Joachim Sauer was born on 19th April 1949 in Hosena, close to Senftenberg. He studied chemistry from 1967 to 1972 at the Humboldt University of Berlin and was awarded a doctorate in chemistry in 1974. He continued to do research there until 1977 when he joined the Academy of Sciences, Central Institute of Physical Chemistry in Berlin. He received the Dr. sc. nat. degree from the Academy of Sciences in Berlin in 1985.
For a brief time during and after the German reunification (1990–1991) he was the Deputy Technical Director (Catalysis and Sorption) for BIOSYM Technologies, San Diego/USA. In 1992 he joined the Max Planck Society and became Head of the Quantum Chemistry Group in Berlin until 1996.
Since 1993 he has been a full professor of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry at the Humboldt University of Berlin. Joachim Sauer is an external member of the Fritz Haber Institute (Max Planck Society) since 2006. He is member of the Berlin-Brandenburg (formerly Prussian) Academy of Sciences, the German National Academy Leopoldina, and the Academia Europaea. His research has explored the application of quantum chemical methods in chemistry, with emphasis on surface science, particularly adsorption and catalysis. He has published more than 300 research papers, notably in the area of modeling the structure and reactivity of zeolites and transition metal oxide catalysts, and he has given more than 330 invited lectures. From 1999 to 2011 he was chairman of the Collaborative Research Center of the German Research Foundation (DFG) "Aggregates of transition metal oxides - Structure, dynamics, reactivity" and he is co-founder and principal investigator of the DFG-funded Cluster of Excellence UniCat in Berlin. In his research, Joachim Sauer uses quantum chemical and other computational tools to find out how solid catalysts work.
Within UniCat, Joachim Sauer was Coordinator of Research Area A until 2011. Now, Joachim Sauer is Coordinator of Research Area D1. Joachim Sauer has been member of UniCat's Executive Board since 2008.