Ernst Otto Fischer was born as the third child of Karl Tobias Fischer, professor of physics at the Technical University of Munich, and Valentine Fischer, née Danzer. In 1937 he graduated from the humanistic Theresien-Gymnasium Munich. He then made his basic military service and was used in World War II from 1939 to 1944 as an officer in Poland, France and Russia. During a study leave in the winter semester 1941/42, he began to study chemistry at the Technical University of Munich, fascinated by Walter Hieber's lectures about inorganic chemistry, instead of studying art and history as planned. Injured in Russia, he was released after the war in the autumn of 1945 from US captivity. After rebuilding the destroyed chemical institute in the Arcis Strasse with fellow students, Fischer resumed his studies.

In 1949, E.O. Fischer received his diploma with distinction and became a research assistant at Walter Hieber's group. In 1952, he graduated as PhD under the supervision of Prof. Hieber in inorganic chemistry with a dissertation about the mechanism of the carbon monoxide reaction of nickel (II) and cobalt (II) salts in the presence of dithionite and sulfoxylate. In 1952, he became aware of the discovery of ferrocene that was published in Nature. Working further on this field, he achieved his breakthrough as an academic scientist, although he already had the offer of a large chemical company. Only two years later, in 1954, he habilitated with a paper on metal compounds of cyclopentadiene and indene at the Technical University of Munich, where he was appointed dietician professor in the following year. In 1956, he spent several months in the USA. Fischer became an associate professor at the Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich (LMU) in 1957. After rejecting a call to the Friedrich Schiller University of Jena for the succession of Franz Hein in 1959, he became a full professor at the LMU. The following year, he refused an appointment to a professorship of Inorganic Chemistry at the University of Marburg and in 1964 he instead became the successor of his teacher Walter Hieber at the Technical University of Munich at the Department of Inorganic Chemistry. Fischer held this position until his retirement in 1985. His successor was Wolfgang A. Herrmann (University of Frankfurt am Main), who has been President of the Technical University of Munich since 1995.

Fischer was co-founder (1964) and for decades served as regional editor of the internationally renowned journal "Journal of Organometallic Chemistry". He was involved for many years in the Main Committee and Senate of the German Research Foundation (DFG), the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Board of Trustees of the Deutsches Museum. In his lectures, he not only put emphasis on vivid experiments, but also made connections to cultural and literary history, because he understood chemistry as a cultural achievement. In 1969, he was a Firestone Lecturer at the University of Wisconsin, 1971 Visiting Professor at the University of Florida in Gainesville and first lecturer in Inorganic Chemistry Pacific West Coast Section of the American Chemical Society. In 1973, he was honored with the Arthur D. Little Guest Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and guest professor at the University of Rochester.

For Fischer, chemistry was his life. He had high demands on his students: they should not smoke or marry in his opinion. But he had huge empathy to his students  and had close connections with them, whom he regarded as his family. For example, Fischer owned a house in Leutasch, Tyrolia, where he often invited his employees for skiing trips. Until his death, Fischer was the oldest living German Nobel laureate. Fischer was buried on July 26th, 2007, in the old cemetery of the Munich suburb Solln in the family grave of his parents.

 

The Sandwich Molecule (Link to the webpage for the 150th jubilee of the TUM)