Institute of Applied Geosciences

History of Earth Sciences at TU Berlin

With the founding of the Royal Mining Academy in 1770 by the Prussian King Friedrich II, geoscientific research and teaching was established at an institutional level in Berlin. This date can also be seen as the start of the geosciences at the Technische Universität Berlin, as the Royal Mining Academy is one of the predecessor institutions of the TU Berlin. The Royal Mining Academy was independent for almost 150 years and, compared to other prussian academies, was incorporated relatively late, in 1916, into the Technische Hochschule zu Berlin, which in turn emerged from the merger of the Building Academy and the Trade Academy in 1879. The Technische Unversität Berlin was founded out of the Technische Hochschule in 1946. Earth Sciences at the TU Berlin can thus look back on a 250-year tradition with an eventful history.

The first 200 years are described in the chronicle "From the Mining Academy to the Technical University of Berlin, 1770-1970" by Hugo Strunz (publisher: Förderer der Berliner Fakultät für Bergbau und Hüttenwesen e.V., Berlin). Our website From the Berlin Mining Academy to the Geosciences Institutes of the Technische Universität Berlin, compiled by the former curator of our Mineralogical Museum, Dr Susanne Herting-Agthe, introduces some influential people of this period.

The more recent section covers the years from 1970 to 2020. In the course of the restructuring of the faculties, the geosciences repeatedly found a new academic home at the TU Berlin during these 50 years. Until the 1990s, many chairs were created in new geo-institutes. This development reflects the high status of the earth sciences in Berlin and beyond. After all, the geosciences revealed a whole new view of the world during this period with the establishment of plate tectonics. In addition, there was the rapid development in analytical methods, which made it possible to observe processes on the micro- and nano-scale, and the establishment of high-pressure, high-temperature experiments for simulating processes in the deep Earth. This gave geologists, mineralogists and crystallographers completely new insights into the physical-chemical properties of minerals and rocks. Another aspect for the geo-expansion at the universities was the increasing importance of raw materials research. The availability of metal ores, fossil fuels and building materials were crucial for securing prosperity. This required knowledge of where to find these raw materials, what quantities and qualities could be expected in the various deposits and how to mine them. As well, the availability of fresh water are of great importance - young scientists were in demand! In cooperation with other universities and federal research institutions in the greater Berlin area, the geosciences at the TU were involved in DFG-collaborative research centres over many years.

After this boom in the earth sciences, a downturn was initiated from the mid-90s onwards. Measures in fiscal consolidation were supposed to put german universities on a healthier footing financially. These funding cuts meant that many chairs were not filled again or new departments were not established in the first place. This development particularly affected the so-called 'smaller´ research disciplines. At the TU Berlin, this development can be seen very clearly between the years 1998 and 2005. Of the former 15 departments, only 6 departments remained. In coordination with other institutions in Berlin, the focus was from that time on applied geosciences, which had good opportunities for cooperation with the engineering departments of the TU - such as civil engineering, technical environmental protection, soil science, materials science. Today in 2020, there are only 4 departments (Applied Geochemistry, Applied Geophysics, Hydrogeology and Engineering Geology) that train the next generation of scientists in the Bachelor's and Master's degree program in Geotechnology. Through joint appointments, especially with the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, it has been possible to establish further departments in recent years. The page "Geosciences at the TU Berlin - The Years from 1970 to 2020" shows this development in detail. At this point, many thanks to Ole Schröder, who spent many hours in the archive of the TU Berlin, for extensive research. Many thanks also to Dagmar Spies (University Archives of TU Berlin) and to Christoph Roesrath (Head of the Faculty Service Centre of Faculty VI) for providing access to the various writings on the development of professorships in Earth Sciences at TU Berlin.

In recent years, earth science has gained significant importance again. Topics such as climate change, sustainable/environmentally friendly energy supply, clean water for all, safe disposal sites for radioactive waste, intensive use of the subsurface for infrastructure and sustainable supply of critical raw materials, pose major challenges to our society. All these are core topics of today's geoscientific research.

Text: Thomas Neumann