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Hans' biological family

Both parents were stern with Hans and his brother and sister. High standards were set in every area - behavior, personal discipline and school work. Life was emotionally cold. There were no spontaneous hugs or goodnight kisses.
Maybe the lack of outward signs of love had something to do with his poor behavior. Hans was by no means a model boy. He was fussed at by his family and by his school teachers for being sloppy. He thought of himself as unattractive and unpopular.

The grammar school he attended was over seven hundred years old. (In Europe, there are many schools that have histories that are centuries long.) He did not learn much in school, partly perhaps because all the good teachers had been drafted into the army to fight in World War I. In Germany then, most of the teachers were male. Hans admitted that he was just an ordinary student. His favorite subjects were history and music, but NOT science!

What led young Hans to science? It might have begun with the love of living things that he gained from his father. They often went on family outings in the nearby countryside. Hans especially liked to discover plants that he had never seen before. For reasons unknown, Hans had a special love for learning new things. By age nine he was reading books on a variety of subjects, just for entertainment.

Stethoscope ImageBecause he was impressed with the family-doctor lifestyle of his father, Hans wanted to become a physician also. Hans went to college after he was released from the army at the end of Word War I. The country was in a shamble, and life at the university was primitive and difficult. Food was rationed, public transport was unreliable, gas and electricity were so scarce that people could not have lights on in their houses past 10 PM. But the spirit of learning and inquiry that Hans found at the university was exhilarating. For a boy like Hans who loved to learn things, the university became the most important thing in his life. In those days, the main point of a university in Germany was to explore and learn, not necessarily to prepare for a profession or career. In that place of higher learning, it did not take long for Hans to realize that his first love was scientific discovery. But he did go on to follow his father's footsteps and become a physician.

Classes in medical school were overcrowded. Then, as in many schools in Germany today, anyone who qualified and could pay the fees must be admitted. Hans became interested in scientific research from listening to his professors talk about their own research. Quickly, he realized that he wanted to be a scientist  instead of a physician, which disappointed his father. His father worried that Hans would never make a good income as a scientist. At that time in Germany, the beginning of the Great Depression, the economy had collapsed. In one year, 1923, the value of the U.S. dollar relative to the German mark had exploded some 4,000,000,000,000 times. And Hans did live in poverty. He went many years living on a modest income. His first paid job was at the age of 25. Fortunately, that job was as a lab assistant to Otto Warburg, who won the Nobel Prize in 1931.

In his early career, Hans performed experiments in many subject areas that were totally unrelated to the area for which he was to become famous. However, some of this research prepared Hans' mind for understanding the research for which he was to become famous. His first job after graduating from medical school was in the laboratory of a famous scientist, Otto Warburg.

 

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