(b. Munich, Germany, 2 June 1854; d. Berlin. Germany, 27 April 1932)
Rubner was the son of Johann Nepomuk Rubner, a locksmith, and of Barbara Duscher. His scientific inclinations were already dominant in his Gymnasium years in Munich, and he methodically pursued his interests outside of school. At the age of fifteen he had his own microscope and chemical apparatus. Rubner began studying medicine at Munich in 1873 and completed the course in 1877. When he received his doctorate in 1878, he already had several publications to his credit. While a medical student, he also worked in the chemical institute under Liebig’s successor Adolf Baeyer and with Carl Voit, the director of the physiological institute.
After he had completed his studies, Rubner joined Voit’s institute as an unpaid assistant. In his work on metabolism he developed a novel approach to bioenergetics. Dissatisfied with the purely chemicalmaterial approach to nutritive substances and their effects, he investigated their energy values in the body. Voit did not agree with the direction his work was taking, and for a long time paid no attention to Rubner’s Habilitationsschrift. In the meantime Rubner spent the academic year 1880–1881 in Carl Ludwig’s physiological institute at Leipzig. There, where he hoped his physicalist approach would be more appreciated, he studied the physiology of the circulation, the muscles, and digestion and undertook an investigation of the metabolism of the mammalian muscle artificially supplied with blood.
In 1883 Rubner qualified as a lecturer in physiology at Munich, where in the next two years lie conceived most of his novel views on energy maintenance, the validity of the law of the conservation of energy in the animal economy, the isodynamic relationship of nutrients, and the loss of energy through radiation and evaporation according to the law of surfaces. He later gradually deepened and demonstrated these views with extremely subtle methods and quantitative exactness. In 1880 Rubner published his medical dissertation, über die Ausnutzung einiger Nahrungsmittel im Darmkanal des Menschen. Three years later he published “Die Vertretungswerthe der hauptsächlichsten organischen Nahrungsstoffe im Theirkörper.” Setting forth his “law of isodynamics,” which provided a method of calculating the quantity of each constituent (fats, proteins, starch) required to produce an equal amount of energy when consumed in the body. In 1885 he published the exact caloric values of nutritive substances.
In September 1885 Rubner was offered, on the same day, an assistant professorship in hygiene at Marburg and a chair in pharmacology at Munich. He chose Marburg, convinced that hygiene was simply applied physiology. In the same year an improvised institute of hygiene was created for him; in 1888 it was equipped with a lecture room and laboratories. Rubner remained at Marburg until the winter semester of 1891. While at Marburg he composed the works on heat regulation, body surface, and the exchange of substances that were published as “Biologische Gesetze” (1887).
In 1891 Rubner succeeded Robert Koch in the chair of hygiene in Berlin, with the explicit understanding that hygiene would be emphasized over bacteriology. A large new institute was built for him in 1905. Rubner moved to the chair of physiology on 1 April 1909, succeeding Engelmann. On 1 April 1913 he assumed additional duties as director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut für Arbeitsphysiologie, which he had been instrumental in creating. This organization undertook specialized research on industrial hygiene and industrial medicine.
Rubner published most of his works while at Berlin. They encompassed all aspects of the physiology of nutrition and metabolism, including the hygienic effects of clothing, climate, air and temperature, and the nutrition of entire populations. Among the most original results of his research in these years was his clarification of the specific dynamic effect of foodstuffs; begun between 1883 and 1885, this work was developed fully in Gesetze des Energieverbrauchs (1902). In 1894 Rubner definitively established the validity of the principle of the conservation of energy in living organisms—a goal toward which he and other physiologists had long been working. Between 1896 and 1903 lie clarified the influence of cold on metabolism and the roles of radiation, conduction, and evaporation in heat loss. In 1892 Rubner had taken over the editing of the Archiv für Hygiene and Bakteriologie. He published many original articles in it, including those on the Eiweissminimum, the minimum daily protein intake that preserves a balance between nitrogen intake and nitrogen elimination, and on the attrition quota Abnutzungsquote, the amount of daily nitrogen loss through elimination without protein intake (1908). In a very original way Rubner sought to consider the lifespans of mammals in relation to their period of growth and the energy consumption of the protoplasm. When growth stops, the protoplasm can carry out only a constant magnitude of energy exchanges and ultimately loses even this capacity (1908). Lifespan is therefore a function of energy consumption.
During World War I Rubner became very active in the field of national nutrition. He investigated the shift in food consumption resulting from urbanization and other changes in German life (1913–1914). In 1918 Rubner studied in detail the disastrous effects on Germany’s civilian population of the blockade maintained by the Allies beyond the end of the war. In his last years Rubner related the results of his research in nutrition and metabolism to very general human problems. He spoke before the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin on world nutrition—past, present, and future (1928); on man’s struggle for life (1928); and on the “enemies of mankind”: malnutrition, disease, hunger, poor living conditions, and poor health care (1932).
Rubner possessed a rough manner, a notorious taciturnity, and a sarcastic sense of humor. As an investigator he was scrupulously exact in his measurements and inventive in the construction of proper apparatus (a nutrient calorimeter and an animal calorimeter, among many others). His achievements led to his election to the scientific academies of Munich, Vienna, Oslo, Washington, D.C., Stockholm, and Uppsala. In 1910–1911 he was rector of the University of Berlin.
I. Original Works. Rubner’s writings include “Die Vertretungswerthe der hauptsächlichsten organischen Nahrungsstoffe im Thierkörper,” in Zeitschrift für Biologie, 19 (1883), 313–396; “Biologische Gesetze,” in Jahresberichte der Universität Marbrng (1887); “Die Queue der thierischen Wärme,” in Zeitschrift für Biologie, 30 (1894), 73–142; Gesetze des Energieverbrauchs bei der Ernährung (Leipzi–Vienna, 1902); Das Problem der Lebensdauer und seine Beziehungen zu Wachstum and zu Ernährung (Munich–Berlin, 1908); Volksernährungsfragen (Leipzig, 1908); Kraft und Stoff im Haushalt der Natur (Leipzig, 1909); Die Ernährungsphysiologie der Hefezelle bei alkoholischer Gärung (Leipzig, 1913); Wandlungen in der Volksernährung (Leipzig, 1913); über moderne Ernährungsformen (Munich–Berlin, 1914); “Der Kampf des Menschen um das Leben,” in Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (1928), Ixviii-cvi; “Die Welternährung in Vergangenheit, Gegenwart und Zukunft,” ibid., Phys횪.math. Kl. (1928), 159–183; “Ernstes und Heiteres aus meinem Leben,” in Deutsche medizinische Wochenschrift, 56 (1930), 1099–1101, 1138–1140; and “Die Feinde der Menschheit,” in Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften, Phys.-math. Kl. (1932), 329–335.
II. Secondary Literature. See E. Atzler, “Worte des Gedenkens für Max Rubner,” in Arbeitsphysiologie, 5 (1932), 497–499; R. Fick, “Gedächtnisrede auf Max Rubner,” in Sitzungsberichte der Preussischen Akademie der Wissenschaften zu Berlin (1932), meeting of 30 June; E. Grafe, “Zum Tode von Max Rubner,” in Medizinische Klinik, 28 (1932), 740–741; Karl Kisskalt, “Zu Rubners 100. Geburtstag,” in Archiv für Hygiene und Bakteriologie, 138 (1954), 235; K. E. Rothschuh, Entwicklungsgeschichte physiologischer Probleme in Tabellenform (Munich, 1952), 33–41; Geschichte der Physiologie (Berlin-Heidelberg, 1953), 182–183; and Physiologie. Der Wandel ihter Konzepte, Probleme und Methoden (Freiburg-Munich, 1968), 290–293; Oscar Spitta, “Max Rubner zum Gedächtnis,” in Zentralblatt für die gesamte Hygiene und ihre Grenzgebiete, 27 , no. 3 (1932), 160a–160f; H. Steudel, “Max Rubner †,” in Forschungen und Fortschritte, 8 (1932), 203–204; and “Zum Tode von Geheimrat Rubner,” in Die Medizinische Welt, 6 (1932), 724; and K. Thomas, “Max Rubner,” in Deutsche medizinische Wochenschrift, 50 (1924), 727; “Max Rubner,” in Mitteilungen der Max횪Planck-Gesellschaft (1954), 63–68; and “Erinnerungen an Max Rubner,” ibid., (1960), 91–111.
K. E. Rothschuh