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Solar Pioneer Dr. Karl Wolfgang Böer
The German-American Heritage Foundation of the USA®

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German-American Heritage Museum of the USA™

The German-American Heritage Museum of the USA™ opened in March, 2010 in a building once known as Hockemeyer Hall. Renovations were completed by the GAHF after acquiring the building in 2008. Located on 6th Street NW in the heart of the old European-American section of Washington, the Museum sits in what is now a thriving commercial neighborhood.

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Dr. Karl Wolfgang Böer to Posthumously Receive 2021 Distinguished German-American of the Year Award

Late Solar Pioneer to be Honored for his Contributions to Renewable Energy

The German-American Heritage Foundation is pleased to announce that Dr. Karl Wolfgang Böer, who died in 2018, will receive the 2021 Distinguished German-American of the Year Award.

The physicist, inventor and solar energy pioneer Karl W. Böer was born in Berlin on March 26, 1926.  His father, an electrical engineer, worked for Siemens in Berlin, incl. a few years in Leningrad, until a Soviet assassination attempt in 1932 ended that assignment, and the Siemens subsidiary was subsequently nationalized.  Meanwhile, the family had bought a home in nearby Spandau.

Wolfgang, as he was known to family and friends, was drafted into the German army, when he was barely 17 years old.  He volunteered for the Air Force, since he had the romanticized idea of becoming a fighter pilot, after an earlier training as a student glider pilot. In the Spring of 1945, Böer was promoted to second lieutenant and placed in charge of a Volkssturm company, a poorly armed and trained group of older men.

With the landing of Allied Forces in France, and their progress on the battle fields, he realized fighting them would be futile. Hence, he dismissed his men and sent them home, while realizing such an act would be viewed as desertion. For them, however, it represented their only chance of survival. On his own trip home, he was captured by American soldiers and held as POW for ten days. When trying to cross into Russian-occupied territory, he was captured again; but he escaped by a ruse. 

When he finally made it to Spandau, he learnt his entire family had been killed by one of the war’s last bombing raids. These early life experiences steeled his resolve to study physics, as soon as the Friedrich Wilhelm University (now known as Humboldt University of Berlin) opened in 1946.  He graduated with a diploma in physics in 1949, and taught at the Physics Department from 1950 until 1961, while writing his doctoral thesis on solid state physics.

In 1951, Böer formed and directed a research team of eight scientists as section head of the Physics Department.  Within ten years, that group grew to 26 scientists and 23 support personnel. He also founded and became director of the Section of Dielectric Breakdown at the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin. The laboratories included facilities to grow and analyze cadmium sulfide (CdS) single crystals, etc.  All along, he had a unique position as a West German scientist working in East Germany.

Böer’s decision to immigrate to the United States was prompted by the construction of the Berlin Wall, an event that took place while he was attending a scientific conference at Cornell University.  After spending a year at NYU, he resigned his position at Humboldt, sold his house in Spandau, and moved to America – a childhood dream thus realized. He began his career at the University of Delaware as an associate professor of physics in 1962. Three years later, he became full professor with expanded responsibilities.

With a vision of solar energy as a supply source for residential energy and a means to reduce America’s dependence on imported oil, Böer anticipated the energy crisis of the mid 1970s, and founded in 1972 the Institute of Energy Conservation (IEC) at the University of Delaware.  Under his direction, the IEC grew into a major research facility and an important training ground for many individuals, who contributed to advances in photovoltaic technology for delivery of solar energy.

In 1972, Böer also proposed Solar One, the first solar house to harvest solar energy for heat and electricity in a total system approach. It was built the following year on the grounds of the University of Delaware.  In 1987, the University of Delaware established the Karl W. Böer Solar Energy Medal of Meritin his honor.  President Jimmy Carter was its first recipient in 1993.

The following year, Böer retired from the University of Delaware as Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Physics and Solar Energy, after receiving many awards for teaching & research. His experience in solar cells, solar energy systems & solid state physics is recognized worldwide. He holds 28 patents in solid state technology, authored over 300 articles on solar energy conversion and solid-state physics, co-authored two books and edited numerous scientific textbooks and and journals. 

He joins an impressive list of German-Americans, including  PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel, U.S. Ambassador William R. Timken, Jr., the Nobel Prize winner in Medicine Dr. Günter Blobel, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf of Desert Storm fame, Doug Oberhelman, the former chairman and CEO of Caterpillar, Inc., and entrepreneur and philanthropist Philip Frederick Anschutz, whose contributions have been recognized in the past. For more than three decades, GAHF has recognized outstanding leadership and achievement by Americans of German-speaking ancestry in various fields and disciplines; it is the only national society to present such an honor.

The ceremony will take place at the German Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia on Friday, May 6, 2022. 

Gala Tickets

Join us to celebrate German-American culture and achievements at our annual black tie gala on Friday, May 6, 2022 at 6 pm in the historic Horner Library of the German Society of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia at 611 Spring Garden Street Philadelphia, PA 19123.

Supporter Tickets:  $200 per person 

Bronze Sponsorships: $1,500 — includes four tickets

Silver Sponsorships: $2,500 — includes six tickets

Gold Sponsorships: $5,000 — one table for eight guests

Please contact [email protected] or 202.467.5000 for additional information.