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The pirate physicist

The pirate physicist: Jens Seipenbusch, third from left, with other members of the Piratenpartei

By Matin Durrani

It was all smiles for Angela Merkel in Germany’s general election as she won another term as chancellor. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), and its Bavarian sister party the Christian Social Union (CSU), scooped 239 seats in the Bundestag — enough for Merkel to hold on to power through a new coalition with the pro-business free democrats (FDP). Her former partners, the social democrats (SPD), now face a spell in opposition.

Yes, all very interesting but what’s this got to do with physics? Well, as I’m sure you know, Merkel is one of the few political leaders to be a physicist too.

The 55-year-old Merkel studied physics at Leipzig University, in the former East Germany, between 1973 and 1978, before obtaining a PhD from the Berlin Academy of Sciences in 1986 for a thesis entitled “The calculation of speed constants of reactions of simple hydrocarbons”. She is also married to Joachim Sauer, a chemistry professor at the Humboldt University in Berlin.

Merkel’s background in physics is well known, but did you know that another German political leader is a physicist too?

Let’s say hello to Jens Seipenbusch , 40, who is founder and leader of the fringe Piratenpartei (Pirate Party), which was campaigning for increased freedom of speech, copyright reform and less intrusive government surveillance, particularly of the internet.

Seipenbusch studied physics at the University of Münster. He founded the party in 2006, serving as leader until 2007 before taking the top job again earlier this year.

I haven’t been able to find out too much about his physics career, but it appears that he was a research assistant at Münster from 1994 to 1998, having studied physics at the Ruhr University in Bochum from 1987 to 1989. From one website I stumbled upon, it looks like he used to be involved in non-linear and quantum optics.

Sadly for Jens, his party didn’t cross the 5% hurdle that you need to get seats in the Bundestag. The pirates ended up with about 2% of the vote, although they reached the giddy heights of 2.6% in Munich and 3.5% in Tübingen.

But that’s not even the end of the matter. I have been reliably informed by my wife, who is German, that the leader of the left-wing Die Linke (The Left) party, Oskar Lafontaine, is a physicist too. According to his party’s website , he has a master’s degree in physics from the universities of Bonn and Saarbrücken. His party got 76 seats from 11.9% of the vote.

It seems as if the Germans have a thing about physics political leaders.

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  1. Gordon Pasha

    There is also Oskar Lafontaine,

  2. Wow – am from Munich and didn’t know they made 3.5% here.. Pretty good considering the conservaty of this town. I like.


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