Marion Merklein: “There are bumpy years ahead”

“There are bumpy years ahead”

Marion Merklein, engineering scientist, company director and member of the GDNÄ Board, on turning points in mechanical engineering, taster courses and early successes with the hammer drill. 

Professor Merklein, at your institute at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, you develop entire production lines and realise them together with industrial companies. Are the prospects for German mechanical engineering really as bleak as is often said at the moment?
I’m not one of the pessimists. But there will be a lot of rumbling in the country over the next few years. Mechanical engineering is in the midst of a major transformation that will probably keep us busy until the end of the decade. Only then will things start to pick up again. 

What transformation are we dealing with in mechanical engineering?
The pivotal point is the energy transition, which will lead us away from fossil fuels and towards green electricity and hydrogen. At the same time, energy consumption and waste volumes are to be reduced. These alone are colossal challenges for the automotive industry and many other sectors of mechanical engineering. The situation is further exacerbated by the declining order situation against the backdrop of a global economic downturn and a dramatic shortage of skilled labour. We must not underestimate the problem from a social perspective, as one in five jobs in Germany depends on mechanical engineering. 

How does your research contribute to solving these problems?
At our university institute, a lot of research centres on the question of how to streamline process chains. For example, in the construction of hydrogen engines. Today, such engines are practically manufactory products with small series such as the °Mirai°: Toyota only produces 30,000 of these saloon cars with fuel cells per year. This is of course uneconomical in the long term. We are therefore currently designing production lines for large-scale production. The aim is to be able to produce millions of hydrogen drives for motor vehicles of all kinds in the future. We are also developing techniques to reduce heat consumption when joining components and chipless cutting techniques, which leads to less waste when cutting workpieces, for example. 

In addition to your work at the university, you are also the head of a company. What drives you?
We want to put research results from the university into practice faster than usual. That’s why I took over the management of the company “Neue Materialien Fürth” in 2019. This is a state research institution, 51 per cent of which is owned by the Free State of Bavaria and 49 per cent by several co-owners. I also own a share. The company can be compared to a Fraunhofer Institute, but with a much leaner administration. We have large industrial-scale facilities at our disposal. This enables us to carry out realistic experiments that are not possible at the university.

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

© FAU/Giulia Iannicelli

Marion Merklein with a sheet metal blank from which tensile specimens were cut out for material testing. Input data and material cards are created from the tensile samples in order to simulate production processes.

Are there already tangible results?
Yes, there are, and something will soon be added that will advance electrical engineering. It’s about an internal component that I can’t reveal any more about now because the patent process is still ongoing. The development is based on the results of a Transregio funding programme on sheet metal forming and is a good example of successful research transfer. Neue Materialien Fürth also carries out contract research and provides services – the bottom line is that we are in the black. 

Women are still a minority in mechanical engineering. What is the situation like in your environment?
When I took up my professorship, I was the only woman in the field far and wide. But a lot has happened over the years. Today, almost a third of professorships in mechanical engineering at FAU are held by women. I definitely see myself as a role model. And in my working groups, I realise time and again that mixed teams achieve the best results. 

Where does your fascination for the profession come from?
My father played a big role. I was eight years old when he put a Hilti in my hand to make a wall breakthrough. I really wanted to do it, he trusted me to do it and I managed it. I was very good at physics at school and when it came to studying, I decided in favour of materials science. As time went on, I liked mechanical engineering even better, I switched and did my doctorate in this subject.

Instituts für Fertigungstechnologie an der Universität Erlangen-Nürnberg. © FAU

© FAU

Exterior view of the Institute of Production Technology at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.

You quickly made a career for yourself and were already a professor at the age of 34. What gave you wings?
Above all, the reliable support of my doctoral supervisor and mentor, Professor Manfred Geiger. He encouraged me right from the start and took me along to all kinds of events and conferences. This allowed me to grow into management positions. 

Today, it is up to you to promote the next generation.
Unfortunately, young talent is rare. Compared to pre-pandemic times, we have up to 40 per cent fewer students and correspondingly fewer young academics. Technical science degree programmes have lost their appeal for young people. If they go in a technical direction at all, many of them tend to do vocational training. Foreign students can only partially compensate for this deficit. We therefore have to come up with something to get young people interested in our subject. 

What are you doing to achieve this?
My team and I give talks in schools, offer technology internships and, during the Whitsun holidays, we organise a taster university where students can look over our shoulders for a week. We are currently working on experiments suitable for small children, which we can also take to daycare centres. 

You are a representative for engineering sciences in the GDNÄ. What motivated you to take on this role?
I was asked very kindly by the Executive Board and considered the offer an honour. I like the interdisciplinary nature of the GDNÄ, that’s what makes it so special for me and I’m happy to get involved.

Marion Merklein © FAU

© FAU

Prof Dr Marion Merklein heads the Chair of Production Technology at Friedrich-Alexander-Universität Erlangen-Nuremberg.

About the person

Prof Dr Marion Merklein’s research career is closely linked to the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (FAU). There she studied materials science and obtained her doctorate, where she worked as a senior engineer and research group leader and completed her habilitation. At the age of just 34, Merklein received three offers for professorships from Germany and abroad, but once again decided in favour of FAU. Her Chair of Production Engineering is regarded as one of the leading international centres in its field with excellent contacts in science and industry.

Marion Merklein’s more than 600 research papers cover a wide range of topics, with her main interests being the design and optimisation of lightweight sheet metal constructions, hot sheet metal forming (press hardening) and sheet metal forming. In many cases, Merklein succeeds in bridging the gap between materials science and production technology, often addressing issues relevant to industrial applications.

The 50-year-old scientist has received numerous awards, including the Leibniz Prize of the German Research Foundation (2013) and the Bavarian Order of Merit (2018). She is a member of the National Academy of Sciences Leopodina, the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the German Academy of Science and Engineering acatech. Marion Merklein also heads a company, Neue Materialien Fürth GmbH, a state research organisation that aims to transfer the findings of basic scientific work to industry.

Further information:

Armin Maiwald: Research until the doctor comes

AWARDED

Mit Medaille und Urkunde in der Bielefelder Stadthalle © David Ausserhofer

© David Ausserhofer / Wissenschaft im Dialog

With medal and certificate in the Bielefeld Stadthalle (from left to right): GDNÄ President Professor Heribert Hofer, award winner Armin Maiwald, laudator Ralph Caspers and GDNÄ Secretary General Professor Michael Dröscher.

“Research until the doctor comes”

Armin Maiwald has been the face of Die Sendung mit der Maus for decades. For his exciting stories about science and technology, the GDNÄ awarded the presenter, author and director the Lorenz Oken Medal 2023. The award was presented on 15 November 2023 at the Science in Dialogue Forum in Bielefeld. 

How do the pearls get into the shells? Why are there seasons? And why is milk white even though cows only eat green grass? Mr. Maiwald, you have been answering children’s questions in the “Sendung mit der Maus” for a good fifty years. Which question is asked most often?
Why is the sky blue – that’s the clear favourite. We have always made new programmes to answer the question in a contemporary way. The latest version is from 2018. 

You and your team have already been awarded many prizes for the Sendung mit der Maus. Do you still have an overview?
There are now more than a hundred national and international prizes, which of course makes us very happy. A nice surprise last year was the honorary doctorate from RWTH Aachen University for special achievements in the education of children and young people. 

Now you are receiving the Lorenz Oken Medal of the GDNÄ. What does the award mean to you?
I feel honoured and happy about the good company. Harald Lesch, Gert Scobel and Mai-Thi received the award before me. I am in good hands in this environment. 

The Sendung mit der Maus has been running every Sunday morning for 52 years and has a large, loyal fan base. What makes it so successful?
We tell exciting stories about science. At the beginning we are as silly as everyone else and at least as curious. And then we take the viewers along on the journey. We go to Wesseling, for example, where we look for answers to a child’s question in the refinery: Why is oil so important? 

How do you proceed in detail?
We work our way logically, step by step, and always comprehensibly. First the forest, then the individual tree, then the bark and finally the bark beetle. Instead of computer simulations, we rely on experiments with homemade models. If it’s about thermal deformation, for example, we explain it by cooking spaghetti, and what filtration is, we illustrate with a coffee filter. Foreign words are taboo for us, and we don’t do interviews. When it comes to a new topic, we research until the doctor comes. Maybe that’s even our greatest strength.

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

© FLASH Filmproduktion GmbH

Armin Maiwald with cameraman Kai von Westerman filming on the motorway bridge in Leverkusen.

How long do you work on a contribution? 
That varies greatly. Some productions only take a few weeks, others take years. Our longest research was on the question of why vitamin C is so important for our bodies. It took us three years to get the hang of presenting that in a comprehensible way. Another long-term project is the construction of the new motorway bridge in Leverkusen. We have been accompanying the work since 2015 and have answered all kinds of questions about it in several broadcasts: How do the cables get to the bridge? How are the piers built? And how long does a bridge like this actually last? The seventh episode will be broadcast at the end of the year. 

Are there also topics that you cut your teeth on?
Yes, there are. Quantum, for example. For years we have been trying everything possible to explain them in a way that is suitable for mice. But we keep coming up against the limits of representability and haven’t yet found the right trick. Another example is the conversion of plastic waste into petroleum. Children were already asking about this in the 1970s. We have visited an experimental plant in Switzerland and are still waiting for an announced plant in the Ruhr area. So we don’t have to grit our teeth completely, but we need a lot of patience. 

There are now more than 2700 programmes with the mouse. How did it all begin?
In a pub in Cologne. At the end of the 1960s, I was sitting with a couple of WDR editors. We were discussing God and the world, and suddenly there was the idea for a new kind of children’s programme. One of us, Gert Kaspar Müntefering, then fought for it at Westdeutscher Rundfunk and won. In the beginning, the programme was made by a few people, but today a large team of reporters, presenters, illustrators and animators work for the Mouse. The whole thing is largely produced by the Cologne film company Flash, which I co-founded. 

How has your programme changed over the years?
A lot has changed. It starts with the name. In 1968, when we started, the programme was still called Lach- und Sachgeschichten für Fernsehanfänger. In 1971 it was renamed Sendung mit der Maus. In the beginning, children came to the studio in Sunday clothes to be lectured. Soon we found it too stiff, too dry, too theoretical – a bit like school. But we definitely didn’t want to do school television. So we went out into life to look for answers to children’s questions. That’s how we still do it today.

AleutBio-Team © 2022, Thomas Walter, Expedition SO293 AleutBio

© FLASH Filmproduktion GmbH

Sound engineer Christian Hennecke records the buzzing of bees in an apple orchard.

Are they really always children’s questions? And have the questions changed over time?
Yes, the starting point for our programmes are actually always children’s questions. It is not unusual for adults to be behind them, you can see that in the language and style. For some years now, the questions have become more technical. For example, they say: How does my mobile phone know that I’m standing on Cologne’s Cathedral Square? Or: What happens on the internet when I ask a question? 

Children and young people are becoming less and less interested in the natural sciences, according to an often-heard complaint. Do you also see this trend?
Yes and no. I’m thinking of our satellite competition in which pupils from Bad Homburg took part. The team had spent six months building an observation satellite the size of a drinks can, but suddenly nothing worked when it was launched. But the students didn’t get discouraged and in no time at all they had a new CanSat, as the mini satellites are called. The replica actually took off. This is a great example of scientific enthusiasm. In school lessons, things often look different. Everyone is supposed to be involved, even the uninterested, and that can lower the level of the class quite a bit. The teachers are left alone with the problem, they can’t be blamed for that. I don’t see a perfect solution at the moment. 

Today, research institutions of all kinds are trying to make their results as comprehensible as possible to the general public. Are they succeeding?
Only in part. I hear and read too many technical terms and far too much English. One talks about the CEO, the other about convenience products and both think that everyone knows what is meant. They are wrong, because to many people the terms mean absolutely nothing. Yet the public has a right to know – they should be able to understand what scientists are doing with taxpayers’ money.  

What is the best way for researchers to reach the public?
Pictorial comparisons for technical terms are very effective. In our programme on vitamin C, for example, we talk about body police when we talk about macrophages. You can think about such comparisons in advance and test them in conversation with people who are not experts in the subject. If you have children at home, you can tell them what your work is about. If they then say, oh, that’s how it is, now I know what you do, you’re on the right track. The “aha” effect is important – for children, but also for adults. 

Were you actually aware of the GDNÄ when you heard about the award?
No, I heard about the GDNÄ for the first time. Of course, I immediately did some research. My first impression was that the GDNÄ must be a pretty solid company. Two hundred years, you need good substance for that. 

At 83, others have long since retired. You continue to work. What drives you?
Firstly, I haven’t learned anything else, and secondly, I still enjoy it. With every new story, the question arises: how can I tell it in an exciting and understandable way? Sometimes I have to really boil the grey cells in my brain to find good answers. It’s not always easy, but it keeps you fit. 

The award winner

Armin Maiwald was born in Cologne in 1940. He talks about his childhood in the multi-award-winning “Postwar Mouse”, a programme that was last broadcast in an updated version in 2020. Maiwald’s family was bombed out three times. After stations in Lower Silesia, Uffing am Staffelsee and Neuss, Maiwald returned to Cologne in 1953. There he studied theatre studies, German language and literature and philosophy and began working as an assistant director at WDR in Cologne in 1963. Armin Maiwald is one of the inventors of the programme mir der Maus -–together with Gert Kaspar Müntefering, Monika Paetow and the artist Isolde Schmitt-Menzel, who designed the Mouse logo. Maiwald has received the German Federal Cross of Merit and the Grimme Prize, among others, for his moderation and design of the programme. In 2023, the GDNÄ awarded him the Lorenz Oken Medal. Two schools in Monheim-Baumberg and in Radevormwald bear his name. Armin Maiwald has been married since 1965 and has two grown-up children.

Armin Maiwald © Flash

© David Ausserhofer / Wissenschaft im Dialog

His television colleague Ralph Caspers, who has been part of the Maus team since 1999, gave the laudatory speech for the award winner to much applause.

Lorenz Oken Medaille © GDNÄE
Lorenz Oken Medaille © GDNÄE

© GDNÄ

Since 1984, the GDNÄ has been awarding its Lorenz Oken Medal to individuals who have rendered outstanding services to science communication. The award honours the founder of the GDNÄ, the natural scientist Lorenz Oken, who first convened a meeting of natural scientists and physicians in Leipzig in 1822. The photos show the front and back of the gold-plated medal for Armin Maiwald.

Science in dialogue

The Science Communication Forum is the largest conference for science communication in the German-speaking world. The conference is organised annually by Wissenschaft im Dialog (WiD), the joint organisation of German science for science communication. The Science Communication Forum 2023 will take place from 15 to 17 November in Bielefeld. The thematic focus is “Controversial, but fair – impulses for a new culture of debate”. The GDNÄ is a long-standing member of WiD and awards its Lorenz Oken Medal every two years at the forum conferences.

Further information:
Armin Maiwald © Flash

© FLASH Filmproduktion GmbH

Armin Maiwald during the filming of the story “Tyre production”. A cake with a tyre tread was baked as an explanation.

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© David Ausserhofer / Wissenschaft im Dialog

Armin Maiwald with fans after the award ceremony. 

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© David Ausserhofer / Wissenschaft im Dialog

Armin Maiwald in an interview with Luise Laakmann and Thuy Anh Nguyen from “Wissenschaft im Dialog”. 

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© David Ausserhofer / Wissenschaft im Dialog

Crowd-puller: A packed hall at the awards ceremony in the Bielefeld Stadthalle.

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© David Ausserhofer / Wissenschaft im Dialog

Armin Maiwald at the award ceremony.

The GDNÄ congratulates AI pioneer Professor Wahlster on his induction into the Hall of Fame of German Research

The GDNÄ congratulates AI pioneer Professor Wahlster on his induction into the Hall of Fame of German Research

Computer scientist Professor Wolfgang Wahlster, was inducted into the Hall of Fame of German Research on 12 October at the New Institute in Hamburg. The Society of German Natural Scientists and Physicians (GDNÄ) congratulates its former President and long-time Board member on this high honour. Since its foundation in 2009, only 30 personalities, including nine Nobel Prize winners, have been appointed to the Hall of Fame. With their lifetime achievements, they have made an outstanding contribution to the further development of research and strengthened Germany as a business location in international competition.

The President of the Society of German Natural Scientists and Physicians, Professor Heribert Hofer, warmly congratulates Professor Wolfgang Wahlster on his induction into the Hall of Fame of German Research. “We are very pleased about this high honour for Wolfgang Wahlster, who was President of the GDNÄ in 2017 and 2018.” Hofer echoes the words of Professor Margret Wintermantel, who described Wolfgang Wahlster in her laudation as a scientist who saw and strengthened the connection between computer science and human sciences, especially to psychology and linguistics, at a very early stage. “His understanding of human-computer interaction has opened up new perspectives and shaped our thinking about the many benefits of AI,” said the laudator at the ceremony in Hamburg.

“The appointment to the Hall of Fame is a great honour and I thank the initiators, the jury and the laudator very much for this great recognition of my scientific work over the last 45 years,” said Wolfgang Wahlster, founding director and long-time CEO of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). He added: “Especially in today’s world, it is important that in the topic that has fascinated me as a researcher for decades, machine language processing, such an honour underlines the importance of deep understanding capabilities for speech dialogue systems. Human-technology interaction should reach a level where humans and machines not only work hand in hand, but can also conduct dialogues at eye level. AI will increasingly flow into decision-making processes. These decisions must be able to be questioned and explained reliably and comprehensibly by computers in dialogue.”

A GDNÄ president has already received this honour once: biochemist and science manager Professor Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker – who headed the GDNÄ in 1999 and 2000 – has been a member of the German Research Hall of Fame since 2017.

Wahlster © GDNÄE

© GDNÄ

Professor Wolfgang Wahlster

Zur Person

Wolfgang Wahlster is the only German to have been honoured on the Wall of Fame in the Heinz Nixdorf MuseumsForum as a pioneer of the digital world in the field of artificial intelligence since 2004. The decisive factor was his work on the “Verbmobil” interpreting system. Wahlster is a member of the Royal Swedish Nobel Academy in Stockholm, the German National Academy Leopoldina, the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz, the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences, the German Academy of Science and Engineering and the Czech Academy of Science and Engineering. For his research achievements, he has been awarded the German Future Prize, the Cross of Merit First Class and the Grand Cross of Merit by the Federal President. Among the other awards are five honorary doctorates from universities in Darmstadt, Linköping, Maastricht, Prague and Oldenburg. He is a Fellow of the AAAI, EurAI and GI and served as president-elect of the three largest global and European AI associations (IJCAII, EurAI and ACL) as well as the German Society of Natural Scientists and Physicians (GDNÄ). Wolfgang Wahlster has been an honorary citizen of his native city of Saarbrücken since 2019, a recipient of the Saarland Order of Merit and a Saarland Ambassador.

Commemorative plaque 200 years GDNÄ unveiled at the founding site in Leipzig

Commemorative plaque 200 years GDNÄ unveiled at the founding site in Leipzig

In 1822, the physician Lorenz Oken founded the Society of German Naturalists and Physicians (GDNÄ) in Grimmaische Straße in Leipzig. The plaque commemorating the founding and celebrating the 200th anniversary in the Congress Hall at Leipzig Zoo was unveiled today at the site of the founding by GDNÄ President Heribert Hofer together with the Managing Director of the Anniversary Assembly, Zoo Director Jörg Junhold, and GDNÄ Secretary General Michael Dröscher.
Die Plakette zeigt Lorenz Oken, den Gründer der GDNÄ, und einen Auszug aus der Gründungsurkunde.

The plaque shows Lorenz Oken, the founder of the GDNÄ, and an excerpt from the founding document.

On 18 September 1822, the Society of German Naturalists and Physicians was founded by free-thinking personalities at the invitation of the naturalist and physician Lorenz Oken (1779 to 1851). The first meeting was held in Grimmaische Straße in Leipzig. Today, at this very spot, the President of the GDNÄ, Professor Heribert Hofer, together with the Executive Director of the Jubilee Conference, Zoo Director Professor Jörg Junhold and GDNÄ Secretary General Professor Michael Dröscher, presented a commemorative plaque to the public.

 “With this plaque, we commemorate the founding of our society and the outstanding personality Lorenz Oken, who, in the time of restoration and repression at the beginning of the 19th century, had the courage and the creative will to invite a free assembly for exchange among scientists to get to know and appreciate each other and united to bring the sciences forward,” said Professor Heribert Hofer. “The plaque is at the same time a reminder of the big anniversary celebration with 800 participants in the Congress Hall at the Zoo in September 2022,” said the host of the anniversary assembly, Professor Jörg Junhold. General Secretary Professor Michael Dröscher thanked the owner of the building for permission to place the plaque at the founding site, corner of Reichstraße Grimmaische Straße.

Im Zentrum Leipzigs wird jetzt der GDNÄ-Gründung im Jahr 1822 gedacht © Ulmer/Zoo Leipzig

© Ulmer/Zoo Leipzig

The foundation of the GDNÄ is now commemorated in the centre of Leipzig: GDNÄ President Professor Heribert Hofer, Secretary General Professor Michael Dröscher and the Managing Director of the Jubilee Conference, Zoo Director Professor Jörg Junhold (from left to right) at the inauguration of the commemorative plaque in Grimmaische Straße, corner of Reichsstraße.

Angelika Brandt: Thousands of new species brought to light

“Thousands of new species brought to light”

The deep-sea expedition “AleutBio” almost failed shortly before it started. But the near-drama turned into a success. Marine biologist and expedition leader Angelika Brandt describes how this was achieved. 

Professor Brandt, one year ago, on 17 July 2022, you set off with the research vessel “Sonne” to explore the biodiversity of the East Pacific deep sea. As cruise director, you were responsible for the scientific program. How did you experience the six weeks at sea?
It was the most difficult expedition of my life – and I have led many before. The problems began with Russia’s attack on Ukraine, five months before the planned start. As a result, scientific relations with Russia were frozen by the German side. Our German-Russian expedition, which we had been preparing for six years, was also affected. We wanted to study biodiversity in the eastern Kuril-Kamchatka Trench, the Aleutian Trench and the Bering Sea. The research trip was to begin and end in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky. Since the end of 2021, we had the necessary permits in our pockets, the financing was secured, and the ship was basically ready to go. The emergency braking three months before the start of the expedition threw everything into disarray. 

How did you still manage to get underway on time?
We got together immediately and discussed a lot with the Federal Ministry of Research and the German Research Vessel Control Center. Finally, we agreed on a new route that would take us from the starting point of Dutch Harbor on the U.S. island of Unalaska to largely unknown deep-sea areas in the eastern Pacific and end in Vancouver. The expedition application went through the German Foreign Office, which lobbied the American authorities on our behalf. Exciting weeks followed, during which we continued to prepare the trip without knowing if and when it could take place. Through an international call for applications, we were able to fill the eight research positions that had become available at short notice. This was not an easy task, as 70 highly qualified scientists responded to the call for applications. When we received the approval two weeks before the planned start of the journey, on July 3, 2022, we were very happy. Aleutian Biodiversity Studies, AleutBio for short, was able to set sail.

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

© Anne-Cathrin Wölfl & Kevin Kess, Geomar

Stations of the international AleutBio expedition in the Bering Sea and Aleutian Trench.

How was life on board?
Pleasant and exhausting at the same time. As a team, we functioned wonderfully. As usual, we worked in shifts throughout. The work under corona conditions was arduous: We had to wear masks all the time, even on deck, and test ourselves daily for the virus. Despite great caution, we had eleven cases of corona in the six weeks, which of course made daily interaction more difficult. And the fact that the sports room remained closed for hygiene reasons did not please the young people in the team at all. We reported daily on everyday life on board and our research in our AleutBio blog, which was frequently accessed. 

And how did you fare as cruise director?
I only got four to five hours of sleep a day, but I was used to that from previous expeditions. What bothered me more was the mask requirement. I am hard of hearing and read a lot from the lips of my conversation partners. I often asked them to take off their masks and talk to me from two meters away. 

Research work in the deep sea: How can we imagine it?
Very important is the modern marine technology on board the Sonne. The ship has a twelve-kilometer deep-sea cable on which heavy equipment is lowered to take samples. There are autonomous and remote-controlled underwater devices and vehicles on board, plus several grab systems and towed devices such as the epibenthos sled. This opens only at the seafloor and collects, together with the deep-sea mud, those organisms that live at the bottom surface or just below it. On deck, the scientific team waits to sift out, pick out, sort, and photograph the critters brought up with the deep-sea mud. The rest of the sediment is fixed with ethanol to be examined days later under the binoculars for microorganisms. At the end of the expedition, the samples are packed into refrigerated containers and shipped to the home laboratories for further analysis. At my institute in Frankfurt, we took delivery of two containers last October and December.

AleutBio-Team © 2022, Thomas Walter, Expedition SO293 AleutBio

© 2022, Thomas Walter, Expedition SO293 AleutBio

The AleutBio team in a quiet minute and for once without a mask.

That sounds like a storybook expedition. Did everything go so smoothly at AleutBio?
The starting conditions were difficult, but after that things actually went well. The loss of two landers, which were to measure and record biogeochemical parameters automatically after setting down on the seafloor in the Bering Sea and the Aleutian Trench, respectively, was problematic. We tried for two days and nights, but were unable to get the landers back on deck. Finally, we had to move on and send a loss report to the U.S. authorities. This was a setback, of course. However, our sediment grab, a so-called multicorer, did help us get samples from this ocean region. We now have to study them outside their original habitat in the laboratory – with the landers, an analysis in the natural context would have been possible. 

What exactly did you want to find out during your expedition?
We are always interested in what the deep sea looks like and which organisms are predominant there. In addition, this time the focus was on two major topics. Topographically, we know that the Pacific deep-sea trenches from the Aleutian Islands to the Japan Trench to the Mariana Trench are interconnected. But is this also true for the fauna? Or do the species living there have little to nothing to do with each other? Then there is the question of the connections between the North Pacific and Arctic Oceans: what species are found there in each case, how fast do they spread, and what are the special features? The answers to such questions are important, among other things, when it comes to laying deep-sea cables or deep-sea mining, which is now being pushed more and more. And in times of climate change, we need to at least begin to understand what is happening in the oceans, which organisms are migrating where, which populations are shrinking or threatened with extinction.

Die Bühne in der Kongresshalle am Zoo Leipzig hielt dem Ansturm der Schülerinnen und Schüler stand. © MIKA-fotografie | Berlin

© 2022, Thomas Walter, Expedition SO293 AleutBio

Modern ship and marine technology on board the Sonne: Epibenthos sledge (left), Agassiz trawl (centre), big box grab (top right), multicorer (bottom right).

Are there any initial findings already?
Yes, some have already been published, others we are still reviewing. At great depths, we have found species that occur from the Kuril-Kamchatka Trench to the Aleutian Trench, so they are the same species over a distance of at least three thousand kilometers. This was not known before. In the Bering Sea, we were struck by the extraordinarily diverse habitats. All in all, we have unearthed a great many new species that will have to be studied in greater detail in the coming months and years. 

When and where can you read the results?
As mentioned, the first bachelor and master theses have already been published. By the way, we are still looking for students for further evaluations: So anyone who is interested in our work is welcome to contact me. We are currently preparing larger publications in international journals. The same applies to a research volume that will provide comprehensive information on AleutBio results. On our website we regularly report on new publications. There will be a lot more to come in the next few years. 

The research collaboration with Russia is still on hold. What will become of your connections with Russian colleagues?
There are currently no working relationships, and friendships that have developed over decades are in deep crisis. Some colleagues have more or less taken Putin’s side in the Ukraine war, which I cannot accept. A lot of trust has been lost there. We hear about repression and denunciations at Russian institutes and know that some scientists have left their country. Putin has done enormous damage to the cooperation of Russian researchers with foreign colleagues. 

Die Bühne in der Kongresshalle am Zoo Leipzig hielt dem Ansturm der Schülerinnen und Schüler stand. © MIKA-fotografie | Berlin

© Chong Chen, JAMSTEC

Newly discovered organisms of the deep sea, photographed from different perspectives: A, B: Starfish, C: Worm molluscs.

What do you have planned next?
For the time being, I am fully occupied with evaluating the samples from our expedition. I don’t expect to be in charge of the expedition again; AleutBio was my last major effort in this respect. This also has to do with the long lead time for such expeditions. After all, we wait up to four years for ship time to be approved and I would then be slowly approaching retirement age. That’s why I’m now passing on the baton to the younger generation. Currently, I am supporting the Atlantic expedition of a colleague. She has already been on several trips with the research ships Meteor and Sonne to investigate questions in the Atlantic Ocean similar to those we are working on in the Pacific. This fall, I’m going on an expedition to the Japan Trench with students. If we found the same species there as we did in the Aleutian Trench, that would be spectacular, of course. 

Will you report on your expedition and its results at one of the next GDNÄ meetings?
With pleasure.

Paul Mühlenhoff © Stefan Diesel

© Privat

Prof. Dr. Angelika Brandt, marine biologist and expedition leader.

Interview with Angelika Brandt in the cultural programme of Saarländischer Rundfunk SR2

About the person

Marine biologist Prof. Dr. Angelika Brandt is a member of the board of directors at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt am Main. There, she heads the Department of Marine Zoology as well as the Sections for Crustaceans and Fish Science. At the same time, she is Professor of Special Zoology at Frankfurt Goethe University. Previously, Angelika Brandt was a professor at the University of Hamburg for 22 years and headed the university’s Zoological Museum from September 2004 to October 2009. The 62-year-old researches the biodiversity of the macrofauna in the deep sea and in the polar regions, specialising in the group of marine isopods. For her research, Angelika Brandt has so far taken part in 30 ship expeditions – several times in a leading role. In recognition of her extraordinary research achievements and her commitment to the protection of the deep sea, a new species of deep-sea isopod was recently named Austroniscus brandtae. Angelika Brandt is Chair of the Biology Group at the 2024 GDNÄ conference in Potsdam.

Further Information:

Paul Mühlenhoff © Stefan Diesel

© 2022, Thomas Walter, Expedition SO293 AleutBio

Das Forschungsschiff „Sonne“ vor dem Auslaufen im Hafen von Unalaska.

AleutBio figures

  • 38 researchers from 12 nations
  • 16 participating institutions
  • 3631 nautical miles traveled
  • 7230 meters of depth reached (Aleutian Trench)
  • 44 days, 2 hours, 34 minutes on board
  • 952 sampled sites
  • 643 kilometers of deep-sea cable laid

Contact for bachelor and master theses on AleutBio:

Prof. Dr. Angelika Brandt angelika.brandt@senckenberg.de

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. 

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

© UDE

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.

DLR_Anke_Kaysser-Pyzalla

© UDE

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.

Further information: