History Facts

Richard Zsigmondy and the origins of Sartorius filtration technology

Thursday, 09.12.2021. - 12:00

Sartorius has always worked closely with scientific research institutions and researchers to simplify processes and promote scientific progress. The collaboration with Nobel laureate and professor at the Georg-August University of Göttingen, Richard Zsigmondy, resulted in the creation of a new company - in 1927, the Membranfiltergesellschaft (membrane filter company) was founded. With the rise of biotechnology, this company has stood out as the historical core of today’s bioprocess business.

Membrane filtration origin

The research of the Austrian Richard A. Zsigmondy (1865-1929) focused on colloid chemistry, a branch of chemistry that was just starting to blossom. Colloids are tiny particles or droplets on the micro and nanometer scale that are finely distributed in a different material. In 1903, with the invention of the ultramicroscope in cooperation with the physicist Henry Siedentopf, Zsigmondy succeeded in visibly detecting colloid particles.

Four years later, in 1907, he accepted the invitation of the University of Göttingen to become professor and director of the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry. There, together with his fellow scientist Wilhelm Bachmann, he developed synthetic membrane and ultrafine filters with defined pore sizes through which colloids could be separated. In 1918, Zsigmondy patented his manufacturing method.

Richard Zsigmondy was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in the year 1925. The Nobel Committee offered the following explanation for why Zsigmondy was merited the prize that year: "For his demonstration of the heterogeneous nature of colloid solutions and for the methods he used, which have since become fundamental in modern colloid chemistry."

An interesting fact is that Zsigmondy received the Nobel Prize in 1926 - a year later. Since the originally nominated candidates for 1925 did not meet Alfred Nobel's requirements, the award was not given to any of the candidates. According to the statutes, in such a case, the award can be postponed a year later, in order to be awarded to a scientist who really deserved it - in this case, it was Richard Zsigmondy.

Filter production as the basis of Sartorius business

The potential of these membrane filters was recognized by Sartorius who supported their further research. In collaboration with Richard Zsigmondy and other shareholders, Sartorius founded Membranfiltergesellschaft mbH (MFG) in 1927, a company that manufactures membrane filters. Zsigmondy transferred his patents to the company and was entrusted with the management of the company's scientific work until his death in 1929.

In 1950, the Membranfiltergesellschaft published an advertisement for membrane filters. The company logo was a porcelain filtration apparatus in which membrane filters were placed.

In 1950, the Membranfiltergesellschaft published an advertisement for membrane filters. The company logo was a porcelain filtration apparatus in which membrane filters were placed.

In the early days, the primary focus was on the further research and development of membrane filters. Therefore, the MFG was financed by the core business at the time, the balances, for many years and only slowly developed into a profitable business unit as of the 1960s when the industrial production of membrane filters began. In 1978, the MFG was fully integrated into the company. With the expansion of the application areas for the pharmaceutical as well as the beverage industries, and the opening of the first foreign production facility in Puerto Rico in 1982, filter production developed into a pillar of the Sartorius business. Filtration has become one of Sartorius' core technologies – a development that was pioneered more than 90 years ago.

The original text was taken from the official Sartorius website.