University of Göttingen
#18 Overall Influence

University of Göttingen

University in the city of Göttingen, Germany

About This School

How does this school stack up?

By James Barham, PhD

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:

  • Robert Koch and Thomas Südhof—physiology or medicine
  • Irving Langmuir, Walther Nernst, and Peter Debye—chemistry
  • Max Planck, Max Born, Werner Heisenberg, Enrico Fermi, Wolfgang Pauli, Paul Dirac, and Max von Laue—physics

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:

  • Famous aphorist, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
  • Folklorist brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm
  • Philologist and linguist, Wilhelm von Humboldt
  • Naturalist and explorer, Alexander von Humboldt
  • Biologist, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach

In the nineteenth century we find in Göttingen such luminaries as:

  • Matthias Schleiden, co-discoverer (with Theodor Schwann and Rudolf Virchow) of the cellular nature of life
  • Evolutionary biologist, August Weismann
  • Physicist, Wilhelm Weber
  • Novelist, Jeremias Gotthelf
  • Cherished poet, Heinrich Heine
  • Philosophers, Arthur Schopenhauer & Rudolf Eucken
  • Biblical scholar, Julius Wellhausen
  • Banker and financier, J.P. Morgan
  • Towering German statesman, Otto von Bismarck

Among twentieth-century notables (apart from the Nobel Prize laureates already listed), we may mention the philosophers

  • Johann Friedrich Herbart
  • Hermann Lotze
  • Edmund Husserl
  • Edith Stein
  • Roman Ingarden
  • Adolf Reinach
  • Dietrich von Hildebrand
  • Jürgen Habermas
  • Psychoanalyst, Karen Horney
  • Sociologist, Max Weber
  • Chemist and evolutionary theorist, Manfred Eigen
  • Physicists, Emmy Noether (who gets double billing thanks to her pathbreaking, foundational work both in pure mathematics and in theoretical physics), J. Robert Oppenheimer, & C.F. von Weizsäcker

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.

What is University of Göttingen known for?

#2 World Rank
#3 World Rank
#7 World Rank
#12 World Rank
#15 World Rank
Religious Studies
#18 World Rank
#20 World Rank
#21 World Rank
#21 World Rank
#22 World Rank
Computer Science
#22 World Rank
Earth Sciences
#25 World Rank
#30 World Rank
#34 World Rank
#41 World Rank
#50 World Rank
#60 World Rank
#76 World Rank
#167 World Rank
Social Work
#179 World Rank
#182 World Rank
Political Science

Influential People

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.

John von Neumann
John von Neumann

Hungarian-American mathematician and polymath

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Alexander von Humboldt
Alexander von Humboldt

Prussian geographer, naturalist and explorer

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Jürgen Habermas
Jürgen Habermas

German sociologist and philosopher

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Enrico Fermi
Enrico Fermi

Italian physicist

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Edward Teller
Edward Teller

Hungarian-American nuclear physicist

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Max Delbrück
Max Delbrück


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Arthur Schopenhauer
Arthur Schopenhauer

German philosopher

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Max Born
Max Born

German-Jewish physicist and mathematician

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Max Weber
Max Weber

German sociologist, philosopher, and political economist

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August Weismann
August Weismann

German evolutionary biologist

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Otto von Bismarck
Otto von Bismarck

German statesman and Chancellor

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J. Robert Oppenheimer
J. Robert Oppenheimer

American theoretical physicist, known as "father of the atomic bomb"

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