on film.

But what the memoir didn’t say about Lamarr was far more remarkable. There is no mention of it in the book, but during World War Two, she developed a radio-guided torpedo system, and the ‘spread-spectrum’ technology it fostered would one day be used in mobile phones and wi-fi connections. Even without any fictional, false and libellous material, the Austrian actress’s biography is more astonishing than that of almost any other Hollywood star.
Born in 1914, Hedwig Kiesler had a comfortable childhood in Vienna. Her governess tutored her in German, French and Italian, and her father, a Jewish businessman, taught her engineering, but Kiesler was too intent on becoming an actress to stick with her education. At 15, she played truant from school, and got a job as a film studio’s script clerk the same day. This appointment led to work as an extra, and by the age of 18 she had the controversial lead role in Gustav Machaty’s Ecstasy.
Kiesler played a young bride named Eva. Having gone for a liberating naked swim, she meets a strapping engineer (named Adam, of course), and experiences all the pleasures her impotent husband can’t provide. Seen in close-up, Eva gasps, throws back her head and clutches her hair. It’s clear what is being shown – and it had never been shown on the big screen before. Lamarr later said that her apparently blissed-out winces were the result of Machaty jabbing her with a safety pin, but, however the sequence came about, it was convincing enough to cause uproar. The film was denounced by Pope Pius XI, and Kiesler was labelled ‘The Ecstasy Girl’.

From Mussolini to the movies

One of her many new fans was Friedrich Mandl, an armaments manufacturer and the third richest man in Austria. After an eight-week engagement, he and Kiesler were married, and she – still a teenager – was ushered into a life of regal opulence. On one trip to Paris, Mandl asked his wife if she liked the sparkling jewels on display in the window at Cartier. When she nodded, Mandl immediately bought her every one of them. But Kiesler felt “strangled to death by luxury”. Obsessively jealous, Mandl tried to buy and destroy every print of Ecstasy, and he refused to let her visit her friends or go to the theatre. The only role he allowed her was that of a trophy wife, sitting decoratively at the dining table while he talked munitions with his powerful guests, Mussolini included.
There are several contradictory accounts of the marriage’s end: the most dramatic tale has Kiesler drugging her maid with sleeping pills, putting on her uniform and dashing off to Paris in disguise. What isn’t disputed is that she left Mandl in 1937, and that in 1938, renamed Hedy Lamarr, she starred in a Hollywood film, Algiers. Audiences and critics were stunned. “She is young, vital, and sure to be a sensation,” wrote one reviewer. “One doesn’t really notice if she can act – she’s that beautiful!”

There was never any doubt about that. Not only was Lamarr a porcelain-skinned, raven-haired goddess, she also had an exotic accent, a titillating past, and, before long, a string of handsome husbands and fiancés. To Depression-era audiences, she was a fantasy made flesh, and to gossip columnists, she was a dream. But the films never quite matched the myth. Lamarr’s successes included Boom Town with Clark Gable and Spencer Tracy, My Favourite Spy with Bob Hope, and Cecil B DeMille’s Samson and Delilah, the highest grossing film of 1949. But there were more flops than hits, and Lamarr’s acting could be stilted and detached, as if her mind was on other things.

Perhaps it was. Her hobby was inventing, and while other Hollywood stars were at parties, Lamarr was at home, tinkering with a design for a traffic light, or experimenting with a soluble fizzy-drink tablet. Her most revolutionary idea was one she hoped would help the Allies win World War Two. Having gleaned invaluable information on weaponry at Mandl’s dinner parties, she came up with the concept of a synchronised ‘frequency-hopping’ system: in order to stop enemies jamming the radio signals between a plane and a guided torpedo, their communications would keep jumping simultaneously to new frequencies. Working in partnership with George Antheil, the avant-garde composer, Lamarr was granted a patent in 1942, but her invention was rejected by the US Navy. It was simply too far ahead of its time.

Overdue recognition

Decades later, she and the world learnt that her innovations had been incorporated into mobile-phone technology, and in 1996, four years before her death at the age of 85, the Electronic Frontier Foundation honoured her and Antheil with its Pioneer Award. But it was a tardy consolation prize for someone who had become known as a bitter recluse. After Lamarr’s stardom waned in Hollywood, she retired to Florida, and hit the headlines only when she was arrested for shoplifting, or when she had ruinous plastic surgery – or when she published, and then disowned, the sleazy autobiography.
Some devotees see Lamarr as a victim of sexist prejudice: a woman too attractive to be taken seriously either as an actress or an inventor. Lamarr herself encouraged this interpretation. Her face, she wrote, “brought me tragedy and heartache for five decades. My face is a mask I cannot remove: I must always live with it. I curse it.” But the Lamarr-as-victim narrative makes her seem weak and passive, whereas in fact she took control of her destiny time and again, whether she was fleeing from a Swiss finishing school or a tyrannical husband. In Hollywood, she would go out and fight for the roles she wanted: instructing her agent to phone DeMille, pushing Orson Welles to direct her as Lady Macbeth. She was just as determined when it came to turning down the roles she didn’t want, or upsetting studio bosses by forgoing publicity tours. Lamarr may not have made the wisest choices, but those choices were her own.
This was true right from the start of her Hollywood career, when her willpower was almost as crucial as her flawless beauty. Having escaped from Mandl in 1937, she was introduced to the head of MGM, Louis B Mayer, in London. As wary as he was about signing up the risqué ‘Ecstasy Girl’, he offered her a contract, but the proposed salary was so small that she walked out of their meeting. She wasn’t finished with Mayer, however. Her next move was to book a ticket on the very ocean liner that he was travelling on, so that he would have regular opportunities to witness the dizzying effect she had on every man onboard. When she set sail from Europe, she could barely speak English, and her name was Hedwig Kiesler Mandl. By the time she disembarked in America, she had a lucrative Hollywood contract, and her name was Hedy Lamarr.
She didn’t just have a genius for invention, but for reinvention.


Courage and Cowardice

This is why the Munich Literature Festival shows more courage than the senile and fearful beaurocrats at the Stockholm Nobel committee when it comes to honour important autors .
In Munich you can meet during one week

Bildergebnis für salman rushdie
Salman Rushdie  (India / UK)

Amir Hassan Cheheltan (Iran)
Zeruya Shalev (Israel)

The Stockholm beaurocrats are the greatest cowards. They are afraid to honour those writers who are brave enough not to hide a clear message, but instead award authors of questionable literature quality and of political mediocracy.
Who ever likes Rushdie, Zeruya Shalev, Joseph Roth, Amoz Oz or Lars Gustafsson:  Don't expect the Stockholm Nobel Committee beaurocrats to have the balls to award them the prize that they deserve.


Bad Deals: ME countries attract islamic extremists and export their educated to Europe

Since the large wave of war refugees from middle eastern countries like Syria, Iraq, Eritrea arrived in Germany, I have harsh fights with some people, usually colleagues or even friends.
The worst is a "professor" in my institute, whom I call a Zombie-Professor, since in his whole professional career he has not done anything a normal professor is supposed to do. He has not done a single lecture, he has not supervised a single master- or PhD student, he has never attracted grant money for a research project. He received his professor-ship from a mediocre university, simply by submitting a mediocre thesis. Since than (and perhaps for the remaining two years untill he retires) he spend a lazy life, like a parasite in our research center. He occasionally published some theoretical papers on subjects that nobody is interested and nobody can validate, not even himself. 
He publishes about statistics of cancer after radiation exposure, but he has never heard that cancer is based on genetic alterations in asingle cell, he has never heard that cancer can be cured in about 60% of cases today and that there is a lot of progress going on using stemcell-therapy, gene-therapy and immuno-therapies. For him, cancer patients are simply number or even points in a graph. And as superficial he is considering cancer patients, he is equally stubborn about people emmigrating to Germany on their escape from war, terror and death. He insists that these people are treatening his life, that they cost to much and that they spoil the Western culture. I usually respond to him that people fleeing a life of war, religious terror and unfreedom will be much more loyal citizens in the West than he has ever been. None of them will be such a parasite as he always was, but they will accept hard and dirty jobs, just to ensure a better life to their families and kids.
And many of these people, although not granted a professor-title from a mediocre German university, have more education, culture and intellectual spirit than him. It is worth noting that there is even a converse migration stream since a year or so: homegrown islamic extremists from European countries (Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, UK) leave to join the IS war, and I hope that none of them will ever come back. But in exchange, the peaceful, educated, tollerant people from Middle Eastern countries, those with a good education and with the dream to build a better future for themself and for their kids, are risking their life to settle in Europe. For us and for them, it is a good deal.   For the countries they are leaving, it is a brain drain of their future intellectual generation.
POOR countries often complain that their best minds are draining away—and for the most part they are right. The poorer the country, the larger the proportion of inventors who push off. Between 2007 and 2012, for example, 86% of Vietnam-born people who filed for patents did so while working outside Vietnam. By contrast, only 8% of Norwegian-born inventors were living outside Norway when they applied for patents. We know this because of the remarkably detailed records kept by the World Intellectual Property Organisation.
This does not mean that countries will become more skilled if they prevent their most talented people from leaving, of course. Even if it were possible to identify the brainiest inhabitants of a country and take away their passports, they would not all become inventors. Some could end up sweeping the streets due to lack of opportunity at home. It is probably better to let them leave for countries where their talents are better used, and then try to entice them back (as China does) or at least try to persuade them to lend their skills to the country of their birth.
A scattering of countries sit some distance from the trend line. Small nations like Cyprus, Iceland and Luxembourg export a lot of inventors, given their wealth. This isn’t surprising: academic and business opportunities are generally fewer in small countries. Conversely, big countries like America and China send few inventors overseas (though India sends a lot). As is so often the case, Estonia seems to be doing its own thing. Surprisingly few of its inventors go abroad, given the country’s small size and middling wealth. 


Ancestrial Mathematics

At a recent discussion with a couple of friends who - like ourself have mixed ethnic background - somebody came up with the remark that he is one third Polish and two third French. The others nodded with appreciation, perhaps considering that 1/3 might contribute the braveness of the Polish military to fight for their independent nation, 1/3 French provides the beauty of their ladies and 1/3 of course would be the French cuisine, making a 100% perfekt person. 
But as a geneticist, I tried to sort out how 1/3 versus 2/3 inheritance might happen. For sure, not on the generation of your parents. Since one definitely has only one dad and one mom, one can either be 100% of one ethnicity (if both have the same ethnic origin) or 50% this and 50% that. On the previous generation (with 4 grandparents) one could be anything of 100%, 75%, 50% or 25% of a particular ethnicity. And with each generation the possible frequencies become more and more.
But if one counts back more and more generation, will there be any stage at which exactly 1/3 (or 33.333 ...%) of the individuals of that generation could represent one particular ethnicity ?  The question therefore is if the number of ancestors in any one generation can be devided by 3.

 So I did this quick check for the first 25 generations (i.e. ancestors of us who lived over the last 800 years) and was unlucky. In neither generation were the number of people an multiple of three. Or in other words: Devision of the number of people in each generation by three always left a fractional component different from zero. The fractional component always alternated between 0,666666.... and 0,333333......  Since this seemed to be pretty regular, one could guess that it runs like this until infinity, and hence would suggest that in neither generation the number of people can be divided by three.

But in mathematics, suggestion is virtually of no value at all. Only strong and formal evidence counts. This is perfectly right, since when suggestive conclusions would be allowed in mathematics, this science would have long ceased to exist. Any error in precision and in the formal correctness in mathematics would have sooner or later "contaminated" the entire discipline and cause erosion of its basis.
But in our case, the formal prove that neither of the ancestrial generations contains 3 x N people is simple. And honestly, here I understoud for the first time the purpose of Prime Factorization. It is a key method in number theory, and became recently of great importance for digital encryption. 
The background is that any positive integral number can be written (in a unique way) as a product of prime numbers (or their powers). It is easily done by hand, for small integers (up to several hundreds) using a recursive algorithm (see here for an web-based calculator). But even using powerful computers, prime factorization for big integral numbers requires exponentially increasing computing time. Thats the reason why with longer encryption keys one virtually make any attempt to break an encrypted code using computers useless. 
What has prime factorization to do with our initial problem of finding out if the number of people in one particular ancestral generations is a multiple of three (or can be devided by three) ? This problem is equivalent to the question if a 3 (prime number) is part of the prime factorization of the number of people. If we look to the number of 33.554.432, i.e. an 8-digit integer, than solving this task by hand (using recursive trial devision) would take us several days perhaps.
But in our special case there waits great help, thanks to our logically working brain. All the numbers in the above tables second column (the members of a specific generation) are simply powers of 2 themself (2, 4, 8, 16, 32 and so one). And primer factorization of an integer that is a power of two simply gives back 2 power N. There will never occur a 3 or any other prime number. Hence the number of people in each generation can never be divided by 3 (or by any other prime number or products of any other prime numbers).

Gender Relationships in Action

Mid September, and the 2015 summer has not yet lost any of its intensity. But since summer vacations in Bulgaria are over, I should better stop wallowing in memories of mountains, sandy beaches and musical night life. I better try to see how much I can recall of the last things that happened in my lab before vacations.
There were a really remarkable two weeks with high school students who did a practical lab project here. They were Italians who attend the Munich European High School. These were 3 boys and 3 girls, and I thought to split them in two mixed groups, group 1 with two girls (Costanza and Julia) and 1 boy (Francesco), and group 2 vice-versa with two boys (Andrea and Guiseppe) and 1 girl (Antonia). They were given instructorial courses in cell and molecular biology, a bit about genetics and radiation-effects and cancer research, but half of the time they did hands-on work mainly on cell biology experiments. They were supposed to collect data in a systematic manner on stem-cells that grew over one week under the influence of an gamma-irradiation.

After a while, however, I more and more felt that the whole project was not with them as researchers and the cells in the incubator being the object of their research, but I understoud that I could equally consider the 6 students as objects of my (social-psychological) studies and myself (officially the supervisor) as the researcher. And I observed something that in the first instance started as an annoyance. Whereas teaching and working with group 1 (i.e. 2 girls + 1 boy) in the first week was extremely pleasant, having group 2 (i.e. 2 boys + 1 girl) in the second week appeared to be a nightmare. I first thought that maybe in the second week of the project group 2 was simply tired already, and therefore had a lower motivation, was unconcentrated and used every moment just to deviate and giggling and talking about teenager problems. But after talking to my colleagues who supervised group 2 in the first week it seemed that it had nothing to do with time, but there was a dramatic and lasting difference between the attitude towards science and learning between group 1 and group 2. 
The three students in group 1 were always highly motivated throughout the entire 2 weeks, they were following the theoretical courses, liked to discuss and ask questions and worked very committed in the laboratory. The three students in group 2, however were almost the opposite: They were more bussy typing and receiving new status messages in their smart phones, used every moment for gossiping and I think they virtually did not learned anything from what I have shown them. It was a really annoyance, and I was close to send them home.
But since I am a scientist because of my never resting curiosity on all aspects of nature and life, I tried to find out the reason of this difference between the two groups of students. And than I observed something funny: In group 1 (2 girls and 1 boy), it were mainly the girls (Costanza and Julia) who played a very active and constructive role. They were asking questions, they were making suggestions and contributed their knowledge from school to the instructions I gave them. The boy in this group (Francesco) was less vivid, but concentrated and worked well in the lab. He was more the resting pole in the group, but obviously also had a stabilizing function. As a whole, this group 1 formed a perfect team, in terms of social interactions. There were the two girls who competed for the single boys attention by showing high committment, responsibility for the work program and constructive participation in the progress of their project.
In group 2 there was a lot of social interaction as well, maybe even more than in first group if one only measured it by their vocal intensity. But here the competition was done in another way. The two boys were the driving forces of all the unrest. The two (Andrea and Guiseppe) were trying to get the most attention from the single girl (Antonia) by showing her how "cool" they are, telling her in detail what crazy plans they had for the evening, how successful they have been in some computer games and on and on and on. But the sad thing was that Antonia (the object of their daylong performance) did not showed any sign of desinterest, rather she seemed to encourage the two teenage boys to fight harder for her attention.

I think that fighting for attention by the opposite sex is nothing bad, or to be denounced as contraprodictive. In opposite, it can be (and for sure always was in human history) a very productive motivation for good purposes. But the problem is which sex is fighting for attention, and what are the instruments they use:
If several woman are fighting for attention of a man, they usually do it by trying to outcompete one another with showing high commitment, organizational talent, taking challenging tasks and so on.
If several men are fighting of attention of only a few (or even a single) woman, than they do it too often by unpleasant and destructive activities. In the least disabiliting way, they do it by jumping up and down in front of the woman, like a clown or a rubble ball, and role their eyes and make funny faces. Their habit often reminds one of a typical fool, or somebody who is drunken. But in the worst case and in large groups, men try to fight for womans attention by showing their uncontrolled physical force, starting violent terror or war.
What is the conclusion from this observation ?   That groups that socially interact should not consist of more men than woman.  If you want to form a productive team, it is better to have a few men (forming the quiet poles) and more woman or girls (who try to perform better than the other). This gives stability and a excellent performance of the entire team.


My most favorite of the False Friends

It might seem strange that one can make a list of his most favorite false friends. But what I am referring to are words (in English and German), which sound to similar to consider that in fact they mean something completely different.
I had to think about them while listening to the radio news yesterday. They reported about a press conference president Obama gave on August 5th, explaining his view on the recent nuclear agreement with Iran. This is what Barack Obama said:

"...And by the way, nuclear material isn’t something you hide in the closet...

The German reporter translated it as following:

"...Übrigens kann man radioactives material nicht in der Klo-Schüssel verstecken...

what literally means

"...And by the way, radioactive material isn’t something you hide in the lavatory..."

Even if we accept the sloppy confusion of "nuclear  material" with "radioactive material", the difference of both not even Obama himself is perhaps aware off, the translation of closet (in american english a small room, usually for redressing and storing closes in) to the German equivalent of lavatory is really violating the meaning of the speech. Wheras the lavatory is indeed a suitable room to hide a gun, or a lover , or dead corpse in, radioactive o nuclear material is better stored in the closet, since this in this dry atmosphere one does not has to worry about corrosion of the uranium or thorium.
The lavatory is unsuitable to store radioactive material also for another reason. In particular after one has taken a shower or a hot bath, and in cases of insufficient ventilation, the air in that room can quickly become over-saturated with humidity. And what happens than can be nicely seen in a cloud chamber in a radiation physics lab: Radiation produces beautiful, large tracks of foggy appearance. And this beautiful tinny clouds would immediately reveal the hidden stuff to an investigator. This would even be cool idea for a Monthy Python sketch: The IAEA inspectors come to Ali Chameneis house to discuss which sites in Iran to visit. One of the inspectors asks politely of he can use the rest room, but Ali Chameneis wife is still in, taking a hot shower. After 10 minutes she leaves the rest room, and - wrapped just in a stars-and-stripes towel - tell the foreign guest that he can enter now. As soon as he goes in the humidity saturated room and switches on the light, he sees this:
Cloud chamber showing different tracks of radioactive decay products from air-borne Radon, cosmic and terrestrial radiation. The video is in real time, in a dark room with indirect illumination (from

But now back to the initial subject of False Friends (At least for now, I don't want to refer to Ali Chamenei).  When native Germans learn English, there are more cases when (as in the case of closet and lavatory) one is prompted to use a easy-looking translation. And here comes the list of the most prominent ones:

ENGLISH WORD Assumed German Meaning (wrong) confused with the German word:
closet lavatory Klosett
eventually probably eventuell
sea lake See
probe sample Probe
handy Mobile Phone Handy
chef boss Chef
to realize to implement etw. realisieren
eagle hedgehog Igel
bald soon bald
public viewing open-air transmission Public Viewing
smoking tuxedo Smoking
money bag Wallet Brieftasche
gift poisson Gift
closet lavratory Klosett
fabric factory Fabrik
hose pair of trousers Hose
chimney Fire Place Kamin
to rock s.o. to stone s.o. j.m. steinigen
sympathetic likeable sympathisch
to please s.o. to ask somebody a favor bitten

Just to avoid the accusation that I try to make fun on the expense of a single nation: I have to admit that some of the worst (and most resilient) False Friends I heard from non-German speakers. A colleage of mine from an Eastern-European country always says "a Probe", if in fact he refers to "a Sample". The reason is perhaps that both in German and in slavic languages a sample is called "eine Probe", whereas a probe should be precisely translated as "eine Sonde".
Also Indians natives (despite they grew up with a sort of English) are not free from using wrong words or phrases again and again. One PhD student, if he wants to ask a question, always say "I have a doubt: .....".  Another PhD student girl finishes every sentence in her scientific presentations with the phrase "... or something like this".  Thats sounds really, really weired in science.  Can you imagine that Albert Einstein talks about the "... with increasing velocity the mass of an object goes up, with a factor of the inverse square root of (1-v2/c2), OR SOMETHING LIKE THIS.


Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again 10 times. Fail again 9 times. But once a winner.

I don't know if the head-line of this post sounds particular witty. probably not. At least it does not sound as lyrical as the original Samuel Beckett : "Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better."
I have to admit that my fear of failure sometimes blocks me from following up a particlar idea or a project (writing a paper or proposal for grant support, starting a business or planting a tree). But when I read the latest news that a guy with zero political skills and orientation such as Donald Trump want to run for US presidency, I can not often enough say to myself:

Never be afraid of failing. The biggest breakthroughs in science, the most successful pieces of arts and music and literature were always created by people who suffered from fear to fail. But they managed to overcome this fear.


Out of the dark, into the blue

I once had a publication in Nature Genetics together with 78 other authors (I was on position 59, but the author list was in strict alphabetic order). The paper with me as the first author and largest number of co-authors was in Mammalian Genome (with 37 colleagues piggy-bagging on my research). I always thought that it is too difficult to handle a single publication with more than 5 people, each of them want to leave in their individual trace. But now I saw a single paper in the European Physical Journal that has been written by 2891 authors (all belonging to the ATLAS consortium). The paper with the title "Search for dark matter in events with heavy quarks and missing transverse momentum in p+p+ collisions with the ATLAS detector" is 22 pages long.Of these 22 pages, 10 are scientific text, and the remaining 12 pages just contain the list of authors and their affiliation. I feel a bit nostalgia for Tolstoi or Goethe:  One single author, who wrote more then 1000 pages in one book. 

Anyway, I like the Feynman diagrams on page 2 of the paper, they remind me of the schemes of foot pathes one see in mountain maps.

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Just in time: The late arrival of justice

I knew the Rapoport family since I returned to East Berlin in 1988, to start my PhD in a biomedical research center on the northern outskirts of the city, in a suburban settlement known as Buch. It was not only that Tom Rapoport was perhaps the youngest and most eminent professor there, a scientist who started very early to work on the molecular biology of the cell. What impressed me equally much was him insisting to be simply called "Tom" by colleagues and students, a completely unusual way of adressing a more senior scientist in the German academia, otherwise notorious for its conservative and hierarchical structures.
I remember very well one early New Years morning (it must have been in 1988 or 1989), when I did with a friend a skiing tour through the Czech giant mountains, and we arrived pretty early for a 1st of January in a shelter at the Medved peak. We were both pretty confident that we would be the very first hikers in this year, and hurried to sign in our names in the peak log-book. But we obviously underestimated the enhusiasm of Tom Rapoport, who together with most of his young staff had been there already one our before us.
In the middle-class area of Berlin-Pankow, which after the German reunification became one of the trendy parts of the capital to which the Buch village belongs, the Rapoport family was also a gravity center of intellectual and cultural ideas and discussions. To my parents, who still live there, the Rapoports are more known as active and open-minded neighbors with a social consciouness, as they were to me as scientists. The more it was a big frustration to hear that after the Federal Republic of Germany took over reponsibility of the Eastern research authorities, a campaign was launched against Tom, trying to discredit him of having benefitted from the political system of the socialist GDR. It was obviously the attempt of a few employees of his institute to justify their own mediocre scientific qualification, which became more and more obvious following the long required international reviewing process. Tom Rapoport, born in the US to Jewish emmigrants and being too much a gentlemen to enter such a mudslinging, accepted a call from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in Boston to continue his research on intracellular protein transport in the US. It was an irony of the political ups and downs of the cold war period, that Tom had been member of the ruling socialist unity party in the GDR, although he always remained US citizen. Till today, neither the authorities of the German research and education ministry nor the board of the Max-Delbrueck Research center, predecessor of the Berlin-Buch institutes made any attempt of a "Vergangenheitsbewaeltigung", an instrument in Germany to deal with historical mistakes or disasters. Could it be that after a period of 20 years a fatal political decision is still too present in the mind of the actors involved, that their feeling of guilt is still too fresh to enable them to reconsider without prejudies ? Another event that involved Toms mother Ingeborg Rapoport could suggest this.  With a delay of 77 years Mrs. Rapoport, an eminent neonatologist recently was granted her PhD title from the University of Hamburg, to which she submitted her thesis in 1938.  Her topic was diphtheria, an infectious disease that was then a leading cause of death among children in the U.S. and Europe.
The German research community has to be grateful that this 102-year old lady is still doing well enough to personally recieve her degree certificate from the hands of the dean, and later celebrate with friends, relatives and former coworkers this arisal of late justice.
Ingeborg Rapoport, 102, in the Berlin home where she has lived since 1952. She qualified Wednesday for a doctorate that she was refused in 1938.
Ingeborg Rapoport, 102, in the Berlin home where she has lived since 1952. In march 2015 she qualified for a doctorate that she was refused in 1938.
In 1938, when Ms. Rapoport had completed her research project and submitted her thesis, the Nazis under Adolf Hitler had just firmly estblished their power in Germany. Ingeborg’s professor in Hamburg, a one-time Nazi party member, praised her work, she recalled. But that wasn’t enough. “I was told I wasn’t permitted to take the oral examination,” she said.
Academic authorities in Berlin cited “racial reasons” for the ban: Ms. Rapoport, née Syllm, was raised as a Protestant, but her mother was Jewish, making her “a first-degree crossbreed” in Nazi parlance. Officials marked her exam forms with a telltale yellow stripe and deemed her ineligible for academic advancement.
My medical existence was turned to rubble,” said Ms. Rapoport. “It was a shame for science and a shame for Germany.” Her treatment was hardly unique: Thousands of “non-Aryan” students and professors were pushed out of universities in Hitler’s Third Reich, and many died in death camps.She and her family were spared that fate, though the University of Hamburg fervidly embraced the new order. Its dean declared the school “the first national-socialist institute of higher learning in the Reich,” styling himself the university’s Führer-Rektor and setting up new faculties of race biology and colonial law. Among the professors who ran afoul of the Nazis was Ms. Rapoport’s professor, Rudolf Degkwitz, whose expression of outrage over euthanasia at the children’s hospital, among other dissents, led to his imprisonment. In 1938, Ms. Rapoport, then named Ingeborg Syllm, emigrated penniless and alone to the U.S. She did hospital internships in Brooklyn, N.Y., Baltimore and Akron, Ohio. She applied to 48 medical schools and was accepted by one: the Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia.
“I had great luck—and perhaps some tenacity,” Ms. Rapoport said.
Ingeborg Syllm, later Rapoport, as she looked shortly after she left Nazi Germany for the U.S. in 1938.
Ingeborg Syllm, later Rapoport, as she looked shortly after she left Nazi Germany for the U.S. in 1938.

She landed her first job as an M.D. at a Cincinnati hospital, where in 1944 she met an Austrian-Jewish physician and biochemist, Samuel Mitja Rapoport, whom she married two years later. The couple flourished, as he received a Certificate of Merit from President Harry S. Truman for his work on blood conservation, and she rose quickly to head the hospital’s pediatric polyclinic. The couple had three children in rapid succession.
The original 1938 letter from Dr. Rapoport's professor saying she has submitted a doctoral dissertation that would be acceptable ‘if the current laws regarding Fräulein Syllm’s ancestry didn’t make it impossible for her to be allowed to receive a doctorate.’
But Mr. Rapoport was also getting unwanted attention from the government because of his links to the Communist Party, which his wife came to embrace as well. The two spent Sunday mornings distributing the Daily Worker in depressed areas of Cincinnati. The Cincinnati Enquirer soon got wind of that, and so did the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Feeling the heat, Mr. Rapoport remained in Zurich after a pediatric conference in 1950. Ms. Rapoport, pregnant with her fourth child, joined him in Europe with their children. He unsuccessfully sought a position at his alma mater, the University of Vienna, before the family moved to East Germany.
The original 1938 letter from Dr. Rapoport's professor saying she has submitted a doctoral dissertation that would be acceptable ‘if the current laws regarding Fräulein Syllm’s ancestry didn’t make it impossible for her to be allowed to receive a doctorate.’
The original 1938 letter from Dr. Rapoport's professor saying she has submitted a doctoral dissertation that would be acceptable ‘if the current laws regarding Fräulein Syllm’s ancestry didn’t make it impossible for her to be allowed to receive a doctorate.’
There Mr. Rapoport got his own biochemical institute, remaining active almost until his death in 2004. Ms. Rapoport founded the first neonatology clinic in either Germany at Berlin’s Charité Hospital and their children thrived in academic and medical careers of their own.
“I have never felt bitterness,” she said. “I’ve been shockingly lucky in all this. For me it all came out well: I had my best teachers in the U.S., I found my husband, I had my children.” But still, she felt wronged. Only in recent months did it begin looking possible that she could receive the German doctorate she had been refused. A Hamburg colleague of Ms. Rapoport’s son Tom, a Harvard Medical School professor, told her story to the current dean of the University of Hamburg’s medical faculty, who took up the cause.
‘I’ve been shockingly lucky in all this. For me it all came out well: I had my best teachers in the U.S., I found my husband, I had my children.’ (Ingeborg Rapoport)
The dean, Dr. Uwe Koch-Gromus, soon realized that the bureaucratic challenges weren’t minor. In March, the university’s legal department said that for three reasons—her original paper couldn’t be found, she had never completed her oral defense, and she had earned an M.D. from the U.S. anyway—Ms. Rapoport should just be given an honorary degree.
Neither Dr. Koch-Gromus nor Ms. Rapoport was content to plaster over the injustice with an honorary doctorate; instead, he devised a legal pathway for her to qualify for the real one she was denied, and Ms. Rapoport started boning up.
Her main practical obstacle has been her failing eyesight—she can’t read or use a computer. So she had relatives and biochemist friends trawl the Internet for the last seven decades of scientific advances in diphtheria studies and report back by phone.
“I know a lot more about diphtheria now than I did then,” said Ms. Rapoport, who wrote in a 1997 memoir that her youthful devotion to medicine was partly inspired by the Christian missionary Albert Schweitzer.
On Wednesday Dr. Koch-Gromus and two other professors settled into the brown-and-orange furniture in Ms. Rapoport’s Berlin living room and drilled her for 45 minutes before approving her doctorate—nearly eight decades after she applied.
“It was a very good test,” said the dean. “Frau Rapoport has gathered notable knowledge about what’s happened since then. Particularly given her age, she was brilliant.”
Ms. Rapoport, though relieved, was less certain. “I used to always do my best work in tests,” she said. “I’m afraid I don’t anymore.”
The university has scheduled a ceremony in Hamburg on June 9, when Ms. Rapoport will become, by all available evidence, the oldest person ever to receive a doctoral degree. Guinness World Records has cited a 97-year-old German as the oldest recipient of a doctorate.
Dr. Koch-Gromus, Ms. Rapoport said, “has made a great effort to show that things are now different in Germany.”
But the process has also brought her full circle. “Studying made me remember how abandoned and uncertain I felt in 1938,” she said. “That was covered up, but it’s come back recently in my dreams.”