1. Complex and unpredictable natural phenomena
In Bavaria, West Germany
Professor Schellnhuber was born in 1950, five years after the end of World War II, and raised on a small farm in the southern part of Bavaria, West Germany.
Surrounded by nature, he played in the forests and fields near his house as a child. He sometimes forgot himself while wandering in the woods and was scolded for coming home late for dinner. It was a happy childhood.
When the country had not yet recovered from the war, his father worked not only as a farmer, but also as a builder to support his family.
They were not rich, but he was surrounded by intelligent family members and relatives. His grandfather was the town mayor, his grand-uncle was a historian. He relished in a cultural environment rich in history, politics, and arts.
He got along with his mother exceptionally well. She was a nurse and always very happy to answer his questions. His intellectual curiosity developed in such a nurturing environment.
Hans was a good student at elementary school. He woke up to reading books when he was nine, reading whatever he could, geography and novels, as he traveled around his world of imagination. When he wasn't out in the forests and fields, he was reading and expanding his horizons.
"What is the universe made of?" "Why do the stars look that way?" When he was about ten years old, he gazed at the stars and read books about astronomy with his brother, who was three and a half years older than he was. At that moment, the beginning of his interest in physics, the area he would later pursue as a career.
Science and Peace
In 1962, when Hans was 12 years old, the Cuban Missile Crisis escalated the risk of full-scale nuclear war. It was during the Cold War when the Soviet Union and the United States were in a nuclear arms race. Hans thought genuinely about the potential of science to create such terrific power. "How can we prevent World War III?"
In those days was when he started reading books by Albert Einstein. This great physicist brought tremendous benefits to people; but his work also led to the development of atomic bombs, and he could not prevent them from being dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
Regretting his inability to stop the use of the atomic bomb, Einstein appealed to the world after the war to rid itself of nuclear weapons and devote its knowledge of science and technology to peace. "Mein Weltbild" was the first of Einstein's works that Hans read. In it, Einstein wrote about his theory of relativity and quantum mechanics and expressed his feelings about politics and world peace.
"I want to be like Einstein." It was at this point that Einstein's policy as a scientist became Hans'.
After the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 60s ushered in a Golden Era of culture. The Beatles took Europe and the United States by storm, and the teenage Hans was also an enthusiastic fan of rock music. He was thrilled when he got a guitar as a Christmas present. He formed a band and played until he was 21. He experienced the joys of youth, joining a soccer club and reading science fiction.
Chose to Study Physics
In West Germany at that time, few families could afford to send their children to college. In his family too, his older brother was the first to attend.
Hans still remembers what his mother said to him: "I'm sorry, but we don't have the money to send you to a college. There is only one possibility. Otherwise, I'm afraid you'll have no choice but to take over the farm."
She told him about an academic scholarship given to the best students. He had to get top grades at the Gymnasium and almost a perfect score on the graduation exam. It would not be easy.
"OK. I'll do it." If he only had one choice, he had to try. And try he did! Although Bavaria is known to have one of the most challenging graduate exams in Germany, Hans actually got the top score and received a scholarship.
He could choose one college, and he decided upon Regensburg University because it was close to his home and his brother was also there. He enrolled to study physics and mathematics.
He traveled around a lot during his college time. When he went to Africa, he got a firsthand look at a terrible drought in the Sahel. Then he realized for the first time in his life what real environmental hazard meant.
Nothing is going to be easy
When Hans was finishing his doctoral program, a fantastic opportunity presented itself. He had been working on a fundamental and complicated problem in physics for his dissertation. His work caught the attention of renowned physicist, Gregory Wannier, who invited Hans to the United States.
"This is outstanding work. There is a brand-new physics research institute in America, the Institute for Theoretical Physics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, (UCSB-ITP). Would you like a research position there?"
That was a dream environment for Hans. The ITP had about 80 researchers, and many of them were Noble Prize winners. When Hans went out of his office for a cup of coffee, he met the laureates, and they talked to him cheerfully. "Hey, young man, what are you working on?" The work was great fun for Hans, and he was able to engage in intellectual discussions with these superstars every day.
It was where Hans came across chaos theory.
Physics is an academic field that seeks to discover the principles and clarify the mechanisms of worldly phenomena.
Conventional physics focuses on simplifying phenomena to understand the mechanism; however, some phenomena are inherently irregular or exhibit significant and sudden changes that resist simplification. Hans was interested in such complex and unpredictable aspects.
Although chaos theory was a somewhat new area in the field of physics, there was already a group at the ITP researching it, and providing seminars. Eventually, he joined it.
In 1982, Hans returned to Germany to take a position as associate professor in the Department of Physics at the University of Oldenburg to continue research on the chaos theory.
He started research to clarify complex and unpredictable natural phenomena utilizing chaos theory. Applying the theory, he worked to define natural phenomena such as how leaves fall or how clouds move, phenomena whose rules are hard to comprehend at a glance.
His affection for nature and formulas from his childhood got integrated at this moment.