Barbara Albert: “An important and great task”

“An important and great task”

Barbara Albert, chemist and rector of the University of Duisburg-Essen, on her first year in office, dealing with a cyberattack and focus topics in the Excellence Competition.  

Professor Albert, you have been Rector of the University of Duisburg-Essen, or UDE for short, since spring 2022. How was your first year in office?
It was exciting and productive, but also challenging. As the University of Duisburg-Essen, we are part of the University Alliance Ruhr and this year we had the chance to establish a new Research Alliance that catapults our research into a new league. At the same time, we have vigorously pursued applications for the Excellence Strategy competition of the federal and state governments, as well as our sustainability initiative and the founding of a new faculty – to name just a few examples. 

With what goal and what topics is your university entering the Excellence Competition?
Together with the Ruhr-Universität Bochum and the Technische Universität Dortmund, we are sharpening our research profile, for example in the field of neuroscience. Traditionally, however, drinking water and freshwater research is also very strong at the University of Duisburg-Essen. With the interdisciplinary Centre for Water and Environmental Research, which has been making a name for itself for twenty years, we have an internationally renowned scientific institution with impact at the UDE. Climate change requires a responsible and flexible approach to water as a resource, and that is why it was important for us to place the topic in the competition for excellence. 

On 27 November 2022, you had only been in office for just over half a year, there was a major cyber attack on your university. What exactly happened back then?
Our IT infrastructure was attacked and data was encrypted. We discovered the attack on a Sunday morning and had to disconnect the entire university from the internet on the same day. We worked for more than three months to rebuild our IT infrastructure. Part of our data was published on the so-called Darknet. 

How did your university react to the attack?
With great commitment from all members and enormous solidarity. Despite the technical difficulties, we were able to go through with the examination phase for the students at the beginning of February with more than one hundred thousand individual examination performances – that was a great achievement. But at the same time, even now, many of us are very stressed and drained, because all the involuntary extra work is getting to you. 

The state government of North Rhine-Westphalia supported your university financially in dealing with the cyber attack. How is the cooperation with politics in general?
There is a strong awareness of the value of science in the state government. However, we need more support very urgently in the building sector. Many of our buildings were built in the 1970s and urgently need to be renovated. Others we want to build from scratch. 

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Aerial view of the Essen campus of the University of Duisburg-Essen.

Politicians often associate science funding with the hope of economic benefits. How do you deal with this?
The hope is justified, because money that flows into universities often pays off in economic benefits – especially in the region around a university. And the Ruhr is a region that is willing and able to transform. It rightly sees itself as an innovation region. The starting point for an innovation is the invention, and where does that come from? First and foremost from the universities. The UDE, for example, has been doing hydrogen research for many years, which is in great demand from partners in the economy. In my rectorate team there is Professor Pedro José Marrón, a prorector for transfer, innovation and digitalisation. He takes care of the exchange with partners from business and society and energetically promotes entrepreneurial activities, for example the founding of start-ups, from within our university. 

As a chemist, you have worked on the development of new materials. As a science manager, do you still have time for your own research?
I’m involved in Collaborative Research Centre 1487 “Iron, rethought!” and supervise – on weekends – the completion of individual doctoral theses. Unfortunately, there is not enough time for more. Saying goodbye to individual research was not an easy step, but it was a conscious one. I like being where I am now. Leading the UDE is an important and great task.

Labor im Innsbrucker Institut für Quantenoptik und Quanteninformation © IQOQI/M.R.Knabl

© UDE/Frank Preuß

Dr Daniel Grabner, coordinator in the UDE’s RESIST special research area, checks so-called mesocosm experiments. These replicate artificial mini-ecosystems and are filled with water from the Boye, a tributary of the Emscher. Various stressors are added to the water, i.e. factors that can negatively influence organisms.

You have been a member of the GDNÄ for a good ten years. What does it mean to you?
Professional societies like the GDNÄ play an important role as a contact and interface between science, civil society and politics. Their professionalism gives them credibility and neutrality. The GDNÄ in particular is exciting because of the diversity of disciplines it represents. This fits well with the aspirations of universities, whose special appeal for me is that scientific depth and expert knowledge are institutionally linked with professional diversity and breadth in aspiration. For the future of the GDNÄ and for all other scientific societies, it is important to convince new members of the appeal of scientific societies – also so that they become more international and diverse. To this end, it is necessary to develop formats that appeal to young people as well and that fit today’s times. I attended the 200th anniversary celebration in Leipzig and had the impression that the GDNÄ is on the right track.



Professor Barbara Albert, Rector of the University of Duisburg-Essen.

About the person

Barbara Albert acquired her scientific qualification at the University of Bonn. After studying chemistry, she received her doctorate in 1995 and then spent a year doing research at the Materials Research Laboratory of the University of California, Santa Barbara. She habilitated in 2000. In 2001, Barbara Albert was appointed Professor of Solid State Chemistry/Material Sciences at the University of Hamburg. From there she moved to the Technical University of Darmstadt in 2005, where she researched and taught as Professor of Inorganic Solid State and Structural Chemistry until 2022. From 2020 to 2021, she served as Vice President for Research and Young Scientists at TU Darmstadt. From 2012 to 2013, Barbara Albert was President of the German Chemical Society. She is a member of the supervisory boards of Evonik Industries and the Schunk Group, a member of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and has received several academic honours. Professor Barbara Albert was elected Rector of the University of Duisburg-Essen in 2021 and took office on 1 April 2022.

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Peter Liggesmeyer: Application orientation is important to me

“Application orientation is important to me”

Peter Liggesmeyer, computer scientist and member of the GDNÄ Board Council, on artificial intelligence, obstacles to innovation and affordable cell therapies. 

Professor Liggesmeyer, everyone is talking about ChatGPT these days. Is this also the case in professional circles, for example at your Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE? 
Yes, chatbots have been talked about here too, and not just for a few months, but for years. At IESE there is a general interest in the topic; at the University of Kaiserslautern, where I have been teaching and researching for almost 20 years, it is about the use of ChatGPT in teaching or the evaluation of student performance. These issues are the subject of controversy among colleagues. But I think it will be clear that a complete ban on the use of systems like ChatGPT makes as little sense as its unrestricted use. 

What is your position?
Linguistic models such as ChatGPT can produce polished texts from a few keywords, but they are no substitute for the often tedious and laborious knowledge acquisition that university is all about. The models are suitable for quick bibliographic searches, for example, and can provide valuable services in this regard. The field is currently very volatile, there are good arguments for and against the use of chatbots in universities. I think we should observe the development for a while and make decisions after a reasonable period of time. 

ChatGPT has brought the topic of artificial intelligence sharply into the public consciousness. How do you see the development in this field?
I too am amazed at how fast everything is going and what is possible today. The results are getting better and better. They can no longer compare with the first bulky AI solutions that I worked on as a PhD student in the early 1990s. The big push came in recent years, mainly thanks to high-performance computers and the availability of large amounts of data. But, of course, even these impressive systems are not intelligent in the true sense of the word. 

Where does Germany rank in AI research in international comparison?
With the nationwide German Research Centre for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) and its partner companies, we can keep up a good pace in research and development. In addition, there are numerous AI researchers at universities and research institutions, including Fraunhofer IESE. Overall, I see great opportunities for our country here. One obstacle to innovation could be the planned EU AI Act, a law to regulate AI applications at the European level. The aims of the project are quite honourable; however, I fear that the envisaged implementation might become an obstacle for the technology with negative effects also in practice. We know this from the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which pursues very sensible goals, but confronts us daily with stuffing masks when using the internet in the name of online data protection. We should avoid this at all costs.

Institut für Quantenoptik und Quanteninformation (IQOQI). © IQOQI/M.R.Knabl

© Fraunhofer IESE

Workspace at Fraunhofer IESE.

As a researcher, you have been working for thirty years at the intersection of computer science and classical engineering. Is there a common thread between your projects?
Yes, there clearly is. At the beginning of my scientific career, I focused on software quality assurance. Now I focus on the security of digital systems. This involves two types of security risks: external threats to systems in the sense of the English term “security”, but also “safety”, i.e. dangers emanating from the systems themselves. Security risks exist, for example, in self-driving cars, in autonomous Industry 4.0 environments or in medical technology. If these systems are to make autonomous decisions with the help of machine learning, residual risks must be determined as a basis for the required certifications. This is not currently possible for machine learning components, but it would be important, which is why research is being carried out. Humans are good at constantly finding workable solutions for complicated tasks with imponderables in everyday life. The technical solutions of the future will have to be measured by whether they can do something similar. 

Do you have any examples of this?
Yes, specifically MY DATA Control Technologies from my Fraunhofer Institute. This is software for individual control of data usage. It allows you to define and monitor compliance with data usage rules. For example, one could authorise the use of one’s own data for medical research purposes, but at the same time set up a comprehensive data protection that prohibits the use of the same data for advertising purposes, for example. What happens to one’s own data is always determined by the donor of the data. The system arrives at workable compromises in complicated situations with simple rules, as we humans do every day. 

How important to you is the practical use of your research?
The practical orientation of my research is important to me. If the results are then used in practice, that is, of course, especially motivating. With this in mind, the artificial contradiction between basic and applied research dissolves. Industrial and academic research also come closer together. Thus, at my university I am involved in the areas of “Commercial Vehicle Technology”, “Works of the Future” and “Region and City”. At Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, I am a member of the spokesperson team of the strategic research field “Intelligent Medicine”.  

Intelligent medicine: what does it mean?
Together with several Fraunhofer institutes, we are currently developing automated production technologies for new vaccines and mRNA-based cell therapies. We are using solutions that have emerged in the context of our Industry 4.0 research to be able to produce highly effective and affordable individualised medicines in the future. A very smart and sensible idea, in my opinion.

Labor im Innsbrucker Institut für Quantenoptik und Quanteninformation © IQOQI/M.R.Knabl

© Fraunhofer IESE

Main building of Fraunhofer IESE in Kaiserslautern.

You have been a member of the GDNÄ Board for a few months now. What motivated you to accept this honorary position?
On the one hand, the interdisciplinary nature of the GDNÄ, which fits in very well with my professional background. I graduated in electrical engineering in 1988 with a specialisation in data technology. The combination of computer science and engineering runs through my career. In the GDNÄ I would like to advance these subjects and, at the same time, promote their interdisciplinary linkage. For example, by building new bridges with the German Physical Society or the Society for Computer Science. There are also interesting points of reference between engineering, computer science and medicine, for example in the field of RNA therapies. I see the GDNÄ as a crystallisation nucleus for promising co-operations.  

Could this be an argument for young academics to get more involved in the GDNÄ?
I am convinced of it. Young people know how important interdisciplinary cooperation is for real progress. It is very important to be rooted in one’s own subject, that is something I want to point out. Because only those who are well versed in their field can be successful in interdisciplinary teams.


© Fraunhofer IESE

Prof. Dr. Peter Liggesmeyer

About the person

Since 2004, Prof. Dr.-Ing. habil. Peter Liggesmeyer has been director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Experimental Software Engineering IESE in Kaiserslautern; in the same year, he also took over the Chair of Software Engineering in the Department of Computer Science at the Technical University of Kaiserslautern. From 2014 to 2017, he was President of the German Society for Computer Science.

After studying electrical engineering with a specialisation in data technology at the University of Paderborn, Liggesmeyer received his PhD at the Ruhr-University Bochum (RUB) in 1992. From 1993 to 2000, he set up a centre of expertise in the field of security analysis and risk management in the central research and development department of Siemens AG. At the same time, Peter Liggesmeyer was a lecturer at the TU Munich, the TU Ilmenau, the FSU Jena and the RUB. There he taught the subject “Quality Assurance of Software Intensive Technical Systems” in 2000. From 2000 to 2004 he was a lecturer for Software Engineering and Quality Management at the Hasso Plattner Institute (HPI) at the University of Potsdam. Peter Liggesmeyer has received several scientific awards, is co-editor of several journals and author of numerous technical articles and books, including the reference work “Software Quality”. He also advises leading companies and organisations and is the scientific spokesman of the Industry 4.0 research advisory board. In autumn 2022, he was elected to the GDNÄ board as thematic representative for mathematics/computer science.

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Heike Rauer: In search of a second Earth

In search of a second Earth

Heike Rauer, Director of the Institute of Planetary Research at the German Aerospace Centre in Berlin-Adlershof, on a new space telescope and her work with young people. 

Professor Rauer, your talk at the 200th anniversary of the GDNÄ was about the old human question of whether life is possible beyond Earth. A few months have passed since then. Have you come a little closer to finding the answer?
I think so. We are making good progress with the work on the PLATO space telescope, which is scheduled to launch at the end of 2026 and can detect Earth-like planets in the Milky Way. We hope PLATO will provide groundbreaking insights that will help us answer questions like these. 

You are part of the PLATO management team. How can we imagine this project?
It is a major scientific project launched in 2014 by the European Space Agency ESA, involving more than a hundred research institutions and the space industry. The acronym PLATO stands for PLAnetary Transits and Oscillations of stars. This mission will help us estimate how many Earth-like planets there actually are. We can then study the atmospheres of discovered planets with large telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope and its successor projects. From a distance of 1.5 million kilometres from Earth, PLATO will study star systems in the Milky Way. It records the brief obscurations that occur when planets enter the space between the star they are orbiting and the telescope. In addition, PLATO measures the seismic oscillations of the stars themselves. Once we look at this data collectively, we will not only be able to infer the mass and radius of the planets, but also determine their age – much more accurately than has been possible so far. 

How many planets are we talking about?
More than five thousand planets outside our solar system, so-called exoplanets, are known today. The nearest planetary system, Proxima Centauri, is 4.24 light years away. The most distant known exoplanets are 22.000 light years away from us. A journey to these planets would take thousands to millions of years with today’s technology and would therefore be impossible. But with space telescopes like PLATO, we can gain important information about them. We are particularly interested in the exact determination of the mean density of planets. So far, this has only been possible for a few hundred planets – and none of them resembles the Earth-Sun system. 

What are you particularly interested in?
Our big goal is to find planets that are habitable, i.e. that have conditions under which life could develop. Since we don’t really know how life develops, we have a lot of factors in mind. We cannot directly observe the biosignatures we are looking for, i.e. signs of life – exoplanets are much too far away from us for that. So we look for indirect traces. Our life on Earth today depends on a high content of oxygen in the atmosphere and on water. Therefore, we are looking for planets with surfaces where there is permanently liquid water and correspondingly moderate temperatures, as well as an atmosphere that is not too dense and not too thin. 

Are these the main criteria for Earth-like planets?
Yes. A central star that is similar to the Sun is also one of these criteria. However, we do not want to exclude the possibility of life in other constellations. However, with increasing distance from Earth as the only example known to us, it becomes increasingly difficult to provide circumstantial evidence for the existence of life. That is why we are initially focusing on Earth-like planets. In parallel, however, we are continuing to search for exoplanets with a wide range of properties in order to understand which types of planets exist at all and to investigate their habitability in the next step.

Institut für Quantenoptik und Quanteninformation (IQOQI). © IQOQI/M.R.Knabl

© OHB-System-AG

The PLATO space telescope (here an artist’s impression) is scheduled to launch from the Kourou spaceport at the end of 2026.

Do you already have first impressions?
Among the known five thousand extrasolar planets, there are types of planets that do not occur in our solar system. In general, the diversity of planets is far greater than we have long assumed. This raises new questions about their formation and habitability. Unfortunately, our instruments are not yet sufficient to detect an Earth-like planet around a star like the Sun. But this would be an ideal candidate for the search for life. So we cannot yet directly compare our planetary system with other systems. A first step towards changing this is the PLATO satellite mission. We can then study the atmospheres of the exoplanets found with PLATO with large telescopes such as the James Webb Space Telescope and its successor projects. 

More than eight hundred scientists from all over the world are working together in PLATO. How does the collaboration work?
Several consortia, each of which may consist of many partners, are in close exchange with each other. The overall PLATO mission is led by ESA, which also provides the launch vehicle, the ground segment of the satellite and contributions to the payload. The satellite bus, which carries the instrument, is being manufactured on behalf of ESA by an international industrial consortium. The international payload consortium of scientific institutes, also together with the space industry, is building the largest part of the instrument consisting of 26 cameras with associated electronics, on-board computers and power supply units. The payload consortium provides the data centre for the scientific processing of the data and organises the ground-based follow-up observations on telescopes, which will determine the majority of the discovered planets using the so-called radial velocity method. So it is important for the success of such a large-scale project that the various activities and the consortia and organisations involved mesh well. 

When do you expect the first results?
PLATO is scheduled to launch in mid-December 2026. This will be followed by a phase in which the functionality will be tested. Immediately afterwards, the observation of the first target field will begin. If everything goes well, we can expect the first data sets at the end of 2027, beginning of 2028. They will make it possible to characterise short-period planets. However, more time is needed to discover planets with long orbital periods. 

Will you still be leading the project then?
Missions like the PLATO mission are very long-term projects. PLATO was first proposed in 2009 and is based on ideas from even earlier projects. With projects like this, you have to think across generations. I myself will retire around the start of the mission and am looking forward to taking the project to the first data collection. Already, one of my tasks, together with the colleagues who launched PLATO, is to introduce the next generation of young scientists to this and subsequent missions.

Labor im Innsbrucker Institut für Quantenoptik und Quanteninformation © IQOQI/M.R.Knabl


One of 26 cameras of the PLATO mission.

How did you get into this field of research?
I used to study comets, which can tell us a lot about the formation of our solar system. Then, when the first extrasolar planets were discovered in the mid-1990s, I switched to this line of research. Now, for the first time, we can compare our solar system directly with other systems and learn a lot about the processes that have influenced our system. And of course, I also find it fascinating to search for life beyond Earth. 

At the Leipzig anniversary conference of the GDNÄ, you captivated the audience with your lecture on extrasolar planets. What do such appearances mean to you?
When I give public lectures, I always notice how interested the audience is in our work. They want to know how planets are formed, how life is formed and whether there are planets with life around other stars. Today, for the first time, we can find answers to these questions using scientific methods – and I am extremely happy to report on this work to the interested public. 

In Leipzig, you got to know the GDNÄ’s student programme. Your research centre, the DLR, runs student laboratories, in which you are also involved. What is it about working with young people?
I think it’s important to show young people what research is really about, and I want to encourage them to think further. In my experience, astronomy is particularly suitable for this, because it deals with the big questions of where from and where to, which appeals to young people in particular. We can often motivate them to tackle even difficult courses in the natural sciences and engineering and to persevere until they graduate. 



Prof. Dr Heike Rauer heads the DLR Institute of Planetary Research and coordinates the PLATO exoplanet mission.

About the person

Since 2017, Professor Heike Rauer has headed the Berlin Institute of Planetary Research of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) with more than one hundred employees. The physicist is also a professor at Freie Universität Berlin in the Department of Earth Sciences, specialising in Planetary Geophysics. Rauer has been conducting research at the DLR Institute of Planetary Research since 1997, where she headed the “Extrasolar Planets and Atmospheres” department for many years. Before that, from 1995 to 1997, she was a research fellow of the European Space Agency ESA at the Observatoire de Paris-Meudon. In 2004, Rauer had habilitated at the Technical University of Berlin and taught there as a professor of planetary physics at the Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics. In 1991, she received her doctorate from the University of Göttingen with a research thesis on plasma tails of comets. Heike Rauer received her diploma in physics in 1986 from Leibniz University in Hannover. Since 2013, she has been leading the instrument consortium for the ESA space telescope PLATO, which will search for planets in the Milky Way from 2026 onwards. She is also a member of the science team of the “Next Generation Transit Survey” at the Paranal Observatory of the European Southern Observatory ESO in Chile and coordinator of the DFG priority programme “Exploring the Diversity of Extrasolar Planets”.

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Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker: Cooperation with China is indispensable

„Cooperation with China is indispensable“

Research at the turn of the times: Why the long-standing science manager Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker advises cautious continuity and where he sees new potential. 

Professor Winnacker, for decades you have been committed to the internationalisation of German science. What motivated you to do so and what has been achieved?
Science knows no borders and it hardly thrives in intellectual isolation. One of the last universal geniuses, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, is a good example of this: he was not satisfied with discussions in his hometown of Hanover, but sought competition with European peers throughout his life – for example with Christiaan Huygens in Amsterdam and Isaac Newton in London. Working in such a network is indispensable today. When I took office as DFG President, I therefore made internationalisation a priority. We not only established international Research Training Groups, but also offices in important partner countries such as the USA, Russia, China, Japan and India. In addition, as chairman of EUROHORCS, i.e. the European Union Research Organisations Heads Of Research Councils, I prepared the establishment of a transnational, European research council along the lines of the DFG. The European Research Council, ERC for short, began its work in 2007, and as its first Secretary General I was able to contribute to the growing together of research. 

Today we have a war in Europe, the hostilities between the great powers are increasing, the seemingly unstoppable internationalisation is faltering. Are we witnessing the end of a golden age, also in science?
The post-war period until the early years of the 21st century could perhaps be described as a golden age of science. But with increasing restrictions in a number of countries, this is over. In 2014, for example, Switzerland limited immigration and the free movement of persons, thus breaking its bilateral agreements with the EU. For the ERC, the country is therefore only one partner among many. This was followed in 2020 by Brexit, which made the UK an unassociated third country for the ERC. The number of British and Swiss nationals in EU programmes has fallen drastically in recent years. This is a bitter loss for European research, because both Switzerland and the UK have excellent universities and non-university research institutions. They have been important partners for Germany in particular for decades. 

As DFG President, you opened the Sino-German Science Centre in Beijing in 2000 together with the Chinese partner organisation. It was intended to strengthen cooperation between the two countries in research and teaching. What has become of it?
At that time, we actually built a joint building with the National Natural Science Foundation of China, NSFC for short, in the immediate vicinity of its main building in Beijing. The centre still exists today. In the meantime, cooperation with China has become much more difficult than it was back then. At the time, China was considered a developing country. Today it has become a strategic competitor. Nevertheless, the Sino-German Centre is a success story and I am proud of it. The Centre has brought us intensive scientific contacts and cooperation in this huge country, which is about ten times larger than Russia in terms of population and holds enormous scientific potential. 

A recent study by the Hoover Institution at Stanford University criticises the close cooperation. Its author, Jeffrey Stoff, cites hundreds of publications involving German and Chinese scientists. How do you assess the study?
Fortunately, many joint publications have been produced over the years, most of which were funded by the DFG and the Max Planck Society (MPG). Our two scientific organisations had divided up China’s academic world in the 1990s: The MPG worked mainly with the Chinese Academy of Science CAS, the DFG with the NSFC, and with the individual universities, respectively. The Americans welcomed this kind of cooperation until about 20 years ago. What’s more, they even took us as their role model. I remember a joint appearance with Professor Arden Bement, the former head of the DFG’s partner organisation in the USA, the National Science Foundation, when it opened its own centre in Beijing in 2006. Today, cooperation with China is viewed much more critically in the USA. So it is probably no coincidence that German-Chinese cooperation in science is now being taken to task in such a way at Stanford. 

In the spring of 2022, Federal Minister of Research Bettina Stark-Watzinger called for attentiveness in scientific cooperation with China. A justified appeal?
Yes and no. Some issues, for example in the IT and AI sector, can be solved at national level. Other issues, for example in the field of climate protection or marine research, require intensive, international cooperation – also with China. Because the results of many of these projects can have financial consequences or be of military use, it is important to carefully examine who cooperates with whom and where, and how the results are communicated. The situation is certainly not simple. For example, the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of research plays a central role here, but this is not the case in China. And when head of state Xi Jinping recently called for the fusion of civilian and military research, it must make us think. In my view, clear dual-use projects, whose results can be used both for civilian and military purposes, should take place without the participation of Chinese scientists. Together with the DFG, the Leopoldina has adopted wise recommendations on the subject of dual use. They should make it easier to find the right balance here. 

Around forty thousand Chinese are studying in Germany and many of them are doing their master’s and doctoral theses here. A security risk?
Possibly so. But how can this be checked? It would hardly be practicable for a central body to monitor it. I think it would make more sense to check the theses individually to see if they are sensitive. The responsibility for this should lie in the hands of the project leaders or the review committees.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, research projects with Russia have been put on hold or terminated. What future do the traditional German-Russian academic relations have?
As long as Russia is waging this war, institutional cooperation can no longer take place. The Federal Government has decided on its “Roma locuta – causa finita” here I think that’s right and appropriate.

Institutional cooperation is one thing, personal contacts with colleagues in Russia and China are another. German academics have cultivated such connections for many years. What of this is still welcome today, what is acceptable and what goes too far?
As far as Russia is concerned, I think private scientific contacts are hardly responsible at present, because they can endanger researchers there. However, if such connections are maintained, the institutional sponsors must be informed. Transparency is the be-all and end-all here. China is not currently waging war against a neighbour. However, as already described, we should look closely and not fund some projects. Nevertheless, I consider scientific cooperation with China in particular to be desirable, if not indispensable. After all, the country has excellent universities and research organisations. In the latest Times Higher Education ranking for 2023, Tsinghua and Beijing rank 16th and 17th, while the best German universities, the two Munich universities, follow only in 30th and 33rd place. 

What future do you see for the major international programmes in space, environmental and energy research? Let’s think about the ISS, climate research and basic research in physics.
The programmes should continue, as long as the sanctions allow it. But the constant discussion of differences of opinion, for example on how to deal with minorities such as the Uyghurs, must be part of our scientific profile. We must not rest on these issues when dealing with the Chinese or Russian side.  

How do you assess German foreign science policy as a means of diplomacy?
Foreign science policy always arises when scientists maintain international contacts. These then not only reflect the quality of the respective projects and people, but also testify to the importance of the science systems and institutions from which they come. Often such contacts take place below the radar screens of official institutions, and occasionally they are used when a cooperation is not immediately intended to have an official character. Foreign science policy has always been a major topic, for example when it came to establishing diplomatic relations with Israel at the time.  Three scientists, Otto Hahn, Werner Heisenberg and Feodor Lynen, who enjoyed the confidence of Chaim Weizmann, travelled to Israel in the 1950s to pave the way for a meeting between Ben Gurion and Konrad Adenauer. Whether there are currently scientists whose reputation is great enough to influence the Russian government together with Russian colleagues, I dare to doubt. In the field of foreign science policy, there is a very nice book entitled “Wettlauf ums Wissen”, edited by Georg Schütte and published in 2008. Perhaps now, after the proclaimed turn of the times, we should consider a new edition of this book or a conference on this topic. 

Which regions of the world should Germany focus more on in the future? Where does potential lie dormant?
In Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, Thailand, India, Brazil, Argentina and Chile. Small Singapore has at least two important universities, on the basis of which the city-state was able to become a member of the Human Frontier Science Program (HFSP). The situation is similar in Japan and South Korea. Japan was the initiator of this programme in the late 1990s, which still exists today and spends around 55 million US dollars annually on cutting-edge science. At the time, Japan did not have a particularly good reputation in science, which has since changed fundamentally. When one thinks of Taiwan, one thinks of the National Taiwan University (NTU), but also of Academia Sinica and the Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry, Yuan T. Lee, who was President of Academia Sinica until 2006. I met him often in Lindau, and once also visited him in Taipei at the Academia. Stronger scientific cooperation with Taiwan is definitely worthwhile. The DFG has maintained intensive scientific relations with India for decades, especially with the various Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), but also with INSA, the Indian Academy of Sciences, and the International Center of Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) with its two branches in Trieste and in Delhi. During my presidency, a DFG office was even established in Delhi. Cooperation with countries in South America has a long tradition and a promising future, for example in the operation of large telescopes, in environmental sciences and biomedical research. 

What role can the GDNÄ play as a German-speaking scientific society in the modern scientific world?
The GDNÄ must act as a credible mediator of science, today more than ever. Perhaps it should join forces more with other players to this end, for example with the Leopoldina. A good starting point would be engagement with school students. In this area, the GDNÄ has achieved impressive things in the past years.


© Michael Till / LMU

Prof. Dr Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, GDNÄ President in 1999 and 2000.

About the person

Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker was born in Frankfurt/Main in 1941. He studied chemistry at the ETH Zurich and received his doctorate there in 1968. Postdoctoral positions followed at the University of California, Berkeley, from 1968 to 1970 and at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm (1970-1972). In 1980, Winnacker was appointed Professor of Biochemistry at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität in Munich; in 1984, he took over as Director of the Laboratory of Molecular Biology – Gene Centre at the University of Munich. From 1987 to 1993 Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker was Vice-President and from 1998 to 2006 President of the German Research Foundation. During this time, from 1999 to 2000, he was President of the GDNÄ. From 2007 to 2009 he served as First Secretary General of the European Research Council in Brussels and from 2009 to 2015 as Secretary General of the Human Frontier Science Program in Strasbourg. He is a member of several scientific academies, including the Leopoldina and the US National Academy of Medicine, and has received numerous honours, including the Grand Cross of Merit with Star of the Federal Republic of Germany, the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold and Silver Star of the Empire of Japan and the International Science and Technology Cooperation Award of the People’s Republic of China. Winnacker is the author of numerous scientific publications. These include the textbook “Genes and Clones. An Introduction to Genetic Engineering” (1984), the non-fiction books “The Genome”, (1996), “Viruses, the Secret Rulers” (1999) and “My Life with Viruses” (2021).

Further Information:

Student Program: Team portraits now on Instagram

Student Program

Team portraits now on Instagram

New on the GDNÄ’s own Instagram channel @gdnae.society are short video portraits of six student program teams from biology, chemistry, mathematics, medicine, physics and engineering. The young people describe on camera , how they experienced the 200th anniversary of the GDNÄ and what participation in the student program means for their future. On Instagram, the team portraits will be published successively.

The Instagram posts were produced by a young team from Stuttgart Media University. The team includes Gloria Gamarnik, Lena Dagenbach and Maren Krämer, three students from the Crossmedia Editorial/Public Relations program. During the Leipzig anniversary celebration, they provided the Instagram community with up-to-the-minute impressions of the conference events. The focus of the coverage was the GDNÄ’s student program. The GDNÄ Instagram project is led by Dr. Alexander Mäder, science journalist and professor at the Media University.

Nobelpreisträger Paul J. Crutzen

© Webster2703 / Pixabay

School Programme 2022: A brief portrait of all teams

Student Program 2022: Scholarship holders take stock (only in German).
Student Program 2022: Former scholarship holders report back (only in German).
Student Program 2022: The Biology Team introduces itself (only in German).
Student Program 2022: The Chemistry Team introduces itself (only in German).
Student Program 2022: The Mathematics Team introduces itself (only in German).
Student Program 2022: The Medicine Team introduces itself (only in German).
Student Program 2022: The Physics Team introduces itself (only in German).
Student Program 2022: The Technology Team introduces itself (only in German).