200th anniversary of the GDNÄ: a glittering celebration of the sciences

by Prof. Dr. Michael Dröscher, Treasurer and Secretary General

Just how vital and sustainable the interdisciplinary research society remains today was demonstrated at its 200th anniversary celebration at its founding site in Leipzig. It was a magnificent celebration of science that the Society of German Natural Scientists and Physicians (GDNÄ) hosted from September 8 to 11, 2022, in the beautiful atmosphere of the Leipzig Congress Hall at the Zoo under the patronage of German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. Around 800 GDNÄ members and guests, including more than 200 high school and university students, came to celebrate the Society’s birthday with a high-caliber program on the theme of “Images in Science”. 

Founded in 1822 by free-minded thinkers in Leipzig at the invitation of Lorenz Oken, the GDNÄ has evolved over the course of its 132 meetings from a gathering of Europe’s scientific and medical elite to an exchange of high-ranking scientists with people interested in the natural sciences. The generally understandable lectures from chemistry, physics, biology, computer science and medicine showed how interdisciplinary science is and must be today.

© MIKA-fotografie | Berlin

At the festive evening after the first day of the meeting: Michael Dröscher welcomes the guests with humorous words (behind him from left to right: Ronald Werner, Jörg Junhold, Martin Lohse).

For the special anniversary celebration, the program was not only extended to four days, but also offered participants a science exhibition with hands-on activities and a significant expansion of the student program. The students not only participated in the full scientific program. They contributed to the program with their questions to science, created an enthusiastically received science slam, took advantage of the opportunity to get advice on their studies, and freely exchanged ideas with speakers and guests.

The opening day was marked by the festive session, attuned and framed by the Albero String Quartet with music by Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Maurice Ravel and Ludwig van Beethoven.

GDNÄ President Professor Martin Lohse and local CEO and host Zoo Director Professor Jörg Junhold opened the festive session in the Congress Hall. With the words “The GDNÄ stands for exchange and openness”, the Federal Minister for Education and Research, Bettina Stark-Watzinger, welcomed the festive society in her video message. In his greeting, the President of the State Parliament, Dr. Matthias Rößler, pointed out Saxony’s close connection with the GDNÄ, which was meeting in the Free State for the ninth time, and emphasized the promotion of dialogue between science and the public. Mayor Professor Thomas Fabian pointed out the great importance of Leipzig as a science location.

The GDNÄ thrives on the commitment of its members. Therefore, it awards the Alexander von Humboldt Medal every two years for special contributions to the development of society. During the festive meeting, it honored Professor Joachim Treusch for his services as a board member, president and long-time companion of the board. In her laudatory speech, Professor Eva-Maria Neher said, “Our laureate today, Joachim Treusch, belongs with Alexander von Humboldt to the ‘far-sighted people’ who not only shaped the GDNÄ, but with and as part of it, shaped the sciences, advanced communication to society, and significantly convinced politics to promote innovation and change.” In particular, the medal recognizes the awardee’s contribution to the implementation of the student program and his linking of society with the networks of science. As the founding president of the Helmholtz Association, a member of the Senate of the Leopoldina, and a member of the German Academy of Science and Engineering, Professor Treusch has helped shape many connections to the GDNÄ.

© MIKA-fotografie | Berlin

Students surround physics Nobel laureate Reinhard Genzel after his lecture, “A 40-year Journey to the Center of the Milky Way.”

The focus of the celebration session was the exchange of students with science. Around 200 participants in the scholarship-funded student program, which was once again under the competent leadership of student advisor Paul Mühlenhoff, had agreed in preparatory meetings on key questions to science on the topic of “We have only one world”. Three of the six subject area groups presented their questions on the podium at the opening ceremony. The topic was introduced by a video message from Dr. Mai Thi Nguyen-Kim: She will receive the Lorenz Oken Medal of the GDNÄ on October 5, 2022, at the Forum on Science Communication in Hannover, Germany, to honor her contributions to communicating science to society.

In the Biology Department, young people discussed the question “How would an alga have to be modified and used to convert greenhouse gases, such as atmospheric CO2 and CO2 dissolved in seawater, into usable organic material as quickly, practically, reliably and risk-free as possible, and how could this be technically realized?” with Professor Antje Boetius, director of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research. “What do you think is necessary to be able to realize individual medicine for every person in a timely manner?” – was the question posed by the medical team to Professor Patrick Cramer, President of the Max Planck Society from 2023. “How does science realize the perfect city of tomorrow?” was the question posed by Professor Johann-Dietrich Wörner, President of the German Academy of Engineering Sciences, to the Technology/Engineering Group. The conversation, moderated by Martin Lohse, can be found, along with all the presentations, on the Society’s video channel.


© MIKA-fotografie | Berlin

The lecture by physics Nobel Prize winner Professor Reinhard Genzel attracted many Leipzigers to the Congress Hall at the Zoo.

Also on the big stage, three other student groups presented their questions the next day during the biology session. Vice President Professor Heribert Hofer moderated the second round. “Does chemistry have to reinvent plastic to get the benefits as well as eliminate the known drawbacks, and can science eliminate plastic waste that already exists and make this economically attractive?” asked Professor Michael Buchmeiser, director of the Institute of Polymer Chemistry at the University of Stuttgart. The question posed by the mathematics/computer science group, “How can computer science minimize the energy and resource consumption of data storage and communication despite advancing digitalization?” was addressed to Professor Wolfgang Wahlster, German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence. Professor Katharina Kohse-Höinghaus, Bielefeld University, responded to the question on science communication posed by the physics group, “How can science succeed in communicating the most urgent problems in such a comprehensible way that it leads to direct action?”

Back to the celebration session: images and journeys was the topic of the panel in the second part. President Lohse introduced the conference theme. “All sciences strive to produce accurate images. To do so, they use artificial as well as natural intelligence, the large toolbox of computer science, sophisticated methods of physics and specially designed building blocks of chemistry. Optimized dyes and labeling strategies, complex light and electron microscopes, efficient algorithms and clear visualizations are needed to depict the molecules of life with ever greater precision. Impetus for the panel discussion was provided by Professor Oliver Lubrich, University of Bern, on “Alexander von Humboldt’s Images of Science”, Professor Antje Boetius with a report on the MOSAiC expedition, which was additionally documented by images in the exhibition, and Professor Günther Hasinger, European Space Agency, with his view on black holes and the fate of the universe.

With a glass of champagne in hand, Professor Jörg Junhold and Dr. Ronald Werner, the representative of the Saxon state government, opened the festive evening in the zoo’s concert garden. With music from the Alberto Quartet and a flying buffet, the party was duly celebrated.

But not only that. At 7:30 p.m., “Science in 5 Minutes” was scheduled in the White Hall. This format took place for the third time, always moderated by Vice President Professor Heribert Hofer. In front of a full hall, 13 young people, individually or in teams, competed. With their topics “Alkylpolyglucosides and preservatives in a different way,” “Gender in medicine,” “Use of clay in commercial construction – a significant contribution to ways out of the climate crisis,” “Fullerenes and medical use,” “Will AI take over our world?”, “Why can the number Pi be calculated from two colliding blocks? “, “Voltage or current, which is the killer?”, “How can machines weighing tons fly?”, “The periodic table of the elements – deadlier than you think” and “Interstellar travel”, the young speakers were able to inspire the audience and provoke storms of applause to such an extent that in the end there were 5 first and 5 second places, each rewarded with 200 and 100 euros respectively.


© MIKA-fotografie | Berlin

Well attended, gladly used: The study counselling by proven experts on Saturday, 10 October.

The second day began with the biology session led by Professor Tina Romeis. Dr. Andreas Wilting was on the trail of hidden wild animals of tropical rainforests, while Professor Markus Sauer introduced the “Latest developments in super-resolution microscopy”.

The science market was open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. It offered not only interesting insights, for example into the MOSAiC exhibition “Into the Ice” and the exhibition “Fascination of Science” by photographer Herlinde Koelbl, but also hands-on activities. Represented were the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology (research site of Professor Svante Pääbo, 2022 Nobel Laureate in Medicine), the Leibniz Institutes for Photonic Technologies, Jena, Tropospheric Research and Regional Geography, both from Leipzig, and the Leipzig Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in the Sciences. The Society’s archivist, Dr. Matthias Röschner, had brought along some particularly interesting items from the GDNÄ archive at the Deutsches Museum.

In the acatech “Science and Technology Café”, private lecturer Marc-Denis Weitze invited participants to discuss the topic “In which world do we want to live/Science for tomorrow” during the lunch break. In parallel, Lilo Berg moderated a discussion on the history of the GDNÄ with Professor Dietrich von Engelhardt and archivist Dr. Matthias Röschner.

The afternoon began in the context of the chemistry session chaired by Professor Wolfgang Lubitz with the award of the Liebig Memorial Medal of the German Chemical Society by GDCh President Dr. Karsten Danielmeier to Professor Claudia Felser, Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids. The laudator, Professor Barbara Albert, Rector of the University of Duisburg-Essen, praised the award winner as a visionary in solid materials. In her talk, Claudia Felser reported on “Chirality and Topology. Contributions on NMR-assisted structural biology by Professor Bernd Reif, insights into the molecular architecture of cells by Professor Wolfgang Baumeister, and encounters with nanomachines at work, mediated by Professor Helmut Grubmüller, completed the chemistry session.

The public evening lecture by Nobel Prize winner in physics Reinhard Genzel about his 40-year journey to the center of the Milky Way attracted not only conference participants but also many citizens of Leipzig. Professor Genzel took plenty of time after the lecture to talk to the students. Afterwards, conference participants flocked to St. Nicholas Church to hear works by Georg Phillip Telemann, Johann Sebastian Bach, Max Reger and Richard Wagner. Music was performed by Viktorija Kaminskaite (vocals), Alexander Bernhard (trumpet) and Reiko Brockelt (alto saxophone) under the direction of University Music Director David Timm (organ). Between the musical pieces, Superintendent Sebastian Feydt explained the significance of St. Nicholas Church to the Peaceful Revolution of 1989.

After the early GDNÄ general meeting, Saturday morning began with the physics session led by Professor Thomas Elsässer. With images from the nanoworld, time-resolved X-ray crystallography and the diversity of extrasolar planets, Professor Roland Wiesendanger, Professor Petra Fromme and Professor Heike Rauer impressed the audience.

The topic of the well-attended acatech “Science and Technology Café” during the lunch break was the digitalization of medicine. At the same time, large numbers of students sought advice from members of the GDNÄ’s Board of Directors about study opportunities in the natural sciences, computer science, medicine and veterinary medicine.

The afternoon was devoted to topics in technology and computer science and was led by Professor Johannes Buchmann. Professor Stefan Roth reported on image analysis and understanding for autonomous driving and Professor Christian Theobalt on machine learning in computer graphics and image recognition. Professor Philipp Slusallek concluded the computer science section with the topic of real-time ray tracing for photorealistic visualization.

For the following public Leopoldina lecture by Markus Gross, computer science professor at ETH Zurich and director of Disney Research, on computer-generated Hollywood movies with impressive images and technologies, many citizens of Leipzig again flocked to the Congress Hall at the Zoo.

After the lecture, the speakers were invited by the mayor and the zoo director to the zoo’s Gondwanaland for an evening in tropical surroundings.


© MIKA-fotografie | Berlin

Magnetic resonance tomography in real time: Professor Jens Frahm showed fascinating images, including interior views of a horn player.

Sunday was dedicated to medicine, introduced by Professor Jürgen Floege. Professor Jens Frahm kicked things off with impressive images of real-time magnetic resonance tomography. To be able to watch artists playing the trumpet and singing from the inside was impressive.

Afterwards, the focus was on the new RNA medicine. Professor Jörg Vogel, Professor Lorenz Meinel and Professor Stefanie Dimmler introduced the field and discussed future developments together with GDNÄ President Professor Martin Lohse.

The President concluded by thanking the participants who had traveled from near and far, the speakers and panel guests, the members of the Executive Board and the Board Council, and the local Zoo and Congress Hall teams led by Professor Jörg Junhold. He highlighted the tremendous efforts of those who helped prepare and host this meeting. In particular, he thanked the office staff, Ms. Landeck and Ms. Diete, who received great applause from the participants.

The president also thanked the city of Leipzig and the state of Saxony for their hospitality, the superintendent of the Nikolaikirche, Sebastian Feydt, as well as the musicians of the anniversary concert, the students around Studienrat Paul Mühlenhoff, the Instagram team from Stuttgart around Professor Alexander Mäder, the archive of the GDNÄ around Matthias Röschner and all exhibitors in the conference-accompanying “Market of Sciences”, the team of authors of the commemorative publication around Lilo Berg and Thomas Liebscher as well as all sponsors, donors and donors.

The next meeting of the GDNÄ will take place in Potsdam in September 2024, then under the leadership of the Berlin zoologist Professor Heribert Hofer.

All lectures were livestreamed and are available as video via www.gdnae.de. A photo gallery, the meeting diary and many other contributions on the website commemorate the festive 200th anniversary of the German Society of Natural Scientists and Physicians in Leipzig in September 2022.

Matthias Röschner © Deutsches Museum

© MIKA-fotografie | Berlin

The anniversary concert in the Nikolai Church – an unforgettable experience at the end of the second day of the meeting.

Further information: