He was the epitome of the mad (physics) professor: In the night from Monday to Tuesday, gbs adviser Prof. Dr. Heinz Oberhummer died, who has found international recognition not only as an astrophysicist, but also as a non-fiction author and cabaret artist. A eulogy by Michael Schmidt-Salomon.
There are people you just can't imagine ever dying. Heinz Oberhummer was such a person, because hardly anyone radiated such joie de vivre and vitality like him. His passion for scientific topics was almost without limits. When Heinz was on a roll (and he often was), the arguments and punch lines were pouring out of him. In these cases, he could not be restrained by anything or anyone - not even by everyday routines on television. While other talk show guests around him spoke calmly and contemplatively - as they had learnt from PR consultants - he gestured wildly with his arms, his voice overturned with enthusiasm after just a few words. Heinz could not help but think and talk at top speed. Pauses occurred only when he fell into his striking, overtone-rich laughter after a good punch line.
Heinz Oberhummer was a true original, who was completely devoid of the ability required of a serious, top-class researcher to make a proper appearance; he was the epitome of the brilliant and at the same time slightly mad professor. And that's exactly what people loved about him! Heinz didn't have to pretend the slightest bit to make the people chuckle on stage. He was able to explain the most complex phenomena and theories of physics in a way that was not only comprehensible but also extremely entertaining. When he co-founded "Science Busters" with Martin Puntigam and Werner Gruber in 2007, the "hottest science boy group in the Milky Way", his second career as a science cabaret artist was rewarded with a considerable number of prizes and awards and sold-out tours in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland.
In the previous decades, Heinz, who taught theoretical physics at the University of Vienna since 1988, had made a name for himself as a nuclear and astrophysicist. His work on nucleosynthesis (the formation of heavy atoms in the interior of stars) and on the fine tuning of the universe attracted international attention (including a nomination for the Nobel Prize in Physics). In 2008, he summarised his most important findings on fine-tuning in his great popular-scientific book "Kann das alles Zufall sein?" ("Can All This Be Coincidence?"), which was named "Science Book of the Year" - an award that he and his "Science Busters" colleagues received a short time later as well for their book "Gedankenlesen durch Schneckenstreicheln" ("Reading Thoughts by Petting Snails").
Heinz was accepted into the Giordano Bruno Stiftung advisory board in 2008 and since then has been committed in many ways to a rational worldview and a stronger consideration of the interests of religion-free people. He was founding chairman of the "Zentralrat der Konfessionsfreien" ("Central Council of Nondenominational People") in Austria, chairman of the initiative "Religion ist Privatsache" ("Religion is Private") and co-initiator of the association "Letzte Hilfe - Verein für selbstbestimmtes Sterben" ("Last Aid - Association for a Self-Determined Death"), which is still banned in Austria.
With great melancholy I think back to the clever, funny, profound conversations with him - not least also to our evening together in his "Heurigen" near Vienna. (Heinz joked back then that his mother took him, the professor, seriously only in the moment when he married a "real Heurigen hostess").
The news of his death came to us completely unprepared. Just a few weeks ago Heinz had invited the gbs directorate to the German premiere of the new "Science Busters" programme "The universe is a shithole" in Mainz. He was as vital at that time as ever. None of us would have expected that Heinz, who also rocked the guitar in the show, would not be alive just one and a half months later.
Only last week, the Austrian radio station FM4 broadcast an episode with him, in which he expressed his great fascination for the enormous survivability of some bacterial species. Paradoxically, Heinz himself became the victim of the survival of such microorganisms. He died in the night from Monday to Tuesday completely unexpectedly of pneumonia. If there had been a need for proof that the universe is a "shithole" - it would have been proven by this! Because Heinz, at the age of 74, still had a lot to do and he could have given the world much more knowledge and joy! We mourn the loss of a great physicist, an outstanding mediator of knowledge and cabaret artist, a committed foundation adviser and, last but not least, an exceptional person. It was a great honour and pleasure to have him as a friend.