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Max-Planck: World-Class Science

Germany has many reasons to be proud of what it has achieved over the past 50 years. One of those achievements is the success story of the Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science.

Max-Planck: World-Class Science© sebstian kaulitzki - Fotolia.com
For more than half a century, it has been an icon of outstanding basic research in the life sciences, the natural sciences and the humanities.

Max Planck scientists perform their research at the frontiers of knowledge. They seek answers to fundamental questions, and the work they do with their discoveries and insights contributes significantly to the future of our country. They provide important foundations for innovations that significantly impact our economy and society. They train thousands of junior scientists, submit patent applications, generate revenues through licenses, set up companies and create jobs. Thus, in the long run, investing in basic research of the highest quality pays off many times over.

The Max Planck Society enjoys an excellent reputation both at home and abroad. As a "forger of Nobel Laureates", it cuts a highly prominent figure in the German research landscape. It can hold its own in the global competition for the best minds like no other scientific organization in the country. This competitiveness is one of the key location factors in today's world - and will be that much more so in tomorrow's. Scientific publications, patents and highly qualified junior scientists substantiate the quality of the research done at Max Planck Institutes.

Freedom with social responsibility

Like freedom of art, freedom of science is one of the cornerstones of a democratic community such as the Federal Republic of Germany. The Max Planck Society assumes the social responsibility for this freedom and endeavors to achieve scientific excellence, not just by national comparison, but also by rigorous international comparison. That is why all of the institutes, and even the individual research fields, submit to regular strict performance evaluations by independent evaluation committees comprising the world's highest ranking experts.

At the frontiers of knowledge

Like many developments in art and culture, scientific discoveries, too, can seldom be foreseen - and certainly not planned. They grow out of the creativity, courage and intellectual independence of researchers and research groups who dare to tread new scientific territory. Frequently, basic research results in key insights that fundamentally change people's lives, sometimes surprising even the experts.

Basic research seeks answers at the place where our knowledge of the world currently ends, at the threshold of the unknown. It inquires about the fundamental principles of our existence, about man's place in the world, about our biological origins and the functions of the body and the spirit, and about the mechanisms of disease and healing - or, as Goethe put it, about "whatever holds the world together in its inmost folds".

Basic research does not directly aim to develop applications, therapies or technologies - it does more: it creates the basis for all applications. From new medical methods and innovative materials for industry to intelligent communication technologies and methods for providing services of general interest and protecting the environment: today, nearly every area of our lives is shaped by findings that were originally developed by basic researchers. Their work is at the very beginning of the knowledge value chain.

From insight to application

Max Planck scientists make groundbreaking discoveries, create new medical applications, unearth the basic materials of the future and advise politics, business and society on urgent questions concerning the development of our country.
Cancer research provides another example: a team of researchers led by Prof. Axel Ullrich at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry studies the causes of cancer. A few years ago, the researchers discovered that cancer begins in the form of diseased cells that no longer follow the body's usual instructions. In one type of breast cancer, they found that the disrupted biochemical communication, and thus tumor formation, was caused by the multiplication of certain receptors (protein molecules on the cell surface) by as much as a hundred-fold in some cases. The Max Planck researchers developed a specific antibody against these receptors. Today, the antibodies are marketed under the trade name Herceptin® and are being used as a drug against certain types of breast cancer - with success. The Max Planck Institute for Human Development, in turn, devised the German portion of the much-discussed PISA study - in other words, it performed basic research for implementation in politics. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute of Metals Research succeeded in developing high-performance ceramics with completely novel application possibilities in the automotive industry and engine construction. Scientists at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry used miltefosine to create an active substance against the often deadly disease leishmaniasis. According to the estimate of the World Health Organization, twelve million people worldwide suffer from this tropical disease. The new drug has a 98-percent success rate. The same Institute also produced the patent for the so-called FLASH method. This method facilitated faster and more detailed imaging of internal organs, thus reducing the burden on patients, and led to the breakthrough of magnetic resonance imaging in routine clinical procedures.

Max Planck Society :: December 2008