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”.

Weitere Informationen:

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).

Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla: A breeding ground for new ideas

“A breeding ground for new ideas”

She is the head of the German Aerospace Center and a new member of the GDNÄ’s Executive Board. In this interview, engineer Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla explains what drives her and what she plans to do.  

Professor Kaysser-Pyzalla, you have been Vice President of the GDNÄ since the beginning of 2023. Do you already have plans for the new office? Yes I do, and two areas are particularly important to me: on the one hand, the recruitment of young people for professions in the thematic spectrum of the GDNÄ, and on the other hand, the interdisciplinary approach to current challenges such as climate change, energy supply or global health. In these areas, the GDNÄ can achieve a lot. It radiates fascination and enthusiasm for the natural sciences, through which we can attract significantly more people to study in this field. I am thinking not only of high school students, but also of adults with professional experience who can imagine pursuing a second degree. There are so many interesting career paths – in research and development, at universities, in large companies, but also in small and medium-sized companies – I would like to focus more on this. 

The topic of interdisciplinarity: Why is it so important to you and what role can the GDNÄ play in this?
We will only be able to overcome the major problems facing humanity through interdisciplinary cooperation, that is the consensus today. The GDNÄ, whose hallmark is interdisciplinarity, can serve as a platform for exchange among experts, a breeding ground for new ideas and a place for public dialogue. 

You will not suffer from a lack of work as Chairwoman of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center. How much time and energy does the main office leave you for voluntary activities, for example on the GDNÄ board?
My days are indeed scheduled. But I make time for the GDNÄ because I think people in positions like mine should also be committed to society. I also have wonderful colleagues at DLR and in the GDNÄ who support me.

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

© DLR (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0)

A regional aircraft with fuel cell propulsion developed at DLR in test operation. With 25 institutes and facilities in aeronautics research, DLR is driving the change towards sustainable, environmentally compatible aviation.

How can we imagine your day-to-day professional life as head of DLR?
I spend most of my time in meetings and conferences, most of which are held online in the interest of sustainability and efficiency. Internally, organizational development in the direction of modern forms of work is a big topic for us right now. But I’m also on the road, for example at DLR sites, or for personal discussions with our cooperation partners in Germany and abroad. 

Who are these partners?
We work with scientists in academic and industrial research, with large, medium-sized and smaller companies, and with the German armed forces. Abroad, we cooperate closely with research institutions and companies in other European countries, especially France, but also the U.S., Australia, Singapore and Japan – to name just a few countries.   

China is not one of them?
Due to the changing geopolitical situation and international tensions, DLR has consistently reduced its collaborations with China, and existing forms of cooperation are coming to an end. 

Where does DLR stand today and where is it headed?
With more than ten thousand employees, thirty locations and more than fifty institutes and research facilities, we are the largest research center in the engineering field in Europe. We are concerned with aerospace, energy supply, mobility, but also security and defense research and disaster relief. Our work is application-oriented, which means that our research always has an eye on the way it will be used in industry and society. We fly satellites that are important not only for earth and climate observation, but also for navigation, for example in the future topic of autonomous driving. DLR owns a large fleet of aircraft and conducts intensive research into climate-friendly flying.

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


In Germany, the National Test Centre for Unmanned Aerial Systems at DLR is the driving force behind the development of new unmanned aerial vehicles and their integration into the airspace.

At present, air traffic accounts for 3.5 percent of climate-relevant emissions worldwide. How can the burden be reduced?
That depends on passenger numbers and flight distances. Batteries are an option for small aircraft. For short and medium-haul flights, hydrogen-based propulsion systems such as fuel cells are suitable. For long-haul flights, we are thinking about Sustainable Aviation Fuels, or SAF for short, which are produced sustainably from non-fossil raw materials.  We are also looking at the entire aircraft system in order to be able to exploit all technical and technological possibilities on the way to climate-friendly flying. This includes changes in aerodynamic behavior as well as new aircraft configurations or the planning and implementation of climate-friendly flight routes.  

When do you expect the first applications in regular flight operations?
SAF is already being used as an admixture to conventional fuel. We are currently trying to make the quantities required in aviation available on an industrial scale in several projects. 

Let’s take another look at the GDNÄ: After the medical scientist Martin Lohse, a zoologist, Heribert Hofer, has now taken over the GDNÄ presidency. You are a materials scientist and mechanical engineer and will follow in office in 2025. Will the GDNÄ of the future be more technoscientific?
It will be interdisciplinary and there will perhaps be more synergies between the individual disciplines. That fits well with the GDNÄ and well with DLR, which is active not only in the technical sciences but also in the natural sciences: Let’s just think of the Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne, where physicians and psychologists conduct biomedical research at the highest level.

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


The ESA short-arm centrifuge in the :envihab of the DLR Institute of Aerospace Medicine in Cologne. The research facility, the only one of its kind in the world, is used to study the effects of environmental conditions such as gravity on fundamental mechanisms of human health, living conditions and performance. In the new short-arm centrifuge, test subjects can be accelerated with up to 4.5 grams at the foot end.

In its 200-year history, the GDNÄ has had seventy presidents and only two women presidents. Its members are also predominantly male. Is the advancement of women on your agenda?
Yes, this is a very important topic for the future. In medicine, most of the young scientists are already female, but in the natural sciences and engineering there is a need to catch up. We need to do more to show how much fun these professions are and do more to help people combine family and work. 

The student program has become a strong pillar of the GDNÄ, as demonstrated by the 2022 anniversary celebration in Leipzig. What significance does this program have for you and do you already have ideas for promoting young talent?
The student program is a great thing and very important for the GDNÄ. At DLR, we have well-functioning student laboratories, so it may be possible to create synergies. I would also like to show the students how attractive careers in medicine, natural and technical sciences are. Perhaps we will succeed in establishing mentoring relationships between established scientists and young people and in building up a platform with materials for science teaching. I’m sure the members of the GDNÄ have more good ideas – we should collect and evaluate them.

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


DLR School Lab: Experiments on stage at the inauguration at the end of September 2022 gave a foretaste of the new opportunities that DLR_School_Lab Jena offers young people.

Exchange with the public is a strong concern of the GDNÄ. How do you assess the engagement so far? Do you want to deepen the dialogue?
The GDNÄ is held in high esteem by the public and has made great contributions to the dialogue with society. I would like to continue this work. As scientists, we have a duty to contribute our knowledge to the public discussion. It is important to be able to agree on facts and figures, for example on the validity of scientific laws. We scientists must work more towards this. 

Finally, a more personal question: How did you come to join the GDNÄ and what does it mean to you?
I came to the GDNÄ through other members and their enthusiastic descriptions. I am impressed by its great tradition and its openness to future topics. This is what I like to stand up for.



Prof. Dr.-Ing. Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla

About the person

Prof. Dr. Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla studied mechanical engineering and mechanics in Bochum and Darmstadt. She received her doctorate and habilitation at the Ruhr University in Bochum. After research activities at the Hahn-Meitner-Institut (HMI) and at the Technische Universität Berlin, she researched and taught at the Technische Universität Wien from 2003 to 2005. In 2005, she joined the management of the Max Planck Institute for Iron Research GmbH in Düsseldorf as Scientific Member, Director and Managing Director. In 2008, she was appointed Scientific Director of Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie GmbH, which was formed under her leadership from the merger of HMI and the Berlin Electron Storage Ring Society for Synchrotron Radiation (BESSY). In 2017, Anke Kaysser-Pyzalla was elected President of the Technical University of Braunschweig. Since 2020, she has been Chairwoman of the Executive Board of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) and, since January 1, 2023, second vice president of the GDNÄ.

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


Unmanned DLR research helicopter superARTIS with drop-off facility for auxiliary equipment.

Further Information:

Change in the Board

Change in the Board

Heribert Hofer is the new President of the GDNÄ

With the internationally renowned wildlife researcher, a committed promoter of young talent takes over the presidency..

Professor Heribert Hofer, Director of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin, has been at the helm of the German Society of Naturalists and Doctors (GDNÄ) since 1 January 2023. The renowned zoologist was elected to the office of President by the General Assembly and The renowned zoologist was elected to the office of President by the General Assembly for the two years 2023 and 2024 and is thus responsible for the scientific organisation of the 133rd GDNÄ Assembly in 2024 in Potsdam. As President, he replaces pharmacologist Professor Martin Lohse, who moves into the office of 1st Vice President for two years. 

Heribert Hofer (62) has headed the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin-Friedrichsfelde since 2000. Until 2017, he was also head of the Department of Evolutionary Ecology at his institute. Since 2000, Hofer has also been Professor of Interdisciplinary Wildlife Research at the Free University of Berlin. Before his time in Berlin, he conducted research at the Max Planck Institute for Behavioural Physiology in Seewiesen, Bavaria, from 1986 to 1999, initially as a postdoctoral researcher and later as an independent scientist. In 1997, he habilitated at the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich with a thesis on the behaviour of spotted hyenas in the Serengeti savannah. Heribert Hofer began his studies in zoology at Saarland University and completed them at Oxford University with a doctorate in “DPhil”. 

The internationally renowned scientist has been closely associated with the GDNÄ for many years. He has been involved in many ways: as an elected subject representative and group chair for the subject of biology, with speeches at meetings and as 2nd vice-president in the preparation of the 200th anniversary celebration in Leipzig. In addition to the dialogue with the public, Heribert Hofer attaches particular importance to the promotion of young talents within the framework of the GDNÄ student programme.