Hans Spemann was born on June 27, 1869, the son of a publisher. From 1878 to 1888, Spemann attended Eberhard Ludwig School in Stuttgart, then worked at his father's publishing house, served a mandatory term with the military, and finally began his studies at Heidelberg in 1891. He also spent one semester at Munich, before moving on to Würzburg in the summer of 1894, working at the Zoological Institute. There he met Theodor Boveri, Julius Sachs, and Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, and received his doctoral degree in 1898.
In 1908, he accepted a professorship at Rostock. From 1914 onward, he was employed at the Emperor Wilhelm Institute for Biology, before being appointed to the University of Freiburg/Breisgau as a professor.
In 1935, Spemann retired, and in the same year, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his discovery of the Organizer Effect in the embryonic stage of development.
Six years later, Spemann died on September 9, 1941, at Freiburg.
At all times, scientists have marveled at the development of a complex organism from an egg cell. Over decades, Spemann had been pursuing the question of what organizes the purposeful structure of a living organism. Where was the site of the "organizer"? At first, he was able to show how the eye of a newt comes into being. Then he hired a student, Hilde Pröscholdt (his future wife), who was working on a dissertation project that involved transplantation. They inserted a small piece of tissue from a newt embryo –which he assumed to contain the organizer – into another newt embryo, at a presumably inconsequential site. This embryo developed into a newt, but from the adjacent cells of the host, the inserted piece of tissue also grew a brain and medulla, digestive organs, an epidermis, etc. The site and the operating principles of the organizer had been found.
Working and Living in Würzburg
Spemann, who lived at Pleicherglacisstrasse 2, today's Bismarckstrasse, only had to walk a short distance through Ringpark to arrive at his workplace at the Zoological Institute. In Theodor Boveri, Spemann had not only found the ideal teacher, but a friend as well. When Boveri suggested that Spemann do his doctoral dissertation on the sexual organs of the tapeworm, the two of them had to chuckle and admit that this was too indecent a subject, particularly for the lawyers among the family of Spemann's fiancée. Instead, Spemann investigated the development of strongylus paradoxus.
For her secondary schooling, the Spemanns' daughter, Margarete, attended Würzburg's Sophienschule, a predecessor of Mozartgymnasium.