Skip navigation

Max Rubner

Portrait von Max Rubner und darunter seine Unterschrift

A popular scientist

A major area of research of the scientist Max Rubner seems highly topical today: Using self-developed equipment, he fought for the objective measurement of the energy content of foods. How many calories are in a food and how many calories do people need to stay healthy? Max Rubner’s major interest, amongst others, was centred at protecting people from malnutrition. Although today there are many people in the world who are malnourished due to insufficient consumption, increasingly more people suffer from excessive over-nutrition. Max Rubner’s measurements and tests serve as a scientific basis in this area of nutrition research dealing with obesity. Also due to his motto "Not a day without an experiment," Rubner was able to scientifically prove and secure his findings, so that they were acknowledged. At the end of his vocational career he was in a position that allowed him to serenely advise others: "One should not despair when scientific results do not prevail immediately. It might take eight to ten years before something really new is recognized”. In fact, Max Rubner created with his experimental work the basis for the calorie chart still valid today. He managed to transfer the correctness of the theorem and law of the conservation of energy to the human and his diet.

In his scientific work Max Rubner was not limited to the measurement of energy content of foods. His study of medicine, his scientific specialization in physiology and, finally his activity as a professor at the Institute of Hygiene opened him the door to an inter-disciplinary research where he above all kept in mind the benefits for the population. Thus, Max Rubner dealt, amongst others, with the value of wheat bran for human consumption (professorial dissertation), with the effects of humidity on different substances as well as with hygienic issues dealing with the construction and operation of hospitals, etc..

His involvement in numerous scientific committees and his work as a consultant urged him to be always open for new topics. There was one challenge he gladly accepted as a lesson he draw from his life. He formulated it as follows: "One should not stick to a narrow field, but be most versatile - also under the methodical aspect -."

Max Rubner realized very early that scientific knowledge can only bear fruit if it is made available to the widest possible circles. Accordingly, he sought to publicize the results of nutrition research through leaflets and intelligible essays and public lectures. The enormous number of 361 works Rubner wrote during his life, or in which he was involved, show how serious he took the knowledge transfer.

Last but not least because of the historical development, the First World War and the subsequent famine Rubner’s knowledge and research during his vocational activity and beyond were always in great demand. In 1914 Max Rubner became the reminder in terms of supply security for the German population. In contrast to the assessment of the Deputy Minister of War, who replied to a letter of Rubner, mutatis mutandis, that a quick end of the war would not even give rise to a food problem, Rubner’s prediction was correct.

Altogether Max Rubner had rarely to correct his statements during his scientific career. But on one point the tireless scientist made a mistake: Angered by his retirement in 1923, Max Rubner mentioned among the things that "can be learned from my life" "... that sometimes one may expect gratitude from the people, but never from the government". In addition to numerous honors and awards, which Max Rubner obtained during his life and post mortem, the Federal Republic of Germany thanks him now with a very special acknowledgment for his great scientific achievement, his outstanding commitment and perseverance: In 2008, the Federal Research Centre of Nutrition and Food was reorganized and renamed Max Rubner-Institut (MRI).