Ludwig Pohl, founding father of liquid crystals, has died

It is with great sadness that we mourn the passing of Dr. Ludwig Pohl, who died last week in Darmstadt at the age of 88.

Our company has thus lost one of the “founding fathers” of liquid crystal research, the development of which Ludwig Pohl played a key role in shaping. Pohl registered more than 100 patents for the substance class he researched.


Ludwig Pohl dedicated his life to researching the technical application possibilities of liquid crystals

“I feel fortunate and honored that I had the chance to get to know Ludwig Pohl personally. His extraordinary passion, deep commitment and perseverance against resistance made Ludwig Pohl a driving force in the development of liquid crystals, thereby paving the way for a technology without which TVs, laptops and tablets would now be inconceivable. With his work, Ludwig Pohl not only made outstanding contributions to the advancement of research, but also helped make Germany and our company more internationally competitive,” said Kai Beckmann, member of the Executive Board and CEO of Performance Materials, in recognition of Pohl's lifetime achievements. 

Ludwig Pohl, who held a doctorate in chemistry, joined the Research department of Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany in 1966 and remained with the company until his retirement in 1996. On a business trip to the United States in 1968, Pohl became familiar with liquid crystals, which were still largely unknown at the time. 

Pohl had the idea of using their effect for display instruments, for example for digital watches, which came onto the market in 1972. Initially, liquid crystals were by no means a blockbuster product. Pohl and his colleagues repeatedly had to overcome internal resistance in order to drive forward the business with liquid crystals. It took several years before the developments had advanced far enough to enable profitable industrial production. But then the pace soon picked up dramatically. With the boom in digital devices, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany could leverage its experience with liquid crystals and became the global market leader. The liquid crystals business has been a central pillar for Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany since the 1990s and still is today, although liquid crystals are now also produced by other companies.

Hall of Fame laureate 2014

In 2014, Ludwig Pohl was inducted into the Hall of Fame of German Research – honoring him for his unwavering scientific curiosity and recognizing him with a special and well-deserved distinction for his life's work. He received this honor together with Stefan Hell, who a few weeks later received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 2014. Ludwig Pohl described this as a “highlight of my life”.

Michael Heckmeier, Head of the Display Materials business within Performance Materials, also knew Ludwig Pohl personally: “His passion and enthusiasm for liquid crystal technology were powerful and inspiring. Pohl was highly respected by employees as an important pioneer and visionary in the field of liquid crystals. His contributions over his many years of dedicated work for our company were key to the development of our Display business and will not be forgotten,” said Heckmeier.

Meeting with success against the odds – Ludwig Pohl has proven what people can achieve if they unconditionally follow their personal calling.