Siegfried Bauer (1961 - 2018) is an exceptional researcher and educator at the JKU and a very special person who has left us far too soon.
Born with unquenchable curiosity, Siegfried Bauer had a unique view of everything around him, a strong will to learn and benefit from each and every experience, a strong sense of trust in his personal environment, gifted intelligence, as well as a healthy dose of skepticism about so-called authorities and established textbook information. He possessed an idiosyncratic - but never mean – sense of humor and enjoyed thinking outside of the box. He will never be forgotten for his passion to find convincing and working solutions to problems.
JKU Rector Meinhard Lukas movingly remarked, “With the passing of Prof. Siegfried Bauer, the JKU has lost one of its most prominent and visionary researchers and a top educator. His scientific and academic oeuvre greatly influenced physics and engineering around the world. We bow with great respect and gratitude to Prof Bauer’s life achievements. Our most sincere condolences go to his family and friends.”
Married and the father of two, Siegfried Bauer came from the small town of Berghausen in Pfinztal where he grew up as the youngest of four sons in a modest family of tradesmen and artisans. At school he was lucky to benefit from physics teachers who motivated and inspired him. He began his study of physics at the University of Karlsruhe in 1980 and even though he considered some of the educational aspects in the established curricula to be a bit odd and outdated, he took it in stride and still managed to find professors who inspired, supported and fostered his talents. One of these professors was his doctoral supervisor Wolfgang Ruppel, a full professor of Applied Physics, whom he honored and for whom he would “walk through fire for”. Beginning in 1986, Professor Ruppel allowed him to work in a conventional area of solid-state physics that included ferroelectric polymers – an area often dismissed as ‘physics of dirt’ (but something that would soon change).
Siegfried Bauer successfully defended his doctorate degree in ferroelectric polymers in 1990 and acquired professional experience in education as an academic instructor at the University of Karlsruhe as well as an instructor at the University of Applied Sciences in Karlsruhe and as part of various projects in Karlsruhe, Marburg and Stuttgart. In 1992, he joined the Heinrich Hertz Institute of Telecommunications in Berlin-Charlottenburg as a research association and project manager, achieving great scientific productivity unfolding many new methods and a number of cited research findings, particularly in the field of non-linear optics and photonics with electro-optical polymers. The VDE Association for Electrical, Electronic and Information Technologies presented Prof Bauer with the prestigious 1994 ITG Award by in recognition of his outstanding work. He also received the renowned Kurt Überreiter Award by the Berlin-Brandenburg Association for Polymer Research. At various points in his career he worked and successfully conducted research abroad, spending time at the École Polytechnique de Montréal in Canada, the University of Arizona in Tucson, and the National Institute of Science and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland. These and other international collaborations enriched the broad spectrum of his research and led to joint, groundbreaking publications.
Siegfried Bauer’s academic success culminated in Berlin and Potsdam in 1996 with his highly acclaimed post-doctorate work at the Department of Applied Physics of Condensed Matter at the University Potsdam titled “Gepolte Polymere für Anwendungen in der Sensorik und Photonik”. In 1997, the Berlin Physical Society presented him with the esteemed Karl Scheel Award. He and his mentor at this time, Professor Reimund Gerhard, began a friendship that would last a lifetime. After his appointment as a private university lecturer, he found himself a candidate for a professorship at the Johannes Kepler University (JKU) in Linz, Austria. He began teaching and researching at the JKU as an Associate Professor in October of 1997. In 2002, he became a full professor of Experimental Physics and head of the Department of Soft Matter Physics, which he continued to advance and lead to great success in research and teaching until his untimely passing.
Siegfried Bauer spent over twenty years in Linz and during this time, he and his team developed their own style of research and teaching. He possessed keen insight and had a way of working that began by asking open questions, then playfully incorporating unconventional perspectives. He calculated temporary failures and used them to enhance the learning process, always focusing on working closely with people and discovering infinite possibilities. Limitations were considered challenges, especially those found between academic disciplines and subject areas, between theory and application, between cultures and countries, between philosophy and natural sciences and engineering, between being serious and having fun. Some of Professor Bauer’s contemporaries found themselves slightly off put when he naively questioned established certainties, binding conventions, and for often applying his own methods of Socratic questioning.
Over the past two decades, Prof. Bauer’s original scientific approach resulted in highly professional, impressive and successful findings in research and advancements in teaching “Soft Matter Physics” at the JKU Linz. He gained worldwide attention for his work. A few examples include:
- Driven by unequivocal perspective, Siegfried Bauer began intensively conducting research in a new field founded in Finland at the turn of the century called ferroelectric polymers, even having named the subject area. Together with scientific partners around the world, his contributions to the field unlocked the groundbreaking research conducted today in ferroelectric polymers, leading to important advances in research and applications.
- Siegfried Bauer’s group came up with innumerable applied examples and base-knowledge experiments, partly in close cooperation with partners around the world, and created and developed the field of flexible, stretchable and ductile polymer electronics. The working group in Linz continually took the substantial steps needed to turn allegedly ‘crazy’ ideas into technically feasible applications. Siegfried Bauer contributed significantly to a new way of thinking about soft, active materials and how they can be used and applied.
- Siegfried Bauer and his team understood that human-friendly applications are best when unnoticed by the user. This understanding led to creating and developing unnoticeable, biocompatible electronics. Research conducted in Linz was quickly picked up around the world and successfully developed, often without realizing just how much credit Siegfried Bauer is due for his visionary foresight as well as his playful imagination and creative spirit.
- Siegfried Bauer’s most recent work was just released in the American Journal of Physics and focuses on high-speed cameras mounted to skyscrapers that closely track the way paper hats fall. The findings allow us to critically take a look at the philosophical dispute between Aristotle and Galileo pertaining to the falling process, which is actually not a dispute when considering each respective, implicitly contemplated pre-requisite. By creating a way for school students and university students to directly experience and recognize the many ways objects fall, this is an educational aid that can be used to think about physics in other ways.
Siegfried Bauer’s unusual approach and in-depth insight into the foundations of base-knowledge physics have not only resulted in writing many widely recognized international publications, but also in receiving numerous awards and accolades, including a rare, highly endowed ERC Advanced Investigator Grant in 2011, a renowned Fellowship at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 2016, and a mention by the Society of Photo-Optical Instrumentation Engineers (SPIE) in 2018.
Siegfried Bauer profoundly touched many lives and he will be greatly missed by his family, friends, the international scientific community, the University of Linz, his colleagues, students, school students and many others. It is with great sadness and a heavy heart that we say farewell. He will always be remembered as a unique and special person, for his humor, and the way he inspired and encouraged others. His life and work will continue in and through us for many years to come.
Based on an obituary written by Prof. Dr. Reimund Gerhard, FAPS, FIEEE, University of Potsdam and IEEE DEIS