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Obituary: Ruprecht Haensel (1935-2009), first Director General of the ESRF


It is with great sadness that the ESRF learnt that Ruprecht Haensel, first Director General of ESRF, passed away on 20 October after a long illness. Under his guidance, the ESRF, the first third generation synchrotron source in the world, came into operation. He led the institute from 1986, even before its official foundation, until the machine was running and the first beamlines were taking shape, in 1992.

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Ruprecht Haensel started his career as a synchrotron scientist. He was the first synchrotron radiation user at DESY in Hamburg, where he started his PhD work in 1962. In 1974 he became Professor of Physics at Kiel University, where he later became dean, and he stayed there until he retired in 2000. During this time, he took a leave to move to Grenoble and became director of the neutron source Institut Laue Langevin (1985-1986). He would go back to his scientific origins in 1986, when he took the position of director general at the ESRF.

At the celebrations for the 20th anniversary of the ESRF, Haensel came back to Grenoble and met several of the staff that worked with him in the early days of the facility. He also contributed to the commemorative 20 years’ book, where he wrote on his years at the ESRF: “The temptation (to take the job as director of ESRF) was too great to resist. The subsequent years (until my return to Germany at the end of 1992) were surely the happiest of my life. I was privileged to work together with my colleagues and collaborators, who participated with professionalism and dedication in a project that exceeded everything we had ever done before”.

Ruprecht Haensel dedicated hard work to guide the ESRF in its first years and cared a lot for his staff. Even after he became ill, he enjoyed life to the maximum and continued travelling with his wife in their camping car around what he called his “second homeland”, France. 

He will not only be remembered as the founding director general of the ESRF, but also as a colleague close to his staff and as a friend to many of us. His memory will stay alive with the ESRF.


Francesco Sette, Director General of ESRF

Top image: Ruprecht Haensel in the 1991 ESRF Users' Meeting.