The Life and Achievements of Bert Sakmann

OV Digital Desk

Bert Sakmann is a German cell physiologist. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1991, jointly with Erwin Neher.

Early Life and Education

Bert Sakmann, the distinguished German cell physiologist and Nobel Laureate, was born on June 12, 1942, in Stuttgart, Germany. He was born into a creative family; his mother, Annemarie Sakmann, was a physical therapist, and his father, Bertold Sakmann, was a theater director. His early education took place in Lindau and he completed his secondary education at the Wagenburg Gymnasium in Stuttgart in 1961. Sakmann’s pursuit of knowledge led him to study medicine across various prestigious institutions in Tübingen, Freiburg, Berlin, Paris, and Munich. His academic journey culminated with him receiving his medical degree from the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. This rich educational background laid the foundation for his future groundbreaking work in physiology.

Career and Achievements

Bert Sakmann, born on June 12, 1942, in Stuttgart, Germany, is a distinguished cell physiologist known for his groundbreaking work in the field of cell biology and neuroscience. His illustrious career is marked by his co-reception of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1991 alongside Erwin Neher, for their development of the patch-clamp technique. This innovative method allows for the detection of electrical currents through cell membranes with unprecedented precision. Sakmann’s academic journey began with a focus on physics in school, which later transitioned to an interest in cybernetics and its application to biology. He pursued medical studies at various universities, including Tübingen, Freiburg, Berlin, Paris, and Munich, and completed his doctoral thesis in electrophysiology.

Sakmann’s scientific contributions extend beyond the Nobel Prize. He has been honored with several prestigious awards, such as the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University in 1986, the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft in 1987, which is the highest honor in German research, and the Harvey Prize in 1991. His career has been associated with eminent institutions like the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology and University College London. Sakmann’s dedication to his field is also evident in his role as the scientific director of the Max Planck Florida Institute and the establishment of the Bert-Sakmann-Stiftung, further contributing to the advancement of medical research and education.

Notable Events and Milestones

Bert Sakmann’s life and work have left an indelible mark on the scientific community and beyond. Born in Stuttgart, Germany, in 1942, Sakmann’s early interest in physics and biology led him to pursue a medical degree, which he completed at the University of Tübingen. His doctoral thesis in electrophysiology laid the groundwork for his future discoveries. A significant milestone in his career was the development of the patch-clamp technique, alongside Erwin Neher, which revolutionized our understanding of ion channels and cell membranes. This groundbreaking work earned them the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1991.

Sakmann’s contributions extended beyond his Nobel-winning research. He served as a research assistant at the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry and later joined the department of neurobiology at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. His work there further established the role of ion channels in various diseases, paving the way for new drug therapies. As head of the cell physiology department at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, he continued to push the boundaries of cellular physiology and neuroscience.

The implications of Sakmann’s work are vast, influencing treatments for diseases like diabetes, cystic fibrosis, and epilepsy. His research has also impacted our understanding of cardiovascular and neuromuscular disorders, contributing to the development of targeted therapies. Beyond medicine, Sakmann’s discoveries have had a cultural impact, emphasizing the importance of basic scientific research in improving human health and advancing our understanding of life at the molecular level.

Sakmann’s legacy is not only in his scientific achievements but also in his commitment to education and mentorship. He has authored influential texts, such as “Single-Channel Recording,” and has been involved in the training of the next generation of scientists. His dedication to uncovering the mysteries of the human body and his contributions to society’s well-being exemplify the profound impact one individual’s curiosity and perseverance can have on the world.

Awards and Honors

  • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1991): Awarded jointly with Erwin Neher for their discoveries concerning the function of single ion channels in cells.
  • Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize (1986): For outstanding research in biology and biochemistry.
  • Harvey Prize (1991): Recognized for contributions to the study of the nervous system.
  • Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (1987): The highest honor awarded in German research.
  • Alden Spencer Award (1983): Acknowledging significant contributions to neurological research.
  • Louis-Jeantet Prize for Medicine (1988): For advancing the understanding of physiology.
  • Ralph W. Gerard Prize in Neuroscience: Honoring excellence in the field of neuroscience.
  • ForMemRS (1994): Elected as a Foreign Member of the Royal Society.

Multiple honorary doctorates: Bert Sakmann has been bestowed with no less than nine honorary doctorates for his work.

Bernhard Katz Lecture: Established with his Nobel Prize money in conjunction with the A. v. Humboldt Foundation to promote collaboration between young Israeli and German scientists.

Additional Resources


  1. “Single-Channel Recording” edited by Bert Sakmann and Erwin Neher, which is a comprehensive resource on the patch-clamp technique and its applications in neuroscience.

For a detailed exploration of Bert Sakmann’s work and its impact, readers can refer to academic databases or libraries for publications authored or co-authored by him.


  1. The Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence offers insights into Bert Sakmann’s research and achievements.
  2. Wikipedia provides a summary of Bert Sakmann’s career and contributions to cell physiology.
  3. The Lindau Mediatheque has a collection of videos featuring Nobel Laureate Bert Sakmann, which can be a valuable visual resource.

Museums and Institutions:

  1. The Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) provides information on Bert Sakmann’s fellowship and his research focus in neuroscience.
  2. The Nationale Akademie der Wissenschaften Leopoldina lists Bert Sakmann as a member and outlines his research priorities and career milestones.

For an interactive experience, science museums may have exhibits on Nobel laureates or advancements in cell physiology that include Bert Sakmann’s work. Visitors can check with local museums for such displays or special events related to his contributions to science.