Michael Dröscher: “Bringing people together, developing ideas”

“Bringing people together, developing ideas”

He was an innovation manager in the chemical industry and now keeps the Society of German Natural Scientists and Physicians on its toes: Michael Dröscher on his plans for the GDNÄ of the future. 

Professor Dröscher, you have been Secretary General since 2015 and a member of the Board and Treasurer of the Society of German Natural Scientists and Physicians since 2017. What is its greatest treasure?
Clearly the people who are close to our society. I include our members and all those who take an interest in us and contribute to our activities, for example by giving talks at our meetings. A great treasure is also the student programme, which gives us wonderful access to young people. Of course, we hope to attract even more people from science, society, and schools to become members. This is not easy these days. 

Why is that?
Most associations are losing members and don’t have enough new blood. The GDNÄ, which is also organised as an association, is no exception. Fortunately, we are very generously supported by foundations, so our existence does not depend solely on membership fees. We do not simply accept the decline but do our utmost to fight it. 

How can we do that?
First, we involve young people more than in the past, for example with our own formats at our meetings. For example, at the start of the 200th anniversary celebrations in Leipzig, schoolchildren will organise a part of the programme under the motto “We only have one Earth”. Second, we want to activate our members more strongly, we still see a lot of potential there. As soon as the Corona situation allows, there will also be regional presence meetings again. We introduced this new format before the pandemic and hope to be able to invite our members again soon to exchange ideas with them across disciplines. 

Is the interdisciplinary approach of the GDNÄ still up to date in view of ever greater specialisation in the natural sciences?
Both are important, but the importance of the interdisciplinarity is growing. Let us take my field, chemistry. There is still the classical synthesis of molecules and the development and optimisation of processes. But the great advances occur where chemists work together with biologists and computer scientists. In the GDNÄ we want to inspire this, at our meetings and in between at the regional meetings. I see an enormous need here that is not met by any other scientific society. The personal exchange about new findings in biology, chemistry, physics, computer science, engineering, and medicine without direct pressure to exploit them and with leading experts – that is a great opportunity for the GDNÄ.

Saarbrücken 2018 © Robertus Koppies

Aerial view of the Marl Industrial Park in the Ruhr region: with an area of more than six square kilometres, the site is one of the largest industrial parks in Germany.  What was once the address of Chemische Werke Hüls AG is now Evonik’s largest site. A total of more than ten thousand people work in the Marl Industrial Park – in almost twenty companies. © Evonik Industries AG

Is this only about basic research or also about applied knowledge?
Both should play a role. However, applied research is often neglected in public discourse as well as within the GDNÄ. It deserves more attention.  

You know both worlds and, after professional beginnings in academia, you moved to industry. In 1982 you started your industrial career at Chemische Werke Hüls AG, a company that no longer exists. How did you experience the structural change in the German chemical industry?
This change began soon after I joined Hüls AG in the early 1980s with more and more company mergers and start-ups. When you are in the middle of it, it is not always easy. Overall, however, this development was inevitable in order to survive in an increasingly globalised world. Ultimately, the many mergers have made the German chemical industry stronger and more innovative.  One example: the Marl Chemical Park, where I started, is now Evonik’s largest site and is also home to about 25 other chemical companies. 

You worked as an innovation manager for many years. There is a continuous need for creative and at the same time practicable solutions. Do you have a recipe?
Unfortunately, there is no patent remedy. What worked for me was this approach: bring together good people from different company divisions, let them develop their ideas in protected start-up-like structures, so-called project houses, and feed the solutions, as soon as they are close to the market, into the divisions of the parent company. This approach proved successful, for example, with the Hüls subsidiary Creavis, which then became part of Degussa, both of which have since been merged into the Evonik Group.  

Have successful innovations come from this approach?
I think so. At Creavis, for example, we developed biochemical processes for the production of amino acids, in which Evonik is now the world market leader. Very early on, work was done there on functional nanoparticles, which are indispensable in many areas today – just think of the production of microchips and the application in paints and cosmetics.

Production facilities in the evening light: The Marl Industrial Park is connected in many ways to the European road, rail and waterway network. © Evonik Industries AG

How do you see the future of Germany as an industrial location?
We are in the middle of a major transformation towards more climate-friendly energy sources and raw materials. The fossil age is coming to an end, and it is clear to industry that it must completely reposition itself. The investments for the next 15 to 30 years are already geared to this. The transformation can succeed if we have enough hydrogen and can reliably obtain it from sun-rich countries. Some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, are preparing for this. As a member of the Enquete Commission on the Future of the Chemical Industry in North Rhine-Westphalia, I have dealt extensively with this topic and continue to advise companies on these issues.  

Much of the public debate is currently about gas as a transitional solution. What is your opinion?
In order to meet the growing energy demand in our country and to replace the coal and nuclear power plants that we have shut down and will shut down in the near future, we cannot do without gas in the foreseeable future. In the future, the chemical industry alone will need as much electricity as all private households together today, and electromobility will need as much again. Gas-fired power plants will probably be needed as a bridging technology for another 15 to 20 years. We also need to build new plants. Evonik is currently building two new gas-fired power plants in the Marl Chemical Park to replace two coal-fired units. In any case, we have to ensure that we can obtain as much gas as we need, whether it comes as liquefied gas by tanker or via the pipelines. If Nord Stream 2 does not come for political reasons, we will need other supply routes.  

Finally, let’s take another look at the GDNÄ, which will soon be 200 years old. How far are you with the preparations for the celebration?
We are right on schedule. With the Leipzig Congress Hall we have found a wonderful venue for the festive assembly in September, the lecture programme with renowned scientists is set and the students will come together in early summer to design their part of the programme. There will be an attractive, generally understandable commemorative publication in book form. We are increasingly addressing the public this time: with media reports, via Twitter and other social media, and with lectures to which all Leipzigers are invited. We attach great importance to the exchange with society – entirely in the spirit of the Year of Science 2022, which aims to strengthen citizen participation in science and research under the motto “Nachgefragt!” – which means both, “Inquired” and “in demand!”.

Prof. Dr. Michael Dröscher Dorsten © GDNÄ

Prof. Dr. Michael Dröscher © GDNÄ

About the person

Prof. Dr Michael Dröscher has been Treasurer and Board Member of the GDNÄ since 2017 and its Secretary General since 2015. He comes from Kirn on the Nahe, where he was born in 1949. He studied chemistry in Mainz, where he also completed his doctorate.  He then took a position as a scientific assistant at the University of Freiburg and habilitated in macromolecular chemistry at the age of only 31. He continued his academic career first as a Privatdozent and from 1988 as an adjunct professor at the University of Münster.

Even more than basic research, Michael Dröscher is interested in the application of scientific results – and so his path led him to industry. He started in 1982 as a laboratory manager and in 1984 as a department head at Hüls AG in Marl, North Rhine-Westphalia. He was to remain with the chemical company, or rather the successor companies Degussa-Hüls, neue Degussa and Evonik-Industries AG, for 27 years – in changing functions. In 1997, the experienced chemist was appointed managing director of the newly founded Hüls subsidiary Creavis Gesellschaft für Technologie und Innovation mbH; today the company operates under the umbrella of Evonik Industries AG as Evonik Creavis GmbH. Five years later, in 2002, Michael Dröscher became Innovation Manager at Degussa AG, which later became part of Evonik.

Michael Dröscher was also involved in professional societies and professional politics, including as chairman of the German Bunsen Society (2005 to 2006) and from 2020 to 2011 as president of the German Chemical Society and as manager of the CHEMIE.NRW cluster. He holds an honorary doctorate from Kazan National Research Technological University (Russia).

In addition to his duties in the GDNÄ, Michael Dröscher is active in many honorary capacities: as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim and as a member of several boards of trustees and advisory boards of institutes of the Max Planck Society, the Leibniz Association and university institutes. He is also a member of the supervisory board of bValue AG, which promotes and co-finances start-ups.

How innovation can revitalise the chemical industry: This is described in a practical way by renowned experts in this book co-edited by Michael Dröscher. Here is a reading sample from the English-language title (ISBN 3-00-012425-X.) © Festel Capital

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Martin Lohse Exciting times for science

“Exciting times for science”

Martin Lohse, President of the GDNÄ, invites to the celebration of the 200th anniversary celebration in Leipzig.

Professor Lohse, the GDNÄ will be 200 years old in September 2022. How will this anniversary be celebrated?
200 years: this is really a significant and wonderful anniversary. During these 200 years science has developed in an incredible way, all over the world, but particularly in Germany – and often from within the GDNÄ. We want to celebrate this special anniversary with a very special four-day anniversary conference in September: in the city where the GDNÄ was founded, Leipzig, and in the beautifully modernised Art Deco Congress Hall at the Leipzig Zoo.

Who is invited to this celebratory conference?
All members are cordially invited, plus participants in the student programme and former scholarship holders, as well as the general public for some of the events. We hope that the Federal President, the Prime Minister of Saxony, and the Mayor of Leipzig will honour us with their presence. Leading scientists from Germany and abroad, including Nobel Prize winners, will give lectures and celebrate with us. And aspiring students of science journalism as well as regional and national media will cover the conference.

As the President, you were able to choose the topic of the conference. Why did you choose “Images in Science”?
This topic has a general, but also a very personal component. You will find both aspects in the conference. Images have always conveyed central messages in and from science. Let us think, for example, of the many drawings Alexander von Humboldt made on his travels, of the spectacular photos of the North Pole MOSAiC expedition, or of the fantastic images of the space telescopes. In my own research, fascinating detailed images can be produced with new types of microscopes: images of individual biomolecules and from the innermost parts of cells and organisms. The anniversary conference will bring us up to date in this very broad spectrum of images.

Saarbrücken 2018 © Robertus Koppies
Last kiss: The picture shows a cell that is dividing into two daughter cells. The cell nuclei are in blue, the mitochondria in green and the microtubules in orange. Image taken with optical ultra-high resolution microscopy (Structured Illumination Microscopy). © Markus Sauer, University of Würzburg
Preparations for the big anniversary are in full swing. Let us take a look behind the scenes!
Preparations for GDNÄ conferences always take well over a year: topics and speakers are discussed and found, conference logistics are planned, a social programme is organised. We started planning for the anniversary conference a good two years ago, because this meeting should be even more beautiful than usual. We have attracted many excellent speakers from all over the world. The conference rooms in the Congress Hall provide a magnificent setting for the meeting, the cooperation with the zoo is very close and committed and offers many highlights, and the social programme will make the meeting particularly delightful.

Let us turn our gaze back once more. 1822 to 2022, that is a long time: how has the GDNÄ managed to last over so many years?
The two centuries of its existence are without doubt the most exciting times science has ever experienced. Never before have the developments in science, but also those that science brought to society, been so great – and this is true for the entire spectrum of the GDNÄ. Many disciplines were actually born during this time, and they have all evolved into their own specific worlds. The GDNÄ has always been at the centre of these developments, and many specialist societies have sprung from the GDNÄ, and have often become much larger than the GDNÄ itself. However, during all these years, the GDNÄ has retained some unique features.

What are these special features?
Three aspects characterise the GDNÄ and make it unique: First, the GDNÄ cultivates interdisciplinary discussions across a broad spectrum of subjects – in a way that cannot take place in specialist societies. Second, the GDNÄ runs a student programme with great potential for the future. And third, the GDNÄ addresses the general public: with its activities in science communication, via its homepage, and invites citizens of the city and its region to its meetings. We will highlight all three aspects in Leipzig.

View into the Great Hall of the lavishly renovated Gründerzeit building from 1900. The building has a total of 15 halls and rooms as well as foyers and lounges. © Leipzig Trade Fair

What will be the role of young people at the Leipzig conference?
We invite more than two hundred young people: Selected high school students from the region, former programme participants, winners of the “Jugend forscht” and “Jugend präsentiert” competitions. There will be preparatory workshops and a presentation of the results at the opening ceremony. The aim will be to define and express young people’s expectations of science. With this programme, which has been organized by Mr Mühlenhoff for many years, we want to address young people and open up paths to science for them. And, of course, also into the GDNÄ. 

The Corona pandemic has shown the importance of the dialogue between science and the public. How has the GDNÄ been involved in this issue?
The Corona pandemic has highlighted both strengths but also weaknesses of our society. The strengths include an incredible number of rapidly produced research results, including, above all, the development of vaccines in less than a year. However, it has also become clear how difficult it is to connect to the entire population, to convey research knowledge. And it has also become clear how much basic knowledge is needed for conversations about the disease and meaningful countermeasures. The GDNÄ aims to provide information about this topic on its homepage, it participated in the discussion about risk-adapted measures at an early stage and, together with science academies and research institutions, aimed to inform politicians. Some of its members participated, for example, in a symposium of the Hamburg Academy of Science on “infections and society”. Together with German science academies, we now want to increasingly devote ourselves to the follow-up and ask address two big questions: How did we as a society and how did science fare in this crisis? And what can we learn from this for the future – for future pandemics and other crises, but also for science communication? 

What role will the Corona pandemic play in the anniversary meeting?
Corona will not be the focus at the Leipzig meeting. So much has already been said about it that it did not seem to make sense to us. But RNA medicine, which has brought us the best vaccines so far and opens up completely new opportunities for innovative therapies, will be a central topic of the “Medicine” session on Sunday morning in Leipzig. 

What are your wishes for the GDNÄ in the coming years?
Of all the wishes I have for the GDNÄ, one is central: that it may continue to play an important role in the dialogue between the sciences, with the public and especially with young people. And that for 200 more years!

Saarbrücken 2018 © Robertus Koppies

Prof. Dr. Martin Lohse © Bettina Flitner

About the person

Prof. Dr Martin Lohse has been President of the German Society of Natural Scientists and Physicians (GDNÄ) since 2019. In this honorary office, he is responsible for the programme of the assembly celebrating the 200th anniversary. In his main profession, the renowned pharmacologist has been a professor at the University of Würzburg since 1993, and Chairman of the incubator ISAR Bioscience Institute in Planegg/Munich since 2020. His research focuses on receptors and their signals; they represent the most important targets for drugs.

Martin Lohse studied medicine and philosophy at the universities of Göttingen, London and Paris and did his doctorate in Göttingen at the Department of Neurobiology of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry. After working with Ulrich Schwabe in pharmacology in Bonn and Heidelberg, he joined the laboratory of Bob Lefkowitz, who later won the Nobel Prize, at Duke University, where he became an assistant professor. From 1990 to 1993 he was head of a research group at the Gene Centre in Martinsried/Munich, established by Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker. In Würzburg, he founded the Rudolf Virchow Centre, one of the first three DFG research centres, as well as the university’s graduate schools in 2001. After six years as Vice President for Research at the University of Würzburg from 2009 to 2015, he was Chairman of the Max Delbrück Center in the Helmholtz Association in Berlin from 2016 to 2019. He has received numerous awards, including the DFG’s Leibniz Prize, the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine and two grants from the European Research Council. He has co-founded four biotechnology companies. Martin Lohse has held numerous honorary positions in science in Germany and abroad; amongst these, he was Vice President of the National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina from 2009 to 2019.

Congress Hall Leipzig exteriorThe Congress Hall at Leipzig Zoo is a modern conference centre in a historical ambience. © Leipzig Trade Fair

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High Award from China for Katharina Kohse-Höinghaus

High Award from China for Katharina Kohse-Höinghaus

Chinese Academy of Sciences admits chemist and GDNÄ board member as foreign member 

Katharina Kohse-Höinghaus is Senior Professor of Physical Chemistry at Bielefeld University and former President of the Combustion Institute. She represents the field of engineering sciences on the Board of Directors of the GDNÄ. On 18 November 2021, the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) announced that Katharina Kohse-Höinghaus had been elected as a new foreign member. The long-standing list of foreign members comprises only about 100 people in total. These include the physicist Klaus von Klitzing, the biochemist Hartmut Michel and the mathematician Martin Grötschel. The biologist Herbert Jäckle was elected at the same time as Kohse-Höinghaus.

Prof. Dr. Katharina Kohse-Höinghaus. © Foto Norma Langohr, Universität Bielefeld

Wolfgang Wahlster is a new foreign member of the Czech Academy of Engineering Sciences

Wolfgang Wahlster is a new foreign member of the Czech Academy of Engineering Sciences

On 23 November 2021, the former president of the GDNÄ, Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Wolfgang Wahlster was accepted as a foreign member of the Czech Academy of Engineering Sciences (Cena Inženýrské akademie České republiky, EACR) in Prague.  

Professor Wolfgang Wahlster from the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI) is known in the Czech Republic as a scientific pioneer in the field of Industry 4.0 and artificial intelligence. Industrial production is of great economic importance for both the Czech Republic and Germany. In both countries, industrial artificial intelligence is perceived as an innovation driver. 

For many years, Wahlster has been cooperating with Professor Vladimír Mařík in Prague, the founder of the Czech Institute of Informatics, Robotics and Cybernetics (CIIRC) at the Czech Technical University in Prague (CTU). Together, the two scientists have launched the Research and Innovation Centre on Advanced Industrial Production (RICAIP), which is funded with 50 million euros. 

The Czech Academy of Science and Engineering EACR is a partner organisation of the German Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech) and represents the Czech Republic in Euro-CASE, the European association of all academies of science and engineering.

Wahlster © GDNÄE

Former president of the GDNÄ, Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. mult. Wolfgang Wahlster. © DFKI

High credibility confirmed again

High credibility confirmed again

Trust in science and research remains strong, especially in the Corona pandemic. But there are also sceptical voices. This was the result of a representative survey by Wissenschaft im Dialog (WiD), a non-profit organisation in which the GDNÄ is a co-partner.

The majority of people in Germany rely on science and research. In the current opinion poll “Wissenschaftsbarometer 2021”, 61 percent of respondents said they trust science rather or completely. This is similar to the previous survey in November 2020 (60%) and more than before the Corona pandemic began (2019: 46%, 2018: 54%, 2017: 50%).

Only in the Corona Special Surveys in April and May 2020 was the level of agreement higher, at 73 and 66 per cent respectively. 32 percent of respondents are currently undecided. This is the result of population-representative data from the Science Barometer, with which the non-profit organisation Wissenschaft im Dialog (WiD) has been surveying public opinion on science and research in Germany since 2014. Sponsors and supporters of the project are the Robert Bosch Stiftung and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. The GDNÄ has supported the goals and diverse activities of WID for many years as a co-partner.

Germans’ trust in science and research has increased sharply with the Corona pandemic. © WiD

The high level of trust in science and research is also reflected in the desire for scientific policy advice. Thus, more than two thirds of the respondents (69 %) are of the opinion that political decisions should be based on scientific findings. 75 % think that scientists should speak out publicly when political decisions do not take scientific findings into account. An active interference of scientists in politics is desired by 32 percent of the respondents. Half of the respondents think that scientists should recommend certain decisions to politicians in the specific context of the Corona pandemic. 

However, it is unclear to many respondents (53 %) how policy advice on Corona works in Germany.  “People would like even more information about when and how scientific findings influence policy,” says Markus Weißkopf, Executive Director of Wissenschaft im Dialog.

What doctors and scientists say about Corona is most likely to be believed. © WiD

In the context of the Corona pandemic, trust in the statements of scientists is particularly high: 2021: 73 %, November 2020: 73 %, April 2020: 71 %. Only the trust in statements by doctors and medical staff on Corona is even higher (2021: 79 %, November 2020: 80 %, April 2020: 78 %). The statements made by representatives of authorities and agencies, journalists and politicians are trusted much less in comparison (2021: 34%, 21% and 18%). 

Despite the high level of trust in medicine and science, sceptical positions on the Corona pandemic also meet with approval. For example, 39 percent agreed somewhat or strongly with the following statement: “Scientists are not telling us everything they know about the corona virus” (19 % undecided, 40 % somewhat disagree or strongly disagree). Twenty-six percent agree with the statement that the pandemic is being made into a bigger deal than it actually is (12% undecided, 61% disagree or tend to disagree). 

“The results show that a minority doubts science – but a minority that has become louder during the pandemic,” says Prof. Dr. Mike S. Schäfer, Professor of Science Communication at the Institute of Communication Science and Media Research at the University of Zurich and member of the Scientific Advisory Board of the Science Barometer.

Saarbrücken 2018 © Robertus Koppies

New survey by „Wissenschaft im Dialog“. © WiD

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Stuart Parkin – Encouraging young people to follow seemingly crazy ideas

“Let us encourage young people to follow seemingly crazy ideas”

Why Stuart Parkin, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics, gave up his top job in California, how he is giving data processing a leg up and what future he sees for Germany.  

Professor Parkin, a few years ago you were still at IBM in Silicon Valley, now you work in Halle an der Saale. Was that a good swap?
I think so, even though the two stations are very different. However, they are similar in one respect, which is very important to me, and that is scientific freedom. I had that as research director at IBM and here at the Max Planck Institute for Microstructure Physics in Halle I can also determine my own course.

And yet it’s a big leap you’ve made: from industrial research to a publicly funded institute, from California to Saxony-Anhalt. What made you do it?
My love for my wife Claudia Felser. We met at Stanford and decided to move to Germany together a few years ago. She is a chemistry professor and director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Dresden. We are not far from our home to our institutes. Not only do we share a fascination for new materials, we also work together on projects.

© Max Planck Institut fuer Mikrostrukturphysik

The Max Planck Institute for Microstructure Physics was founded in 1992 as the first institute of the Max Planck Society in East Germany. The research focus is on novel materials with useful functionalities. Today, the institute offers space for around 150 employees.

What exactly is your research about?
To put it in a nutshell: I create completely new materials for information processing. They are needed because we are at the end of the silicon age and urgently need basic materials for a faster, more efficient data world. Our materials consist of wafer-thin magnetic layers.  They make it possible to use the magnetic moment of the electron to store and process digital data, and not just its electrical charge, as used to be the case in semiconductor electronics. Spintronics is the corresponding technical term. I have dedicated most of my professional life to it and during this time I was able to make a significant contribution to the fact that magnetic drives are standard today. But that is only part of the story.

How does it continue?
One important spintronics application is the spin valves I invented. These are thin-film read heads that can detect very small magnetic domains on hard drives and significantly increase their storage capacity. More than ten years ago, the so-called Racetrack memory was developed under my leadership. This technology, based on magnetoelectronics, processes digital information a million times faster than conventional hard disks. Currently, together with my wife, I am researching skyrmions and antiskyrmions, i.e. nanometre-sized magnetic objects that could pave the way for ultra-fast and at the same time power-saving data processing in the future. Our results have been published in high-ranking journals, most recently in Nature.

When it comes to efficient information processing, the human brain is unrivalled. Do you draw inspiration from it?
Of course I do. I already started my first studies at IBM and we are also working in this extremely exciting field in Halle. We want to understand how the brain manages to trigger material reactions by means of tiny ionic currents. That is electrochemistry at its finest. Our goal is to mimic the incredibly economical and precise way the brain works. This cannot be achieved in the short term, you need staying power. 

What can be achieved in the next few years?
For me, it’s about accelerating the invention of new materials. That’s why I completely rebuilt the institute in Halle and received excellent support from the state of Saxony-Anhalt, the Max Planck Society and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. Today we work here in a large team of physicists, chemists and biologists – to name just a few disciplines. We have state-of-the-art imaging technology at our disposal and a new clean room in which we can produce the finest nanostructures.  Most of it we built ourselves, you can’t buy something like that on the market.

© burckhardt+partner

New research building for the chip technology of tomorrow (virtual view): With an investment of 50 million euros, the Max Planck Institute for Microstructure Physics in Halle is being expanded with modern laboratories and offices. The new building with a floor space of 5,500 square metres is scheduled for completion by the end of 2024. The institute will then be able to accommodate up to 300 employees.

Your research should be of great interest to industry?
That’s right. There are collaborations with the Korean IT company Samsung, for example. Other companies are also keeping a close eye on what we are doing. Among them is the American chip manufacturer Intel, which recently announced billions in investments in Europe. 

How do you rate the general conditions for your research in Germany?
We have really good conditions. A big plus is that Germany invests a lot in basic research, much more than other countries in Europe. There are excellent specialists in the country and ambitious young people with good ideas.

Where do you see Germany in international comparison?
There is still some catching up to do. Let’s take the example of the USA: there, digitalisation has really arrived in the middle of society, but I don’t see it that way in Germany yet. The powerful and rich companies in Silicon Valley can pay professionals high salaries, and we often can’t keep up. Moreover, many patent rights are in the USA – that also makes competition more difficult. The pandemic has shown how big the differences are between countries. All of a sudden, video conferencing was en vogue and US providers like Zoom or MS Teams were at the forefront. Why, I ask myself, is a German company like SAP not playing along? The prerequisites are certainly there.

How can Germany make up ground?
The best way is to invest in young people. We should encourage them to follow even seemingly crazy ideas and take risks. At universities, people should be able to learn how innovation works and how to compete successfully. Some Asian countries designate certain zones where company founders do not have to pay taxes for ten years. This could also be a model for us, especially in eastern Germany, where there are still many vacant areas.

The federal elections are just behind us, the coalition negotiations are underway. What do you expect from the next federal government in your field?
A strong push for digitalisation. As the leading economy, Germany should lead the way in this area and help Europe speak with one voice. That would be important in order to survive in international competition and to enforce important values such as data security.

You are involved in numerous professional societies. How important is your work in the GDNÄ for you?
I am a European and would like to contribute to making our continent more competitive. The GDNÄ can play an important role in this, for example by supporting young people. But also by inviting controversial, cultivated discussions about current scientific topics. I know this from Great Britain and would like to see more public debate of this kind in this country as well. It could be a good remedy for the increasing scepticism about science in society.

Saarbrücken 2018 © Robertus Koppies

© Sven Doering

© Sven Doering

Stuart S. P. Parkin

About the person
Stuart S. P. Parkin was born in Watford, England, in 1955. After completing his doctorate in solid-state physics at the University of Cambridge, he joined IBM as a postdoctoral researcher, where he was made a Fellow in 1999, the company’s highest technical award. Between 2004 and 2006, he conducted research at the Rheinisch-Westfälische Technische Hochschule (RWTH) Aachen University with a Humboldt Research Award. Professor Parkin headed the IBM Almaden Research Center in San Jose, and was director of the Spintronic Science and Applications Center (SpinAps), founded in 2004. He was also a professor at Stanford University. He is a member of numerous international academies such as the Royal Society and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and has received numerous awards, most recently the King Faisal Prize 2021 worth 200,000 dollars. The physicist with three citizenships in the UK, USA and Germany has published around 400 scientific papers and holds more than 90 patents. Since 2014, he has been director at the MPI for Microstructure Physics Halle and Alexander von Humboldt Professor at the Institute of Physics at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. Shortly afterwards, Stuart Parkin joined the GDNÄ and was elected subject representative for engineering sciences.

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