Awards > Awardee Interviews > Interview

Interview: Michael Grunze

2018 Gaede-Langmuir Award Recipient
Interviewed by Dick Brundle, October 23, 2018

BRUNDLE:  So, my name is Dick Brundle. I’m here representing the AVS, and I’m here to interview Professor Michael Grunze, who is the 2018 recipient of the Gaede-Langmuir Award of the AVS. It’s the twenty-third of October and we are in Long Beach, in California, where the 65th AVS International Symposium is taking place. So, first of all, I’m going to read the citation for your award. I have to read it, because I couldn’t possibly remember it. (Laugh) So, Michael Grunze, from Ruprecht-Karls University of Heidelberg, Germany. And, the citation reads: “Taking surface science beyond small molecules at surfaces to complex liquid/surface interactions, including polymers, biointerphases, and biomedical applications, through development of novel experimental approaches, theoretical simulations, and inventions.”

The award will be given tomorrow night, on Wednesday, and there is a lecture that goes with this, which I believe is at 3:00 p.m.?

GRUNZE:  Yes, after, after Dave Castner’s Award talk.

BRUNDLE: The title of your talk is “From Description to Prediction of Biointerphases Reactions”. A lot shorter than the citation. So, in the description in the program, the citation, there’s quite a lot of information about your career background. In this interview, though, we’ll talk about that, I really want to concentrate on more personal things, like your origins, why you got into this, etcetera. I always like to start at the beginning. So, where were you born and what was the background of your parents?

GRUNZE:  I was born on June 11, 1947 in Mülheim, Ruhr, which is in the industrial, heavy steel, and coal area in Germany, since my mother went from Berlin to stay with her parents because of the Berlin blockade. That was the time where supplies had to be flown into West Berlin, which was cut off from West Germany, and it was a very difficult time to get food. So, she went to stay with her parents and I was born in Mülheim. But then, about a half a year later we both moved back to Berlin.


GRUNZE:  The background,  my father was a medical doctor. He finished his medical studies during the war, in Freiburg, and was a medic on a minesweeper in the Baltic. He was in the Navy. My  mother, had to flee from Swinemünde, on the Baltic sea,  when the Russian army  moved further west. She just finished high school and was then trained  as a nurse. She was taking care of the wounded and helping families to flee from the east to the west. My parents then  eventually met in Glücksburg, which is in northern Germany on the Danish border, in a hospital. And I was born about ten months later.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. So, what about the rest of the family? Brothers? Sisters?

GRUNZE:  Two brothers. They are both medical doctors.

BRUNDLE:  Younger? Older?

GRUNZE:  I’m the oldest. The second one is Martin, he’s three years younger, and Heinz is thirteen years younger.

BRUNDLE:  So, they decided to follow their father’s career?


BRUNDLE:  Well, I assume, he was proud that they would do that? You did not follow that path, at all, and…

GRUNZE:  But I had a simple reason.


GRUNZE:  When I grew up in Berlin, in Wannsee, I hardly saw my father. He was leaving early in the morning from the hospital and came home late, and then he was writing his books. He was an oncologist, practicing internal medicine, so he wrote some important books on internal medicine. He did that at night, and on the weekend. So, I decided very early on, “This is too much work. I don’t want to do that.”

BRUNDLE:  And, so, since you decided it was too much work, and you are at high school, at that point, right, what were you doing?

GRUNZE:  Well, I made sure that I would not flunk a class. Which  means, however, I had marginal grades. But, at that time it wasn’t really critical, because when you finished high school with your “Abitur” you always could go to university. I was sailing a lot and skipping school, and training on the Wannsee for the races. I  got caught a few times when I was skipping school, and then had to be an orderly student and got an extra work load  for some time.

BRUNDLE:  I should tell people, that was a loaded question, because I knew those things. (Laugh) I mean, I’ve known Michael as a colleague and a friend for over forty years. So, I do know some of the early history, and we won’t raise all of it! But, I think, one of the most interesting things. is you ended up very early in the U.S., not permanently but for education. Can you tell us something about that?

GRUNZE:  Well,  I have to go a little further back. When I was finishing high school, two months before, I still wanted to become a lawyer because my self-impression was, “I can twist around sentences and arguments. That would be the right job for me.” But, at that time I saw my uncle, who was a famous inorganic chemist. He was living in East Berlin. When we talked he made a very important point, which changed my mind. “Do you realize if you study law you’re studying German law. You’re going to be tied to this country. So, if you want to be able to move and escape bad  things happening at home you better learn something which is universal.” And, that’s how I got into chemistry. But then, when I started at the University, sailing took over again since I was on a competitive German team. So, I was very bad in my studies. I was, in the second year, almost a year behind. And, since my father happened to be a faculty member of the Freie University he met his colleagues from chemistry at some event and he asked how his son is doing and they said, “Well, we don’t think he’s going to make it. It’s just a matter of a few months and he will be told to leave.” That had bad consequences for me in terms of the support I got from home and I was wondering, was I too stupid or just too lazy? (Laugh) And, so, I made a big effort catching up in organic/inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, and after half a year I was then good enough a student to get a Fulbright Fellowship. This got me to Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois.

BRUNDLE:  I’m not sure everybody will know about Knox College, its history. Do you want to say a little bit about that? It’s a famous place in the U.S.

GRUNZE:  Well, I think it is, it always was a very, very good liberal art college. Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas had their famous debate in Galesburg, and Carl Sandburg the poet and writer was born and  lived there. So, they have some important history. Galesburg is in the middle of the cornfields west of Chicago, about 180 miles. I went there because before that I went to school outside Chicago for a year when my father was a visiting scientist at the University of Chicago, and I had a close relationship to my grand uncle. He was working in the stockyards. He was at least a socialist, if not a communist. He got stranded in New York in 1918, just before the First World War, and he couldn’t leave anymore. We really were close and I wanted to be able to visit him frequently and Knox College happened to be the closest institution near Chicago for that exchange program.

BRUNDLE:  Did you speak English pretty fluently before that, or is that where you learned, or in Chicago?

GRUNZE:  I learned English in Chicago

BRUNDLE:   Okay. So, partly from your uncle in the stockyards and partly from Knox College?

GRUNZE:  Right.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. So, how long were you there, Knox College?

GRUNZE:  One year. I came in September ’69 and I left in May ´70  and then I took a trip with my brother through Mexico, for five months approximately, and then I went back to Berlin.

BRUNDLE:  Yes. I heard things from you about that trip in Mexico, and we won’t go into that!

GRUNZE:  Yeah. (Laugh) Okay.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. So then you went back to Germany?

GRUNZE:  Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  And, did what?

GRUNZE:  Well, let me mention something which transformed me, actually, when I was in Knox. When I came to Knox I knew I’m supposed to do chemistry. That’s what I understood, but I didn’t really have a particular interest in any field of chemistry. The same year I came there, there was a new young professor, Bob Kooser. He just finished his Ph.D. in Cornell. He was, maybe thirty-one years or thirty years old. He did his Ph.D. in NMR spectroscopy, and he taught the physical chemistry class. He introduced “modern methods,” quantum mechanics  and quantum chemistry -which was new to me-  and we could use a big  IBM card-deck computer. So, I was amazed about the fact that we could calculate wave functions by stamping cards all night in the lab and then carry them over to the computer center for a run. So, I got really interested in physical chemistry then and that determined my further studies and my focus.

BRUNDLE:  So, really, it was the influence of one particular . . .

GRUNZE:  One person.

BRUNDLE:  Uhm-hmm. So, then you came back to Germany, and did what at that point?

GRUNZE:  Well, I went back and continued my studies in Berlin. I had to do my “Vordiplom”  exam and  then the Diplom exam. It took me two years to my diploma. I think that was the regular time it took, but my Ph.D. was only about eighteen months.

BRUNDLE:  And, the Ph.D. was in?

GRUNZE:  Physical Chemistry.

BRUNDLE:  What was your subject? 

GRUNZE:  I was studying the “reverse” kinetics of crystal growth, which was  reducing zinc oxide and cadmium oxide with CO or hydrogen.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. So that, did that involve anything that relates to modern surface science, at that point?

GRUNZE:  Well, I was  using a quartz microbalance. I’m not sure you ever saw one. You could actually…

BRUNDLE:  I know what it is.

GRUNZE:  A microbalance having small dishes on long tungsten wires, suspended into an oven, basically. Everything had to be made out of quartz because of the high reaction temperatures. You let in the reducing gas and measured the weight loss as a function of temperature and pressure to get the kinetics. I learned glass blowing. I learned welding. I learned all sort of trades, because you had to build the instruments yourself.

BRUNDLE:  Yes. In those days, Ph.D. students actually had to build the equipment they used, and then there was a good chance that they also understood it.


BRUNDLE:  Not the case always these days.

GRUNZE:  Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. But I know you came back to, to the U.S. again as part of your early career. Back to Chicago, correct?

GRUNZE:  After my Ph.D., you mean?


GRUNZE:  No. I went to work with Gerhard Ertl, and then John Pritchard, and then I went to the Fritz Haber Institute.


GRUNZE:  I came back to the US working with you in 1980.

BRUNDLE:  Oh, no. Long before that. Okay.

GRUNZE:  Well, I visited.

BRUNDLE:  Right.

GRUNZE:  I visited Chicago. I visited the U.S. Oh, okay, I know what you’re referring to. AVS 1973, when I was in New York. I remember that. That’s how I got into the AVS. I submitted an abstract about my work on the reduction of zinc oxide and it was accepted for oral presentation. So, I was really proud, and got the money from the German Science Foundation – I just got my diploma  – to come over here. And, there were quite a few people actually interested in zinc oxide, like Harald Ibach, who was working also on these oxide surfaces. So, I met a lot of interesting people and that’s how I…

BRUNDLE:  And that’s when you joined the AVS?


BRUNDLE:  I thought you joined before that?

GRUNZE:  No. In 1973.

BRUNDLE:  Actually, the same as me.


BRUNDLE:  At that same meeting?

GRUNZE:  Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  But we didn’t know each other then? And, you’ve been involved with the AVS pretty much ever since, I think. Right?

GRUNZE:  Well, on, on and off.

BRUNDLE:  On and off?

GRUNZE:  When I went astray “into the liquid”, I think, for a while I didn’t go to the AVS meeting.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. Okay. By this time – so, you were there in New York in 1973. Were you married by that time?

GRUNZE:  Yes. I got married in ’72.

BRUNDLE:  Seventy-two? So, take me back to the background of that. How did you meet your wife? Where does she come from? Her history.

GRUNZE:  Okay. Well, why don’t you ask her? (Laugh)

BRUNDLE:  Because I’m interviewing you.

GRUNZE:  I met her in Berlin. She was studying German and History to become a high school teacher, and we met at a party.

BRUNDLE:  And, that’s like 1971-72, sometime?

GRUNZE:  Yeah. I think it was ’71, in the fall, and we got married the next year.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. And then you came here to the AVS for that paper, and did you have a permanent position anywhere at that point in Germany?

GRUNZE:  Well, not  permanent.  But, once you had your diploma you actually got a full salary as a scientific assistant, and you had to work in the laboratory. So, I supervised the lab work of the students. I had such a position until I got my Ph.D. And, with my Ph.D. I got the  Liebig Award from chemical industry, which allowed me to go anyplace for two years and they pay for everything. That was when I decided to go to Munich. So, I quit my position at the Free University in Berlin and took this stipend.

BRUNDLE:  And worked with whom and on what?

GRUNZE:  Well, Gerhard Ertl and…

BRUNDLE:  You hadn’t been involved with Ertl at all before that?

GRUNZE:  No. I wasn’t.


GRUNZE:  Well, I knew about his work, also from the AVS conference. But, it was basically my Ph.D. supervisor, Wolfgang Hirschwald, who recommended I should go there. I went to Munich and Gerhard Ertl accepted me because I had my own money and excellent grades. The project he gave me was to investigate the adsorption and dissociation of nitrogen on iron surfaces, where the biggest problem for me was not learning new techniques like  electron diffraction and Auger spectroscopy, but to get a clean single crystal. That was the biggest problem at the beginning, to grow the crystals, clean them, and cut them, and polish them, and…

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. So, well-defined…

GRUNZE:  Single crystals surface.

BRUNDLE:  Single crystal surface science?

GRUNZE:  Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  And, at that time I was messing around with films. So that must have had quite an influence on you then, working with him? Was it a big group, at that point? Were there other people that AVS would know and that we would know in that group?

GRUNZE:  Jürgen Küppers, Tom Engel,  Klaus Wandelt,  Klaus Christmann, Jürgen Behm,  they were all there. They were students or postdocs.

BRUNDLE:  Yes. Okay. And they’ve all been involved with the AVS somewhat because they’ve all been here as postdocs or visiting scientists somewhere.

GRUNZE:  Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  I believe that first paper with you was one of the one’s that’s quoted in, in Gerhard Ertl’s Nobel Prize.

GRUNZE:  It was published in JVST.  I presented that at the AVS, it was my first paper with Ertl,– I’m not sure which year it was. I should look it up in the history.


GRUNZE:  But, I remember I had a  difficult time after my presentation. People questioned whether I really had a clean crystal, because the LEED diffraction pattern was different than what other people got on the on the same surfaces.

BRUNDLE:  Well, that was the early days of surface science.

GRUNZE:  Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  “Your results are different than mine. Well, my sample was different than yours” approach.

GRUNZE:  Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  Right. Okay. So, how long were you with Ertl?

GRUNZE:  Two years.

BRUNDLE:  And then?

GRUNZE:  Well, I got interested in the mechanism of dissociation of  molecular nitrogen on iron. We knew it dissociates with a very, very low probability, 10-6, but why so low? There must be an adsorbed molecular state before dissociation, a  precursor state. But, at room temperature and using electron spectroscopy, there was nothing to be seen. The person to work with  was John Pritchard, at Queen Mary College in London, to learn Infrared Reflection Spectroscopy to detect molecular states. And we built a system which could combined ultra-high vacuum with  high pressure measurements using a  liquid gallium seal between the UHV chamber with LEED and the high-pressure gas chamber for IR spectroscopy.

BRUNDLE:  So, you’ve always been interested, that far back, in, you know, out of the vacuum and into the…

GRUNZE:  Somewhere else.

BRUNDLE:  Into somewhere else? Yes.

GRUNZE:  Into real conditions. So, I learned a lot there, enough to build my own spectrometers later. John Pritchard made the right decision not to work on iron as I wanted. He said, “Forget it, that’s so sensitive to any contamination. Let’s take nickel.” It happened to be a nickel [110] crystal, where you have this unidirectional symmetry. And, to study molecular nitrogen on Ni (110)  turned out to be a great choice because of the interesting 2D phase transitions at low temperatures. That’s how I then met Peter Kleban and Bill Unertl. Later they came to Berlin to collaborate on  the experiments and theory.


GRUNZE:  I was at Queen Mary College for half a year and we lived, Christine, I, and two kids at that time, in London. And, then I wanted to go back to Berlin and I talked to Jochen Block at the Fritz Haber Institute. Well, he actually approached me and asked if I want to come to the Fritz Haber Institute.  And I went.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah, because you’d been traveling all over the place so far?

GRUNZE:  In Jochen Block’s  department  the focus was on  field emission and field ion microscopy. I was supposed to set up an instrument to study adsorption on single crystals surfaces.

BRUNDLE:  Yes. And so, it should be, it’s that time I think when I visited you there then?

GRUNZE:  Right. Must have been, what, ’78-’79, I think.

BRUNDLE:  Yes. And, then not too long after that you came and visited IBM?

GRUNZE:  Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. To do some specific work. And, you managed to hurt your back leaning upside down under my kludge of an electron spectrometer trying to drop the analyzer out. (Laughter) But, Michael didn’t sue me, because he’s German not American. (Laughter) But, yes. Okay, so how long were you at the Fritz Haber?

GRUNZE:  Well, I was on leave when I was at IBM. And then, I also spent half a year as a visiting professor in Osnabrück. It was Werner Heiland who invited me.

BRUNDLE:  Oh, yes. Werner also spent time at IBM. 

GRUNZE:  I know. Then Bill Unertl from University of Maine came when I was back from Osnabrück, and asked me if I want to come to Maine. They had an open position in the Physics Department.

BRUNDLE:  So, they encouraged you to apply for that, because they met you earlier?

GRUNZE:  They were visiting the Fritz Haber and working with me. They invited me over and took me to the Maine woods fishing and canoeing, and it was a very quick decision for me to move. (Laugh)

BRUNDLE:  Also, the ocean there, a place where you can anchor a boat?

GRUNZE:  Yeah. Right. (Laugh)

BRUNDLE:  We’ll get to that in a minute, about boats. But, so now you’re at the University of Maine. You’re in physics.

GRUNZE:  Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  Did you have appointment in chemistry as well, at the same time?

GRUNZE:  I was an Adjunct Professor in Chemistry. But I was hired as a full professor in physics.

BRUNDLE:  And, somehow during that same time frame you also ended up with a position at a place on the island? Or does that come later?

GRUNZE:  Jackson Laboratory is later.

BRUNDLE:  Jackson Lab. Okay.

GRUNZE:  Much later.  When I moved in 1983 I was taking over the directorship of the Laboratory for Surface Science and Technology, which was the best equipped lab on the East Coast.  I brought my high-pressure ESCA system from Berlin. I had a high-pressure ESCA system, which I built partly myself and with Leybold´s help, going up to just above one millibar. So, it’s a little  less than what these instruments can do right now.

BRUNDLE:  Yes. It can go a little higher now.

GRUNZE:  So, I had to get funding. And, I had this high-pressure ESCA system. And then somebody from IBM came and said, “Can’t you help us with this soldering problem we’re having?” It was up in…

BRUNDLE:  Oh, that would be Fishkill.

GRUNZE:  Fishkill. But somebody must have alerted them that I’m in Maine and can do in situ electron spectroscopy from surfaces at high pressures. I’m not sure. Maybe it was Eric Kay.

BRUNDLE:  I don’t know. But that, that would be, what did they call them, C4 solder pads?

GRUNZE:  Yeah. I remember I went to Endicott and asked what the issue was and they said, well they had a two-percent failure rate soldering a chip to a circuit board. I said, “So what? I mean, what is…” “Well, you know, we have 296 interconnects on a chip and two percent failure of that.” That’s pretty bad. The Navy was involved, because the computers were for  Navy computers. We found the reason why some of the soldering junctions were brittle and breaking, and I gave  a talk to all involved at Yorktown Hights. After that and since then I have been supported by ONR.

BRUNDLE:  You still have funding?

GRUNZE:  Continuous.

BRUNDLE:  So, that came through solder contact work in IBM?

GRUNZE:  Yeah.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. I did not know that.

GRUNZE:  But then the next problem came, polyimides, polymers.What causes adhesion failure in these laminates. And then I got interested in polymer interfaces.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. So, you’ve got quite an active program going there and lots of responsibility in Maine? You’re also sailing a lot there?

GRUNZE:  Not at that time.

BRUNDLE:  Oh, you didn’t? No sailing at that point?

GRUNZE:  No. No. Only fishing.

BRUNDLE:  Only fishing?

GRUNZE:  I didn’t have a boat. No.

BRUNDLE:  Not even the shared one that you were…

GRUNZE:  No. That was later on.

BRUNDLE:  Much later? Okay. So, then why did you decide to go back to Germany? Or, how did that come about, Heidelberg?

GRUNZE:  Well, at that time the physical chemistry community, the Bunsen Society in Germany, was a closed shop. Some senior members decided who was allowed in and who was not allowed in, and they were sort of taking care of all the professor positions, or at least the chair positions, in physical chemistry in Germany. They called me or wrote a letter and said they would like to visit me in Maine. They came and I entertained them, and gave them lobster to eat. (Laughter).

BRUNDLE:  Okay. So, they actively solicited you?


BRUNDLE:  It’s not like there was an open position that you . . .

GRUNZE:  Oh, they had an open position.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. But you weren’t thinking of pursuing that?


BRUNDLE:  But they contacted you?

GRUNZE:  They contacted me. So, I said, “Well, why not?” Because at that time I had a serious disagreement with the Vice President of Research at the University of Maine.

BRUNDLE:  Do I take it from this that occasionally you rub people the wrong way, Michael? (Laugh)

GRUNZE:  Let’s put it this way, I don’t try to do that, but sometimes I have to. (Laugh)

GRUNZE:  I went to Heidelberg. Actually, it took a long time, this whole process, because the Institute of Physical Chemistry was a mess.

BRUNDLE  In Heidelberg?

GRUNZE:  In Heidelberg. I remember in the physical chemistry labs, mercury was on the floor, which is not normal, you might say.

BRUNDLE:  Well, it was when I was a chemistry student in at Manchester in 1963.

GRUNZE:  But I remember when I came to visit at one point of the negotiations and they gave me a place to sit, a desk in the Institute. I brought one of the first “portable” computers. The first Apple, or was it IBM? It was more like a suitcase. And I plugged it in, and it made bang! Because…(Laughter)

BRUNDLE:  They’re not on that voltage?

GRUNZE:  No. It wasn’t the voltage. No. That was okay. The voltage was okay. But the socket wasn’t grounded. This  made it clear that it will be a huge investment before you can do surface science experiments . In my negotiations  I said, “Well, it’s not going to make me happy, and it’s not going to make the university happy if I come and complain all the time because I can’t do the experiments I want to do.” But the Rektor of the University, Gisberg zu Putlitz,  a physicist, wanted to bring this area of science to Heidelberg. He asked me to come for a last visit trying to find a solution. I flew to Frankfurt, went to Heidelberg on a Friday. I met him and we agreed that taking the chair in Heidelberg doesn’t make sense. But he asked if  can you wait until Tuesday with my return flight. On Monday he took me to Stuttgart, because at that time the professors in the universities were not employed by the university, but by the governor of the state. The Governor of Baden Württemberg was Lothar Späth, a strong technology supporter. He wanted to know what I’m doing, and what the problem is that I’m not coming. He listened and then said I will get all the funds needed. We sealed the deal with a hand-shake, no papers, no signatures, and the money needed to set up surface science in Heidelberg came.  

BRUNDLE:  I see. A handshake?

GRUNZE:  It was a handshake. That sealed the  deal. It took two years before I could do any experiments because the building hat to be completely overhauled. But, yeah. That’s how I ended up in Heidelberg.

BRUNDLE:  So, then you built that whole thing up over the years, and a lot of what your award is for came out of that. But, of course, quite a bit of it also came out of the work before, in Maine, as well? Originally? Right? One of the interesting and different things about your bio, when you look through the description, and I knew this of course, but you have 120 patents?


BRUNDLE:  And, cofounder or founded four companies, which is pretty unusual for an academic professor. Tell me something about how that came about, not the details of the patents, but how it came about that you got involved to that level with people, and that you could do that.

GRUNZE:  When I was at the Fritz Haber Institute, I wanted to have a better way of characterizing the surface in a quick way. Peter Dowben, he’s now in Nebraska, was there at the time and we designed a small CMA which fits through a 2 ¾ flange. That’s all we had. We can push it in, take a Auger spectrum, and pull it back away. (Brundle: Yes.) And, that was, I think, the first patent. And then  I had these students – yeah. I don’t want to go through the names now – but we were really upset about the pain you had to go through to interface a PDP computer to do thermal desorption or other useful things. So, we were basically heavily dissatisfied with the computing hardware and software which was available at that time. And we decided to build our own computers and named our company SPECS. SPECS started off as a small company making computers.

BRUNDLE:  Really? I didn’t know that. I think of them as a vacuum technology and instrument firm.

GRUNZE:  We build the first  office computers in Europe running on Unix. That was a new operating system, entirely new possibilities. Then we decided to go into surface analytical instruments, just at the time when Leybold wanted to shed off its whole surface science  instrument division. Not the pumps, but spectrometers and so on. And  SPECS had enough resources to take over this business. I got out of Specs in in 1988. But it was an interesting time. Having the Chair of applied Physical Chemistry gave me the resources to get into other things which finally led to patents, some related to polyimide adhesion, but most of them addressing coatings for biomedical implants such as stents. The company I started was named Polyzenix, and is now  called CeloNova, located in San Antonio.

BRUNDLE:  So, they’re mostly for the general public? These are coatings for things like stents that are biocompatible?

GRUNZE:  Yes, it is a nanometer thin coating and at that time it was completely new, an inorganic polymer. I got the idea when I had to go to a rehab hospital in the Black Forest due to a medical problem.

BRUNDLE:  Yeah. I remember.

GRUNZE:  You came to visit me and we took a hike. Right?

BRUNDLE:  Yeah.  You wore me into the ground. You were supposed to be sick. (Laugh)

GRUNZE:  In this clinic I was not supposed to work or have any connection to the Institute. But they had a good library, and surgeons gave talks for the patients explaining how open heart surgery works when they get an artificial heart valve. I found out that what they’re implanting is stainless steel and graphitic carbon. I asked the surgeons if these  devices have  the optimum surface to be tolerated by the body. The answer was  “No. No. But we don’t have anything else.” I asked them, “Why don’t you take some polymeric coating?” The answer was  “It doesn’t work. We’ll show you.” And they had documentation that all polymers tested at that time caused inflammation . My  reasoning then was that probably because the organic polymers degrade, by enzymatic reactions or oxidation, and create  intermittent carbon radicals, and they’re known to be very bad.


GRUNZE:  So, the thinking was, if I would use a polymer, which has no carbon radicals, maybe that works. And, that led to the use of  polyphosphazenes. I then became aware of Dr. Dazidera Tur  from the Russian Academy of Sciences who worked with  polyphosphazenes for quite some time and claimed that they have anti-inflammatory properties when used on an open wound.

BRUNDLE:  They’re very inert?

GRUNZE:  They are inert. Right. They are biocompatible in a sense that they are not causing inflammation or thrombosis. I don’t want to say they can always prevent it, but they are inert and don’t do any harm.


GRUNZE:  Based on our in vitro and in vivo trials with animals  I developed a patent family, I think thirty-five patents, before the company was started.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. And, at the same time, by now, you’ve gone from two children to four children?


BRUNDLE:  All daughters?


BRUNDLE:  And one was actually born in in San Jose?

GRUNZE:  Right.

BRUNDLE:  When you were visiting us?

GRUNZE:  Francisca. Yes.

BRUNDLE:  And, none of them have followed you in your interests, it seems. Tell me, tell me what they do?

GRUNZE:  (Laugh) Well, it’s not quite true. The oldest, Sybille, always wanted to become a movie maker, a camerawoman. So, she has a little company in Berlin and produces videos and films, and documentaries. The second one, Nina, she studied biology in Heidelberg, and got her Ph.D. in Tübingen. So, she has a Ph.D. in biology.

BRUNDLE:  And then, married a doctor?

GRUNZE:  And, married a doctor. She has three kids. Sybille has one. One son, Otto. Francisca wanted to play cello when we were living in Maine. She was four years old when she got a quarter cello. She always wanted to become a musician. So, she’s a musician, married to a musician, having three daughters and living near Vienna. The youngest one is Sophie. She studied geography and then started to work for the GIZ, which is the follow-up organization in Germany for our Foreign Aid Ministry. She is now in Kenya, Africa, supervising and  directing a big project in agriculture.

BRUNDLE:  So, they certainly followed you in the sense that they do a wide variety of things, and they move around the world quite a bit?

GRUNZE:  That’s true.

BRUNDLE:  It was Nina, who…

GRUNZE:  Was in Australia for a long time.

BRUNDLE:  No. But, she was in Japan much earlier, right?


BRUNDLE:  A year in Japan in high school?

GRUNZE:  Right. Nina was in high school for a year and studied also one year in Japan. Sophie was in high school in Bolivia.

BRUNDLE:  Quite amazing. Okay. So, that’s your family, four daughters and they all have children?


BRUNDLE:  So, how many grandchildren?

GRUNZE:  Eight.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. And, I know one of your desires, in what you call your retirement, although you’re not really retired, is to get as many of them as possible really interested in sailing, and take them on your boat?


BRUNDLE:  Tell us a little bit about your boat and what you do with it.

GRUNZE:  Well.

BRUNDLE:  Just a little.

GRUNZE:  Just a little? Okay. I was sailing very actively until we had our first child, competitive sailing.

BRUNDLE:  And sailing, I remember you told me you used to earn money by transferring boats?

GRUNZE:  From  northern Germany up to Norway.  But that was during my early studies when I was falling behind in my courses. I always wanted to have a big boat and go back on the ocean, and with my  company activities I was fortunate enough to afford a big sailboat. And so, I bought an old classic sailboat, Marie. It was built 1980. It’s, I think, beautiful, much nicer than the modern boats, very sturdy, and I try to go sailing every summer, if I can.

BRUNDLE:  And, down as far as Florida, and Cuba.  And then up north as far as?

GRUNZE:  Newfoundland. Yes. I love that run.

BRUNDLE:  And, you’re still going to continue doing that?

GRUNZE:  As long as I can.

BRUNDLE:  So, that’s a big part of your retirement, if you like, the sailing? But it seems now that you have another job? Because, you’re over here to receive this award, but you’re also visiting a lot of American universities and talking to professors there relating to a project that’s being set up in Germany. So, just tell us a bit about that.

GRUNZE:  There’s a new initiative in Germany between the Max Planck Society and three major universities: Heidelberg, Göttingen, and Technical University of Munich, to start a new graduate school. And, the goal is to get the brightest minds around the world to come to Germany and attend this graduate school and get their Ph.D. with us. It’s unique with respect that there’s a lot of money coming from the federal government and from the Max Planck Society, and so we can pay the master students a salary, and tuition is free. Housing, health  insurance, is provided. And it will be elite school, “Matter to Life”.

BRUNDLE:  The what? I didn’t…

GRUNZE:  Matter to Life. I’ll explain it to you in a moment.


GRUNZE:  We will take  only thirty students per year, ten for Göttingen, ten for Heidelberg, ten for Munich. Matter to Life means this school combines all the research efforts at the Max Planck Society and at the universities to create synthetic life.


GRUNZE:  Living systems. And, that is pretty successful, actually. If  you listened to Joachim Spatz talk on Monday he had some unique examples, for synthetic cells, what they can do, how you can manipulate them. They can move around and behave like immune cells. So, the philosophical question is, “What is life?” There’s a long discussion going back even before Boltzmann and Schroedinger. We combine the different disciplines in “Matter to Life”, which is biophysics, complex systems, statistics, computational science, biology, chemistry, engineering. I’m working on with my colleagues to create a curriculum which combines these different disciplines to provide the basis  for a successful career in science. Rather than training somebody in chemistry or physics, we want to practice this interdisciplinary approach at a very early time. Teaching will be based on examples coming from research. We want to train the next generation of scientific leaders to develop that field further.

BRUNDLE:  You are coming trying to get students specifically from the U.S.?


BRUNDLE:  From other counties as well?

GRUNZE  I went to Japan.

BRUNDLE:  Right. And Australia?

GRUNZE:  Yes, Australia,  India, Turkey, the Near and Far East, Afrika. I’m not the only one traveling around. We try to get the best students, no matter where they come from.

BRUNDLE:  So, you’re looking, when you visit universities and tell the professors here who are the likely students who would seem to benefit or would go this direction?

GRUNZE:  No. What I’m asking for, “Can I talk with your students, with your undergraduates?”  Most think I want to give a scientific talk and talk to their graduates. “No, I want to talk to the undergraduates.”

BRUNDLE:  Oh, you want to talk to them directly?

GRUNZE:  Directly. And when I went to Knox College, they had a big group of students from freshmen up to seniors. Since we are starting next year only the seniors would be able to apply. But amazingly, freshmen and sophomore students  came after my presentation in which I explained the science and asked, “What can I do to prepare myself to be eligible and get into this program? Can you tell me what I should do the next three years? I want to do this.”  So the recruiting starts at a much earlier stage. We also offer a summer internship. We take quite a few undergraduates from all over the world in the summer. We make recommendations, when they ask “What should I learn?” and give them guidance at an early stage. If they follow our recommendations or not is another question. But it seems like those I talked to are very enthusiastic.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. So, that actually probably leads us on to the maybe the last thing. We’ve been going for, I don’t know, fifty minutes for something like that.  And, I always ask this. So, you’ve been through all this. Your career has taken different paths. You’ve been many different places. You’ve been involved with industry, academia, government, the Navy, U.S. Navy, what – and, you’ve seen how things have changed over the years for students. I’m particularly thinking here about students at the level who will be attending this conference. I mean, what we do now mostly at AVS is very mainstream. But, when we, when you and I first started in this it was new and exciting stuff.


BRUNDLE:  What advice would you give to young students now, in terms of if they said to you, “Well, what career should I follow, or why?” What would you tell them?

GRUNZE:  Well, before I talk about that I want to tell you what guided me in my life. In competitive sailing  the helmsman has to take care of the boat and makes the decision when you race. If you capsize, or if something breaks, it’s always your fault. There is no way you can blame anyone else. You did not check the gear carefully enough, you misjudged the weather, you overestimated your capabilities; you made the wrong decision. So never blame anyone else when you are in trouble. Now to your question: Students should look for the best teachers. Make sure that you find a mentor who accepts you as the person you are, who is interested in what you’re doing, and helps you if you need help. When you get to the research stage,  go for the problem others think are impossible to solve. Go for the big problem, do not  count  beans. Have a vision and work on it- and you will be successful.

BRUNDLE:  Okay. Well, thank you very much Michael. With that, I think we’ll stop the interview at this point.

GRUNZE:  Thank you.

BRUNDLE:  Thank you.