Even those who know him are surprised: Kurt Mehlhorn, Founding Director oft he Max Planck Institute for Informatics turns 70 – and looks as young as ever. Kurt Mehlhorn studied from 1968 to 1971 mathematics und computer science at Technical University München and got his PhD 1974 at Cornell University, Ithaca (New York), under Robert Lee Constable with the topic „Polynomial and Abstract Subrecursive Classes“. Subsequently, he joined Saarland University where 1975, at the age of 26, he was appointed professor. In 1990 the Max Planck Society appointed him as Founding Director of the newly founded Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken. From 2002 to 2008 he served as vice president for the Max Planck Society. Since 2016 Kurt Mehlhorn is member of the European Research Council, ERC.
Kurt Mehlhorn's scientific work deals mainly with data structures, graph theory, algorithms, theory of complexity and the production of program libraries. His text books „Data Structures and Algorithms“ (1984) and „Algorithms and Data Structures: The Basic Toolbox“ (2008 with Peter Sanders) are reference works. Kurt Mehlhorn is one of the fathers of algorithm engineering with the close interlocking of basic algorithmic research and the development of powerful software libraries. Together with Stefan Näher and Christian Uhrig, he founded Algorithmic Solutions Software Ltd. in 1995 that published the software library LEDA (Library of Efficient Data Types and Algorithms) used e.g. by the American company Celera for the sequencing of the human genome.
Kurt Mehlhorn made significant contributions to the development and advancement of computer science in Saarbrücken. Milestones were him being the speaker (1986-1988) of the Collaborative Research Center „SFB 124“, VLSI design methods (an important nucleus for the later establishment of the MPI for Informatics), the founding of the Centre for Bioinformatics (which was largely initiated by his research group) (2001), the founding of the Max Planck Institute for Software Systems Saarbrücken/Kaiserslautern under his MPG Vice-presidency (2004), as well as the successful applications in the Excellence Initiative for the Saarbrücken "Graduate School of Computer Science" and the "Cluster of Excellence on Multimodal Computing and Interaction" (2007), in which Kurt Mehlhorn held a central position. owing to its balancing nature he plays an important role in the Saarland Informatics Campus with its unique collection of high-performance research institutes and at the same time its close integration with university computer science research.
For his achievements, Kurt Mehlhorn was awarded the Leibniz Prize together with Günther Hotz and Wolfgang Paul in 1987. Other important awards include the Karl Heinz Beckurts Award (1994), the Konrad Zuse Medal (1995), his appointment as an ACM Fellow (1998), the European EATCS Award (2010), the American ACM Kanellakis Theory and Practice Award (2011), the Erasmus Medal (2015) and the appointment as an EATCS Fellow (2016). Kurt Mehlhorn was awarded an honorary doctorate by several renowned universities (Magdeburg, Aarhus, Waterloo, Gothenburg, Patras), and he is a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, the Academia Europaea, and Acatech. He is also a foreign member of the US National Academy of Engineering and the US Academy of Science.
Kurt Mehlhorn has supervised more than 80 doctorates and the same number of postdoctoral students. Many of his students were appointed to professorships.
In 1972 he married Ena Friedrichson, he has got three children and four grand children. He is an avid cyclist and never seems to be under stress.