History of the Institute of Agricultural Chemistry

The field of agricultural chemistry includes the Division of Plant Nutrition and Plant Physiology, the Division of Quality of Plant Products and the Division of Quality and Sensory of Plant Products as well as their central services (administration, experimental engineering in greenhouse, climate chamber and on the field, IT).

Tabular summary

1827/28 Carl Sprengel is giving a lecture on “Agricultural Chemistry” at a German university in Göttingen for the first time in the winter semester.
1873 - 1911 Bernhard Tollens Director of the Agricultural Chemical Laboratory at the Agricultural Institute, Nikolausberger Weg, established in 1873.
1911 - 1921 Paul Ehrenberg Director of the Agricultural Chemical Institute
1921 - 1945 Edwin Blanck Director of the Agricultural Chemical Institute, renamed to the Agricultural Chemical and Soil Science Institute.
1945 - 1967 Fritz Scheffer Director of the Institute of Agricultural Chemistry and Soil Science.
1964 On recommendation of the Science Council division of the chair soil science (F. Scheffer) resp. Agricultural Chemistry.
1965 - 1978 Erwin Welte Director of the Institute of Agricultural Chemistry.
1973 - 1997 Eberhard Przemeck Head of Department for Biochemistry and Physiology of Yield Formation at the Institute of Agricultural Chemistry.
1980 - 1990 Karl Müller Head of the Working Group Quality of Plant Products at the Institute of Agricultural Chemistry.
1983 - 1993 Albrecht Jungk Holder of the Chair of Agricultural Chemistry.
1995 - 2007 Norbert Claassen Holder of the Chair of Agricultural Chemistry.
1995 Elke Pawelzik Head of the Division of Quality of Plant Products at the Institute of Agricultural Chemistry.
2006 Dissolution of the Institute of Agricultural Chemistry and integration of the Division of Plant Nutrition and the Division of Quality of Plant Products into the newly created Department of Crop Sciences, the former departments have been merged into Agricultural Chemistry.
2008 - August 2009 Joachim Schulze acting head of the Division of Plant Nutrition and Crop Physiology.
September 2009 - March 2011 Elke Pawelzik acting head of the Division of Plant Nutrition and Crop Physiology.
April 2011 Klaus Dittert becomes head of the Division of Plant Nutrition.
April 2019 Susanne Neugart becomes head of the newly created Division of Quality and Sensory of Plant Products.

The tradition of agricultural chemistry as an independent field of academic teaching goes back to 1827, when Carl Sprengel (1787 - 1859) held a 5-hour lecture on the topic "Agricultural chemistry" at a German university in Göttingen for the first time in the winter semester of 1827/28. Sprengel, pupil and later employee of A. Thaer, recognized during his agricultural research and advisory work that basic scientific knowledge is necessary for successful agricultural activities. At the age of 34 he began to study science at the Georgia-Augusta (focus on chemistry), did his doctorate two years later (1823) and obtained the venia legendi in 1826. As a private lecturer, he continued his scientific work in Göttingen with chemical studies on soils, plants and fertilizers and taught agricultural chemistry. For the first time, he demonstrated that plants need minerals for growth and development, which they take up from the soil with their roots. With this knowledge, he created the foundations of "mineral theory" (1826), with which he contradicted Thaer's theory of humus ("plants feed on humus"), but recognized humus as a carrier and supplier of mineral nutrients. In 1828 he formulated the “law of the minimum”, 27 years before Liebig. Sprengel's agricultural chemistry work as a whole can be seen as the beginning of modern plant nutrition science.

In order to resolve apparently the last doubts about the mineral theory, the Göttingen ‘Königl. Gesellschaft der Wissenschaften' in 1838 again raised the question of the need for minerals for plant growth and put out a price task endowed with 30 pistols (1 P = 1 golden five-thaler piece) by a "friend of science", in which the answer was "whether the so-called inorganic elements (potassium, iron, silicon, etc.) can also be found in the plants when they are not presented to them from the outside, and whether those elements are such essential components of the vegetative organism that they are necessary for their complete development needs? ”(F. G. Bartling, A. A. Berthold, F. Wöhler). In the spirit of Sprengel’s mineral theory, biologist A. F. Wiegmann and pharmacist L. Polsdorff solved the task in 1842 and were awarded the prize.

Around 50 years later, around 1870, agricultural studies were established at the Agricultural Academy in Weende (near at Göttingen), after agricultural camera studies had previously been studied at Georgia-Augusta until the end of the 18th century. The university management decided to reintegrate Weende's agricultural studies into the university. The curator of the university granted o.Prof. to the director of the new Agricultural Institute in 1872. Dr. Gustav Drechsler (1833 - 1890) commissioned to prepare the resettlement of the course here. The "Agricultural Chemical Laboratory" (see photos) also belonged to the buildings of the Agricultural Institute in the north of the city on the way to Nikolausberg, which had already been erected by Drechsler and which the university now took over. In addition to the chemical laboratories for the investigation of soils, plants, fertilizers as well as animal and plant foods, it also contained teaching and other work rooms. This building (later Nikolausbergerweg 7) was an institute for agricultural chemistry, later agricultural chemistry and soil science for more than a century until it had to make way for the new building of the Göttingen State and University Library in 1988.

In 1873, Bernhard Tollens (1841 - 1918) was appointed director of the agricultural chemical laboratory. Tollens, a student of F. Wöhlers, already known in chemistry for his work on the elucidation of the chemical constitution and the steric structure of carbohydrates (ring structure of monosaccharides, aldoses, ketoses, Tollens's sample for the detection of reducing sugars, etc.), addressed here with lectures and Internships in an agricultural chemistry course that was received by numerous students with great interest, which led this institution to international renown. Overseas students came to Göttingen to study agricultural chemistry. He continued his research on the natural substance sugar here. (FromTollens has been handed down that - in pre-electronic times - he created a perfectly functioning communication system in the building with the help of voice tubes that connected almost all rooms.) Tollens also applied to agricultural practice in numerous lectures and writings . He headed the agricultural chemical laboratory until 1911.

He was succeeded from 1911 to 1921 from Prof. Dr. Paul Ehrenberg (1875-1956) as director of the Agricultural Chemical Institute. The conversion of the former laboratory into an institute marks the development of agricultural chemistry into an academic discipline and its solid reputation in the university. During his time in Göttingen, Ehrenberg became internationally known primarily for his work on the properties of soil colloids and their importance for the nutrition of plants, as well as for the "Lime-Potash Law" he formulated. He also commented on fertilization in numerous publications.

When Ehrenberg accepted a call to the University of Wroclaw, in 1921 o.Prof. Dr. Edwin Blanck (1877 - 1953) was appointed to the Chair of Agricultural Chemistry, which he held until 1945. Blanck, chemist and geologist, continued the more soil-oriented research of his predecessor and anchored two work directions in the institute: classic agricultural chemistry with a focus on plant nutrition and fertilization, and soil-oriented research. (Blanck and F. Giesecke only offered courses in the subject of animal physiology and animal nutrition for a few years.) In teaching and research, Blanck placed particular emphasis on chemical soil analysis to show the composition and properties of soils and to study soil genesis. These fields of work were assessed as so formative for the future of agricultural sciences that the university accepted his request to rename the institute "Agricultural Chemistry and Soil Science Institute". The institute bore this name until 1964. Together with Emil Haselhoff (1862 - 1948), he wrote the "Textbook of Agricultural Chemistry" in 4 volumes (Berlin 1924-1929), which became a standard work of his time. In the years 1929 to 1939, published and co-authored by Blanck, the “Handbuch der Bodenlehre” was published in 10 volumes with a supplementary volume that became trend-setting for international soil science, and in 1949, after his retirement, an “introduction to the genetic soil theory as independent science and its basics ”.

1945 o.Prof. Dr. Fritz Scheffer (1899 - 1979) was appointed to the Chair of Agricultural Chemistry and Soil Science, which he held until 1967. Scheffer, pupil of Blanck, then assistant and postdoctoral fellow at Th. Roemer, Halle, was initially faced with the task of reorganizing teaching in agricultural chemistry and soil science for the "war generation". Georgia-Augusta was one of the first German universities to resume teaching on September 17, 1945 after the end of the war. In addition, the institute at Nikolausbergerweg 7, temporarily occupied by the English military, had to be re-established after being temporarily accommodated in the Inorganic Chemical Institute at Hospitalstrasse 8/9. In 1962 the institute received a new building at Von-Siebold-Strasse 4.

The main focus of the scientific work of this institute emerged in teaching and research, such as "nutrient transformation capacity" of the soil, fertilizers and fertilization (slow-acting nitrogen fertilizer, phosphate and potash fertilization, manure and straw fertilization, lime supply to the soil, methods of fertilizer design among other things), soil fertility, humus research (formation, material characterization, properties, importance for plant nutrition and for the properties of soils etc. (later continued by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Ziechmann in the chemistry department of the agricultural sciences department)), but also broad topics Soil fundamentals (soil genesis, soil properties, soil structure, clay mineralogy, etc., for further details see Institute of Soil Sciences, Göttingen). Among other things, new editions appeared in the series of textbooks on agricultural chemistry and soil science, which Scheffer published together with co-authors, such as Scheffer-Schachtschabel (textbook of soil science, continued to the present day), Scheffer-Welte (textbook of plant nutrition) or Scheffer-Ulrich (humus and Humus fertilization); together with O. Tornau, he revised the textbook on agriculture (1956) by Roemer-Scheffer.

In addition, Scheffer was significantly involved in the re-establishment of scientific societies and associations in the newly emerging Federal Republic of Germany, such as the German Soil Science Society, the Association of German Agricultural Investigation and Research Institutions and others. This was formative for a cosmopolitan institute in which, in addition to German, numerous foreign students also acquired their academic qualifications.

After an evaluation of the agricultural faculties of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Science Council of the University of Göttingen issued a recommendation in 1962 to take into account the process of autonomous plant nutrition and soil science at the Agricultural Faculty in Göttingen by creating two independent chairs and institutes. After approval by the Senate, the Lower Saxony State Government established the Chair of Agricultural Chemistry for the subject of Plant Nutrition in 1964. The existing professorship with the incumbent F. Scheffer received the designation soil science.

In 1965, Prof. Dr. Erwin Welte was appointed to occupy and found the institute in the old building at Nikolausbergerweg 7, who held them until his retirement in 1978. Welte was a student of E. Blanck, then director of the Institute for Non-Parasitic Plant Diseases at the Biological Federal Institute in Berlin and later director of the Agricultural Research Institute in Büntehof of the sales association of German potash plants (today Kali und Salz AG). He developed a working institute and transferred it to a new building at Von-Siebold-Straße 6 in 1971. In addition to the chair holder, the scientific staff included a head of department (Prof. Dr. Eberhard Przemeck, term of office 1973-1997), an academic senior adviser (a.pl Prof. Dr. Karl Müller 1926-1996, term of office 1980-1990), a senior assistant (Dr. Friedel Timmermann), a research assistant (Dr. Ladislav Cervenka) and two assistant positions.

The new institute was structured as follows:

  • General plant nutrition as well as chemistry and recycling of water and waste water (Prof. Dr. E. Welte, Dr. L. Cervenka),
  • Biochemistry and Physiology of Yielding (Prof. Dr. E. Przemeck),
  • Quality of plant products (Prof. Dr. K. Müller),
  • Fertilization and technological chemistry of fertilizers (Dr. F. Timmermann),
  • Analytics and statistics.

Welte focused in teaching and research on the close connections between the use of agricultural land by plant and animal production and the possible pollution of the environment with pollutants - at that time as a "lonely caller in the desert". He paid particular attention to the causes of reutrophication and pollution by municipalities, industries, but also agriculture, etc. He contributed to the fact that agriculture shared its responsibility for the preservation of pollution-free ecological systems as an important social task for the preservation of human livelihoods (e.g. drinking water).

Research in the Department of Yield Physiology (E. Przemeck) focused on questions of heavy metal supply (micronutrients) and heavy metal pollution (pollutants) and their effects on the nitrogen metabolism of crops. The aim was to deepen the knowledge about N assimilation and the amino acid balance in the course of growth of agricultural crop plants and to develop criteria for a high metabolic N efficiency taking into account the micronutrient nutrition of the plants. In addition, physiological foundations on the transport and distribution of heavy metals in plants were worked on. - With the group Quality (K. Müller) a field of work was founded which was new in the scientific objective in the teaching and research area of ​​the faculty. With the increasing "refinement" of agricultural plant products in the food industry to finished products, there are more and more special requirements for the quality of the raw materials supplied, which are to be provided by agriculture for this market sector. Defining the quality criteria and describing how they can be influenced in the raw products through cultivation, harvesting and storage processes was and is an essential task in the teaching and research of this group. In addition to vegetables and fruit, Müller especially examined the potato (“Kartoffel-Müller” in student circles). He retired in 1990. - In the area of ​​fertilization and fertilizers, the focus was on the use of mineral and commercial fertilizers, their effects and methodological principles for measuring fertilization, but also work on the recovery of phosphate from waste water in sewage treatment plants call.

After retiring from Welte, 1983, Prof. Dr. Albrecht Jungk introduced the rhizosphere to the institute as a new research area. The aim is to deepen the causal understanding of the transition of minerals from the soil into the plant. His work showed that supplying the plant with minerals is the result of interactions between the availability of nutrients in the soil and the nutrient appropriation capacity of the plant. In particular, he tried to record the individual factors involved and to quantify their influence on the nutrition of the plant. This includes, on the one hand, the dynamics of plant nutrients in the border area between root and soil and, on the other hand, the morphological and physiological properties of the root, which determine access to the nutrients in the soil and their entry into the root. In addition, there is the separation of matter from the roots, which leads to the mobilization of soil nutrients, as well as the colonization of the roots with organisms, especially mycorrhizae, which can also be important for the nutrition of the plant. He explained in detail the basics and connections of the part of the rhizosphere research related to plant nutrition in “Plant Roots - The Hidden Half” (edited by Y. Waisel et al., See below). - Jungk also carried out long-term field trials at various locations to adapt the recommendations for phosphate and potash fertilization to the current situation. He retired in 1993.

During this time, work on the quality of herbal products continued. In the yield physiology department, the focus of research shifted to investigations to quantify the ontogenetically controlled remobilization of nitrogen within the plant. Ecological research approaches to the release of nitrate at risk of leaching from soils through various forms of fallow land or through changes in cultivation intensity and through special features in the nitrogen balance of some crop plants have been newly included. Przemeck (together with Dr. B. Berger, Inst. For Phytopathology and Plant Protection, and Dr. J. Niemeyer, Inst. For Soil Sciences) introduced the subject "Environmental Analysis and Ecotoxicology" as an elective subject at the faculty. After his retirement in 1997, the professorship was relocated to the faculty. The work of the department, which was renamed ‘Ecotoxicology’, is fully carried out in the teaching and research of Dr. T. Lickfett (scientific assistant) continued.

In 1995, Prof. Dr. Norbert Claassen, previously a professor of plant nutrition at the Technical University of Munich in Freising-Weihenstephan, has been appointed professor of agricultural chemistry. In 1995 Ms. Prof. Dr. Elke Pawelzik as a food technologist.

1991 (apl.) Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Römer joined the Institute of Agricultural Chemistry and rehabilitated to the Department of Agricultural Sciences in Göttingen. He was previously a university lecturer for plant nutrition at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg with a focus on phosphate dynamics in soils and plants and the problem of pollution in areas with potash salt production. At the Göttingen Institute, he worked in research in the field of nutrient and pollutant mobilization in soils through root excretion as well as in the field of genetically determined nutrient efficiency in various plant species. In addition, he published on questions of P utilization from sewage sludge and on the optimization of P and K fertilization. He continued the P and K endurance tests in the field that A. Jungk started. - In teaching, he was responsible for the elective subject of the diploma examination regulations "Nutrition of Cultivated Plants in the Tropics and Subtropics" and held the lecture "Fundamentals of Plant Nutrition". After E. Przemeck's teaching ended, he continued his courses (physiology, micronutrients). W. Römer retired in 2001.


  • Böhm, W. (1997): Biographisches Handbuch zur Geschichte des Pflanzenbaus. Verlag K. G. Saur, München.
  • Jungk, A. (1996): Dynamics of Nutrient Movement at the Soil - Root Interface. In: Waisel, Y., A. Eshel und U. Kafkafi (Editors), Plant Roots - The Hidden Half. Marcel Dekker, Inc., New York, Basel, Honkong, p. 529 - 556.
  • Herpel, H. J. (1932): Die Entwicklung des landwirtschaftlichen Studiums an der Universität Göttingen. Göttingen.
  • Sauerbeck, D. und H. Söchtig (1987): Carl Sprengel, precursor of agricultural chemistry. In: E. Welte und I. Scabolcs, Agricultural waste management and environmental protection. 4th Internat. Sympos. of CIEC, 11-14 May 1987 in Braunschweig, Proceedings Vol. 1, p. 25-33