The University of Göttingen was established under the auspices of Georg August, Elector of Hanover, who was at the same time King George II of Great Britain and Ireland. Born in Hanover in 1683, Georg August acceded to both the Electorship and the British throne upon his father George I’s death in 1727.
The last of the British monarchs to be born outside of the UK, Georg August’s ties to his native region of Lower Saxony remained strong. As that Land (state or province) did not possess a university at the time of Georg August’s accession to his twin titles, the new Elector and King made it a priority to bring one into being there—in the small town of Göttingen, which lies about 76 miles due south of the provincial capital, Hanover.
The new University of Göttingen was explicitly tasked by Georg August with fostering the goals of the Aufklärung (Enlightenment), which accounts for the school’s heavy emphasis right from the beginning on mathematics and the natural sciences. For a relatively small institution (some 31,000 students), Göttingen’s roster of Nobel laureates and other famous names is simply astonishing.
Among the more than 40 Nobel Prize–winners in total who have been connected to Göttingen, we may mention:
It is interesting to note the presence of quite a few foreigners on this list—the American Irving Langmuir, the Dutchman Peter Debye, the Englishman Paul Dirac, and the Italian Enrico Fermi—which eloquently testifies to the stellar international reputation the Göttingen enjoyed in math and science.
The university is especially renowned for the quality of the mathematicians who have studied or taught there, among whom are some of the foremost contributors to mathematics of the past three centuries, including Carl Friedrich Gauss, Bernhard Riemann, Richard Dedekind, Georg Cantor, Richard Courant, Emmy Noether, Hermann Weyl, and Constantin Carathéodory.
As for the many other famous intellectuals who have been associated with Göttingen, the following lists are but a small sampling. Beginning with the eighteenth century, we have:
In the nineteenth century we find in Göttingen such luminaries as:
Among twentieth-century notables (apart from the Nobel Prize laureates already listed), we may mention the philosophers
All in all, it is an amazing roster for such a small university—which just goes to show that in the intellectual world, size isn’t everything.
Who are University of Göttingen's Most influential alumni?
University of Göttingen's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Physics, Mathematics, and Chemistry. University of Göttingen’s most academically influential people include John von Neumann, Alexander von Humboldt, and Jürgen Habermas.
Hungarian-American mathematician and polymathview profile
Prussian geographer, naturalist and explorerview profile
German sociologist and philosopherview profile
Italian physicistview profile
Hungarian-American nuclear physicistview profile
German philosopherview profile
German-Jewish physicist and mathematicianview profile
German sociologist, philosopher, and political economistview profile
German evolutionary biologistview profile
German statesman and Chancellorview profile
American theoretical physicist, known as "father of the atomic bomb"view profile