Richard Zsigmondy and the Origins of Sartorius Filtration Technology

Sartorius Facts from the Archives

Nobel Laureate Richard A. Zsigmondy (left), membrane filters by Zsigmondy in a porcelain filtration apparatus (right)

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 in Göttingen, Richard Zsigmondy, even resulted in the creation of a new company in 1927 – the Membranfiltergesellschaft (membrane filter company). With the rise of biotechnology, this firm emerged as the historical core of today’s bioprocessing business.

This article is posted on Sartorius Blog.

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."1

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


Advertisement published by Membranfiltergesellschaft, 1950. The logo of the company represents the porcelain filtration apparatus in which the 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.


1 The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1925. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Prize Outreach AB 2021. Thu. 2 Dec 2021. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/chemistry/1925/summary/>

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