Personal Background

Minerals had lead me to astronomy at the age of 12. I studied astronomy and was intent on continuing this path. While pondering my next steps, a part-time job changed my future forever.
A scientist, Wolfram Saenger, at the Max-Planck-Institut für experimentelle Medizin in Göttingen, was offering a programmer part-time position. I interviewed and was accepted. At the end of the interview he asked me whether I would be interested to becocme a graduate student in his research team. Initially I declined but left the final decision open.

Disaster in Bonn

During a party at the Sternwarte in Göttingen one of my former professors suggested that I contact Peter Mezger at the Max-Planck- Institut für Radioastronomie. After having arranged a visit to Bonn I discussed my options with Mezger. At the end everything seemed settled: I would join his department as a graduate student and a professor in Göttingen would act as my official thesis supervisor. Then came Mezger"s final question: "Und wovon wollen Sie leben?" - "How do you want to cover your living expenses?".
This one question ended my astronomical career. I pointed out to him that the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft offered grants for graduate students. He demured, telling me that he had no money to support me. It was likely not meant seriously: I was contacted multiple times thereafter asking when I would move to Bonn. I never replied but ultimately got tired and sent a reply that I woudl never come.

I returned to Göttingen the same afternoon, talked to Saenger and asked whether he still wanted me as a grauate student. He said yes and from that moment on I became a protein crystallographer, spending most of my scientific career in that field.

Professional Activities

I have worked in research institutes, universities and pharmaceutical companies in Germany, the USA and Japan. Most of that time was spent in Japan, where I lived and worked for 16 years.

Research Institutes



Multi-wavelength Anomalous Diffraction (MAD)

The most important contibution that I made to protein crystallography was my involvement in the development of multi-wavelength anomalous difraction. The method was mostly developed by W. Hendriclson and J. Smith. I made minor contributions to the theory and was the first person to successfully apply it, jointly with Hendrickson and Smith, to determine an unknown structure with this technique. It is now the standard method in the field, together with single-wavelength anomalous diffraction.


W. A. Hendrickson, A. Pähler, J. L. Smith, Y. Satow, E. A. Merritt, R. P. Phizackerley
Crystal structure of core streptavidin determined from multiwavelength anomalous diffraction of synchrotron radiarion
PNAS 86, 2180-2184 (1989)

Paper - local copy