All for water

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Photo of Professor Fath

Prof. Dr. Andreas Fath advocates for clean water and water protection - with spectacular projects. This summer, he'll be swimming the 1094-kilometre Elbe. Picture: Tim Kiefer

"Spotlight on profs": Prof. Dr. Andreas Fath lectures at Furtwangen University and has dedicated his life to water

“I know, I’m a liar,” is how a smiling Prof. Dr. Andreas Fath starts the interview, which is supposed to be about his great passion. Actually, he intended to stop a long time ago. After swimming the Rhine from its source to its mouth in 2014, Prof. Dr. Andreas Fath had actually collected enough sensational samples and proved through his analyses how heavily water bodies are polluted by microplastics. But the topic of water, of swimming, just won't let him go. So in 2017 he also swam the entire Tennessee River, where he also detected unprecedented levels of pollution and subsequently advised his colleagues at the university there, who have since become friends, on setting up an entire science centre on the subject of water protection. In the summer of 2022, it was the Danube's turn – accompanied by a scientific team on board a houseboat, Andreas Fath swam over 2500 kilometres to the Black Sea. The next project starts this August – Fath will swim the 1094 kilometers of the Elbe.

"Other people can run a long way. I’m just good at swimming," says the HFU professor with a shrug. "Good" means, during his research projects – eight hours a day. Andreas Fath has long since become internationally known as the "swimming professor". He has received a lot of media attention for his water protection projects too, not just along his spectacular swimming routes. This attention is one of the goals of Fath's mix of science and extreme sport. He wants to draw attention to water pollution, and campaigns for clean water, however and wherever he can. Whether he swims in rivers, gives lectures, presents films on his projects or lets school classes try out the various modules of his "knowledge workshop" – the aim is always to raise awareness for the protection of water. For this almost relentless commitment, Fath and his non-profit company H2Org have received several awards, most recently the "Undine Award".

Andreas Fath belongs in the water – it's been that way all his life. But he learned to swim the hard way – "My father threw me into the Rhine," he says with a laugh, "and we were lucky – I swam.” Soon after that he also became active in the swimming club, Fath recounts. "There I was the slowest and I just kept going until I was the fastest" – swimming his way into a national league team. It is not surprising that Andreas Fath also met his wife while swimming and that today he proudly talks about what talented and successful swimmers his three sons are.

However, his professional career was not quite as smooth at first as the steady improvement in times in the swimming pool lanes. Fath lived and trained in Heidelberg, where he also studied – chemistry, initially in combination with maths, then with sports. "I actually wanted to go into teaching, but there were far too many applicants at the time," he recalls. "There were 180 applicants for every two positions. He did his doctorate in chemistry and somehow managed to juggle everything he was doing – the rest of his sports studies, his swimming training, then to the lab in the evening and the scientific work until late at night. Even his first child was integrated into his workload – often held in a baby carrier. "After my doctorate, however, it was hard, there were still no jobs," Fath reports. His lucky break came when he managed to get a position at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) working there as a chemist and post-doc in the field of micro-electroplating. From there, he finally made the leap into industry, into macro-electroplating at Hansgrohe, and Fath moved with his family to the Kinzig Valley. For ten years Fath developed one patent after another for the leading company in the bathroom and kitchen industry. Today, samples of glass water taps and special tap parts are still piled up in his office at HFU. "The competitive pressure and the workload were enormous," Fath reports, "and the working conditions were also very different from today. In the beginning, we worked in leather aprons in a real 'steam bath'," he laughs.

Fath brought his good contacts in industry with him when he moved to Furtwangen University as a professor. Since then, he has dedicated himself to his life's theme of water on a scientific level and prepares and follows up on his sensational projects from the Schwenningen campus. Although swimming is actually a "killer sport", he can't get away from it, admits Fath. Even when he's not training, he's in the water for at least an hour every day. "It's good for you, you can just be alone with your thoughts. But swimming is far from becoming just a hobby for him. For the Elbe, however, Fath has long been back in training, building up the necessary fitness. He is due to start in the Czech Giant Mountains on 17 August, and around three and a half weeks later Fath wants to swim through Hamburg.

At HFU Fath is also currently fighting for a long-awaited research project with which he wants to bring sport, chemistry and science together. "I've already done transfer and start-up initiatives. Now I'd like to supervise another doctoral student," he says, describing his next goal. Fath is well aware that he only has ten years left at HFU due to his age, so everything he has planned must fit into that time. " I already have a vision for afterwards. Then I'll move my knowledge workshop to a hydrogen-powered ship and give lectures there," says Fath. He sounds like he’s in a hurry, as if he’s starting the day after tomorrow. "I know, I'm kind of driven," Fath admits. But then he has to rush off again – to the swimming pool, because he also gives a crawl class there in the evening. Just on the side.

Spotlight on profs:

In this series, we introduce the distinguished academics who lecture and conduct research at Furtwagen University. HFU is a university of applied sciences, so our professors have many years of practical experience. We’ll be bringing these fascinating life stories to you on a regular basis.