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Obituary to Prof. Fritz Sauter (1930-2020)

TU Wien mourns the death of Prof. Sauter, who yet unexpectedly passed away.

Fritz Sauter

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Em. Univ.Prof. Fritz Sauter (1930-2020)

Fritz Sauter standing in an antique amphitheater

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Fritz Sauter during one of his countless voyages aiming at the combination of science, history, and cultural heritage.

In February 2020 three round anniversaries of consecutive Chairs in Organic Chemistry were celebrated at TU Wien within the symposium “200 years in heterocyclic chemistry”; now we have the sad duty to announce the passing of the oldest scientist in this group. Fritz Sauter died rather unexpectedly only a few weeks before actually reaching his 90th birthday. It turned out as a most memorable event to look back at the oeuvre of such an eminent scientist last February and will conserve vivid memory of him among the participants of the meeting and beyond.

Fritz Sauter started his scientific career as organic chemist at University of Vienna. Already then it became apparent that his interests reached far beyond chemistry, as he also completed degrees in zoology and botany. Additionally, he developed a passion for history, and here in particular for the region of the classical orient. Whenever welcoming guests many years later and picking them up from the airport, an extra tour by taxi through the many quarters of old Vienna became tradition and Fritz Sauter could tell countless stories and anecdotes on many buildings and historical events. A dear colleague and friend from America of European descent once defined his character as a “baroque personality” in the most positive sense of a traditional “universal scholar”.

Finally, he focused on chemistry and completed his PhD in 1957. Together with his teacher and mentor he moved to TU Wien when Otto Hromatka was appointed as Chair in Organic Chemistry in 1963. He lateron diversified his research interest to the area of heterocyclic chemistry, which even today plays a paramount role in agro, medicinal, and modern biological chemistry. His independent research activities reached a first culmination when completing his Habilitation in organic chemistry in 1970. The then succeeded his mentor as full professor and Chair in Organic Chemistry at TU Wien in 1978. In this position, he should create a whole school of heterocyclic chemists during the following two decades, all of them most successful in industry and academia.

Whenever entertaining his additional passion for voyages, in particular travelling the middle East, he always attempted to also take the opportunity to establish scientific contacts with the aim to exert knowledge transfer to less privileged and industrialized territories. This was particularly successful in Egypt, where he co-founded the well-known Ibn-Sina symposia series; within this recurring event in heterocyclic chemistry long-lasting collaborations with many oriental institutions were initiated and vivid exchange of scientists was triggered. Establishing the Blue-Danube symposia series represented a similar success story, re-uniting the geographical region of the old Austro-Hungarian Empire based on scientific interaction. This turned out as most visionary, as first events took place years before the lift of the Iron Curtain and contributed to the vivid interaction of institutions in the area of heterocyclic chemistry in Central Europe. It was especially his understanding of cross-cultural interaction and exchange based on scientific intercourse that made these events to symposia in the true sense of ancient Greeks: a sociable gathering among friends. In his unique attitude and with delicate diplomatic skills he initiated and fostered these activities, which became strong bonds for the generations to follow.

Fritz Sauter continued to entertain scientific research even after his retirement in 1998. Again, his interests shifted to a novel passion, this time archaeometry turned out as most fruitful combination of his expertise in chemistry with his knowledge in history. Literally until the very last days he worked on publication manuscripts with former colleagues and interacted scientifically with his former students. He was blessed to exert a brilliant mind even at high age, though his body gradually waned and finally did not permit any further travel.

Fritz Sauter died peacefully on April 18, 2020.

For many of his students, he was a role-model, an utmostly polite and literate person; his sincerity made him even a fatherly friend to some. We will always keep a vivid memory of him as teacher, colleague, and mentor.

Hannes Fröhlich, Peter Gärtner, Ulrich Jordis, Marko Mihovilovic & Peter Stanetty