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In Memoriam

Prof. Dr. Dr. hc mult. Wittko Francke, 28 November 1940 - 27 December 2020

written by Chris Meier; translated/edited by Walter Leal and Jerry Zhu

On December 27, 2020, Dr. Wittko Francke left us at the age of 80. The reason for this obituary is deeply disturbing to me and I cannot deny my grief. But this obituary is intended to pay tribute to Wittko Franke. He was always a very good friend to me through the two decades at his side. I would like to pay tribute to the life's work and the human side of an outstanding scientist whose services to the subject of organic chemistry of chemical ecology have received great national and international recognition. In addition, Wittko Francke played a key role in shaping the chemistry department at the University of Hamburg from his graduate study until his retirement.

He was born in Reinbek near Hamburg in 1940 and grew up there. From 1960 onwards, Wittko Francke ended up studying chemistry in the large city of Hamburg. The course ended in 1968 with a diploma. He started a position as a scientific assistant at the State Chemical Institute - Institute for Organic Chemistry, University of Hamburg. At the same time, he completed his doctorate in Prof. K. Heyns' group in 1973. Subsequently, he was offered an assistant professorship at the University of Hamburg. The work of the following years led to his habilitation in 1979 at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. In 1985, Dr. Francke received a professorship for life at the Institute for Organic Chemistry at the University of Hamburg, where he has been active in research and teaching until retirement and beyond. His scientific work in the fields of natural product chemistry and environmental chemistry (over 450 publications) led to two external appointments: 1985 to the University of Giessen and 1990 to the University of Heidelberg. Francke is a native of Hamburg. He refused both calls. As a result, the Department of Organomeric Chemistry was founded after his great efforts.

His scientific achievements included awards: Carl Christiansen Memorial Prize (1980); Medal of Honor from the International Society of Chemical Ecology (1995); Otto Wallach plaque of the GDCh (1996); Karl Escherich Medal of the German Society for General and Applied Entomology (2005); and honorary doctorates from the Universities of Gothenburg (1997) and Lund (2005). Both awards also indicate his close relationship with Sweden and with research collaborations that have been maintained over many years with Swedish scientists. Francke was recognized as an honorary member of the International Society of Chemical Ecology in 2016. This award was presented to him for further recognition because of his many international, interdisciplinary collaborations with chemical ecology research groups worldwide.

Outstanding and prominent members of a scientific community are almost inevitably offered jobs in scientific societies and journals. He was a member of the executive committee and president of the International Society of Chemical Ecology (1986-1989); Chairman and board member of the Liebig Association for Organic Chemistry of the GDCh; Chairman of the jury in the Young Europeans' Environmental Research competition; Chairman of the Technical and Scientific Advisory Board of GKSS, Geesthacht; Co-editors of the European Journal of Organic Chemistry, Chemoecology and Journal of Chemical Ecology. Furthermore, colleague Francke was and is active as a reviewer for various national and international scientific organizations.

It was a matter of course for him to support the chemistry department at the UHH in addition to his scientific work. This happened and continues to happen, on the one hand, in teaching, which I would like to discuss again later, and, on the other hand, in the sometimes enjoyable, but often strenuous, work in so-called academic self-administration, in which one is so often not self-determined but externally determined. As an example, I would like to remind you that, as the long-standing dean of the department, he played a key role in determining its fate. He was also involved in the 1st structural commission that led to the evaluation of the department at that time. I would also like to mention that, as chairman of the study reform committee, he played a key role in the development of the Bachelor's degree in chemistry.

This list of career stages or components sounds almost casual; a lot sounds natural. It is justified, however, by constant, hard scientific work and constant high exemplary commitment at all levels. Often even without considering your own well-being. Fittingly, a quote from a former colleague who characterized him as follows: "a scientifically fruitful colleague who selflessly put his work force at the service of maintaining functions of the institute."

Wittko Francke died on December 27th, 2020 due to a Covid 19 infection. The department is losing an outstanding personality who has worked in the department for years after retirement. I will miss his open, generous, generous, critical advisory and helpful personality very much and will always keep him in very good memory. Also unforgettable are the numerous, extremely amusing meetings, some of which last until late at night, to test a wide variety of outstanding wines accompanied by culinary delicacies.

I mourn with the family. Rest in peace!