Obituary Prof. Rautenbach

23.06.1931 – 19.09.2000

‘Membrane Technology is an incomplete copy of natural membranes, which can do much more than membranes produced synthetically,’ Robert Rautenbach said in one of his last lectures.

Robert Rautenbach was an inspiring teacher, a meticulous scientist, a great scholar with a thirst for knowledge, and a man with a firm conviction in the creative nature of human beings. Robert Rautenbach passed away on September 19th, 2000 after a long and serious illness.

It is with pleasure and in gratitude that we remember a person in whom knowledge and experience were united with vision and ethics. His unselfish readiness to help, a result of his sense of responsibility and deep humanity, brought him recognition and esteem.

The importance of water for civilized life was recognized by Robert at a very early stage. As a process engineer, Robert took up the challenge of regarding earth’s immense oceans as a potential water source, as part of his motivation for seawater desalination research. He dealt with the desalination of seawater intensively – a technology where drinking water is produced from seawater, particularly in arid countries. His main study lay not only in thermal methods, e.g. evaporation, but also as an alternative in the mechanical methods, e.g. reverse osmosis. For him, the choice of a suitable technology was dependent upon the economic viability of the appropriate choice and not upon his preference for the one or the other technology.

Robert never accepted the waste of water in water-rich countries. His approach to economic production was never at the expense of nature. In his opinion, a protective barrier of membranes should be installed between all sewage and all natural water and, during his life research in the field of membrane technology and environmental protection, he emphasized the concept of “sewage free factories”.

Like nobody else, Robert was capable of analysing complicated, interrelated processes and explaining them clearly and simply to laymen. Although he mastered complexity, it was never his goal; his aim was to achieve simplicity. He often quoted the words of Saint-Exupéry: “the path from the primitive to the simple starts with complexity”.

Robert was himself loyal and appreciated loyalty highly. He was pragmatic, honest and sincere. He was also hardworking. He enjoyed working so much that “the worst first!” was his motto. Besides his work, his family was an essential part of his life; when he wasn’t busy solving process engineering problems, he would work on drawings and outlines of his homes. He also designed furniture and enjoyed his garden, he was a great theatre-lover, and never visited Berlin without a visit to one of his favourite theatres.

He was a sought-after adviser of industrial enterprises, due to his vast experience. For many years, he was an acting member on several advisory boards. Robert supported the IDA wherever he could. He did not, however, enjoy the limelight or public speeches, and would have preferred to see his successes translated into practical action and concrete examples.

His death came as a great shock to all who knew him, as very few knew of his serious illness. It is difficult to imagine that someone like Robby, someone who had always lived healthily, someone who got up early every day, swam before breakfast, and rode the long distance between house and work by bicycle, would suddenly be torn from life. The image of him laughing on his bicycle, sportily dressed, and his zest for life leave us with the best memories. We will often think of him. We will miss his advice, his human warmth, and will nevertheless try to continue his philosophy for all new and forthcoming tasks.

December, 2000
Prof. Dr.-Ing. Thomas Melin
Institute of Process Engineering, RWTH Aachen University
Dr.-Ing. Süleyman Yüce
Dr.-Ing. Joachim Gebel