Mr. Hartmut Birett was born 09-DEC-1937. His first experience with electrical matters was during 1944 – 1945 when he was responsible for fixing light bulbs. These were light bulbs that hung from the ceiling by a wire. His technique was to rotate the bulb until the filament would reconnect to the contact wire. Current would then flow and seal the connection.
Mr. Birett’s adult career was as a teacher of biology and physics. As a teacher, he was always looking for ways to make learning as engaging as possible. Mr. Birett’s first experience with the Lectron System occurred during mid 1966 when his brother, who lived in Munich, sent him a shoe box full of loose Lectron System blocks, a base plate, and the Egger instruction manual.
In 1967, for his 12th grade biology students’ edification , Mr. Birett developed three circuits using the Lectron System blocks to demonstrate some basic biology theory. These three experiments were later included in the Funktionsmodelle book as 95.2, 96.1, and 100.1.
In 1968, Mr. Birett was in Munich and decided to call upon Mr. Georg Greger (the inventor of the Lectron System) at Deutsche Lectron, GmbH at the Albert-Rosshaupterstrasse address. Mr. Greger informed him that the Lectron System was now being distributed by Braun AG.
In the Spring of 1969, Mr. Birett visited Mr. Greger once again in search of additional empty blocks for his own circuit development efforts. Mr. Greger expressed an interest in Mr. Birett’s ideas and Mr. Birett detailed a description of about two dozen Lectron System circuit simulations for Biology and a dozen other circuits. Some of these circuits included: Additions to the principle of the flash unit, experiments with relay and diodes, experiments with the zener diode and its use with the meter to prevent overload, A logic gate as AND over threshold value changing to OR, driving a motor, a subtraction block and Schmitt Trigger for simulations and a simple difference amplifier. Mr. Greger evidently spoke highly of Mr. Birett to Mr. Manfred Walter (the Braun head of the Lectron Division) and Mr. Stork (a senior Braun sales executive who was associated with the Lectron System product line) as the both gentlemen encouraged Mr. Birett to submit further proposals.
In mid 1969, Mr. Birett introduced a few circuit models at a colloquium in Freiburg being led by a Dr. Hassenstein. Professor Hassenstein had written a monograph entitled “Biological Cybernetics” for fellow teachers. The professor encouraged Mr. Birett to write up a monograph detailing experiments for learning and to write a book about the subject of ‘Funktionsmodelle’. He also suggested that developing Lectron System blocks to create circuits to illustrate the Funktionsmodelle concepts would be a great project for Braun Lectron. In the Spring of 1971, a preliminary draft of the Funktionsmodelle manuscript was completed and Mr. Birett sent it to Mr. Walter and Mr. Stork.
The graphic on the left shows their reply in May of 1971, thanking Mr. Birett for the manuscript entitled “Biologische Informations-verarbeitung“. This was written at the time the Lectron System was still under the Braun branding.
Mr. Birett completed the final manuscript in the Fall of 1971 and included his idea of including a plastic transparency which had a black grid on it. The transparency was placed over the circuit shown in the book the the grid would outline the Lectron System blocks. Mr. Neubert (the Diesterweg publishing liaison) was concerned about the additional expense but recognized the transparency grid as being ‘helpful’.
This manuscript would become the basis for the future Funktionsmodelle manual/book which was published in 1974 by the well known German publisher Diesterweg. Unfortunately, during the development of the model, Mr. Walter ran out of cash to pay off the balance due to Mr. Birett for his work on the Funktionsmodelle model. The original price for the model was 10,000 DMs. He offered to make up the outstanding cash difference to Mr. Birett with an X Y plotter acquired when Mr. Walter was working at Braun and was valued at 2,500 DMs. This was not enough barter for Mr. Birett however and Mr. Walter sweetened the offer by including a Braun Nizo film camera. Mr. Birett then accepted the deal.
Mr. Birett prepared many of the specialized blocks himself in his workshop. The photo to the left shows a block which used a watch spring to represent the pupil for the block designed to simulate the eye’s pupillary response. Mr. Birett also used his own lathe to create the motor pylon used for the pupillary reflex block in addition to the ring used as a motor mount.
Mr. Birett was never given a productized version of the model by Mr. Walter and Mr. Birett never purchased one because he said that the model was too expensive.
In 1973, Mr. Birett looked into partnering with Mr. Hellmut Deller (author of ‘Informatics in Secondary Education’) to use for the use of digital circuitry in the Funktionsmodelle model. Mr. Birett reported that the adoption was not possible because of the need to have a high impedance input for the Schmitt Trigger used in his circuits.
Also in 1973 (June or July), Mr. Walter referred Mr. Birett to Mr. Max Gürth of Munich. The reader may recall that Mr. Gürth was a colleague of Mr. Greger’s and designed hundreds of circuits using the Lectron System including an Oscilloscope and Geiger Counter! Mr. Gürth gave me the photograph on the left (along with several hundred others) showing the oscilloscope circuit. Mr. Birett recalled seeing the oscilloscope demonstration set and also a 4×4 ferrite core memory matrix (photo on the right provided by my research colleague, Mr. Günther Stabe) in a Lectron System demonstration sized block.
1n 1974, the book and the Lectron System Funktionsmodelle model were both released.
Mr. Birett was invited by Mr. Walter to demonstrate the Funktionsmodelle model at several German universities during 1974 – 1976. Unfortunately, the response from the biology teachers was ‘fairly subdued’ as Mr. Birett put it. It was felt that biological simulations were more about complicated physics and would estrange the students from the living sciences. In retrospect, Mr. Birett wrote in an email to Mr. Stabe on 2015-JUN-25 that he perhaps should not have been persuaded by professor Hassenstein to write the original book. He felt that what might have been more promising was to just create a few simulations for the secondary schools and separately, to describe some of the simulations in a monograph for the university level students.
Mr. Birett was not informed by Mr. Walter as to how well the Funktionsmodelle model sold. He did not receive any monies from any of the sales (such as they may have been – this was a very expensive model and had very limited sales beyond the academic setting).
Mr. Birett informed me that Mr. Walter was planning to design models demonstrating alternate forms of energy. One of those models later found form as the solar energy (1102 – Solar) model.
Mr. Birett last saw Mr. Walter during 1990 in Kronberg (near the Braun Headquarters) for an unrecalled event.
On 2015-DEC-12, Mr. Stabe and I had the honor of visiting Mr. Birett in his home. The photo on the left – three Lectron System aficionados in Mr. Birett’s basement workshop: From right to left: Mr. Hartmut Birett, Mr. Stabe, and Mr. Michael Peters. Mr. Stabe and I had a great visit and we learned a lot about how a Lectron System model was developed in the early 1970’s and were given several demonstrations of Funktionsmodelle circuits.
I did not video any of those experiment demonstrations at the time. On our second visit to Mr. Birett’s home in December of 2017, I took 3 videos of demonstrations illustrating basic neuro biological messaging. They are featured in the video gallery below.
Additionally, since my prior visit in 2015, I had acquired 2 complete sets of the Funktionsmodelle model. As mentioned earlier, Mr. Birett said that he had never seen the productized unit so I was especially pleased to have him do these experiments with one of the Funktionsmodelle models that I had brought with me. This model used two boxes for all the trays but I was able to combine them into one box so that I could give Mr. Birett the empty box for his Lectron System collection.
Mr. Birett enjoys some coffee during our 2017 visit using the 50th anniversary Lectron System mug!
Video Gallery – Hartmut Birett Demonstrates 3 Experiments
- Experiment #1 from the Funktionsmodelle book.
- Demonstration on how the brain controls a muscle.
- Phototaxis demonstration.
Thanks to my research colleague Mr. Stabe for providing English summaries of Mr. Birett’s lectures.