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Research in Germany

By Carolin Schlack

Anyone wanting to work on first-class research projects will find a wide range with hundreds of scientific institutions in Germany. The extramural research facilities, in particular, which are by international standards excellently equipped and organised, offer ideal conditions for top-class researchers.

Research in Germany© c-mone - Photocase.deScientific institutions in Germany offer ideal conditions for top-class researchers
At a Germany-wide level, the research landscape is determined by four outstanding and highly prestigious institutions: Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft, Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, Leibniz-Gemeinschaft and Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. The Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities with its eight scientific academies constitutes a further research association. These organisations form specific research centres that provide state-of-the-art conditions for achieving the ambitious aims of individual research projects.

The Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft» with an annual budget of approximately 2.35 billion euros and its 15 research centres is the largest scientific organisation in Germany. Scientists in the Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft research innovative and complex solutions of economic and societal relevance. The centres enjoy immense international renown, resulting not only from Nobel Prizes as awarded, for example, in 2007 to the Physicist Prof. Peter Grünberg, who works at the Jülich Research Centre.

With 56 research facilities, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft» is the largest organisation for applied research in Germany. It collaborates closely with industry; one third of its research volume is financed by the German Federal Government, two thirds through service and industrial companies. Important sources of income include, for example, contract research projects that are made available to industry. As a result, its research is practice- and engineering-oriented, producing research results intended to find immediate application in industry. In addition to the natural sciences, the Leibniz-Gemeinschaft» focuses strongly on the humanities, social sciences and economics. With its 82 research facilities, it co-operates with universities, institutions in other research organisations and commercial enterprises at a national and international level. Research at a Leibniz Institute always forms a unit of excellence: the research here is interdisciplinary and combines basic research with applied research.

The Max-Planck-Gesellschaft» (MPG) with its 78 Max-Planck-Institutes carries out high-class fundamental research in the natural, biological and social sciences and the humanities, with the distinctive feature that the institutes choose their topics themselves. The society is known for time-consuming top-quality research that receives special financial support. So far, 17 Nobel Prizes alone have gone to scientists at Max-Planck-Institutes, most recently the 2007 Nobel Prize for Chemistry to MPI Director Gerhard Ertl.

Targeted sponsorship from the German Federal Government

The Federal Government seeks to advance Germany's pioneering role in research and commerce through targeted sponsorship. First-class technologies are to open up future markets at a global level by means of initiatives and sponsorship programmes such as the current "Hightech Strategy" (see below). A representative and economically attractive topic is climate protection: environmental engineering is proving an extremely popular German export, achieving a global market share of between 8 and 31 percent, depending on the field. The aim is to take advantage of this growing market. Therefore, the Federal Government is increasing its financial support for 2008 to a total of 3.3 billion euros, which are earmarked for climate protection measures.

A research project is given special priority for sponsorship if commercial enterprises collaborate with universities or extramural research institutions. How this works in practice may be seen from the following example: Among the various fields of technology that are sponsored is regenerative energy production, which includes geothermal power plants. First steps towards this method of producing power were taken in 2003 with the pilot project in Neustadt-Glewe (Mecklenburg-Vorpommern): the German Research Centre for Geosciences (a research centre of the Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft) and the company Erdwärme-Kraft GbR Berlin played a significant role in opening the first geo-thermal power plant located in Germany. The challenge for research here is to handle issues relating to technical and geographical possibilities, increasing energy yield while keeping the cost of power production affordable for end users. Further projects of this type are already being planned.

Hightech Strategy

The Hightech Strategy is a strategy of the German Federal Government with the aim of regaining Germany's leading position among the world's most important future markets and strengthening Germany as a location for research. It sponsors co-operations and joint projects between industry and science. A total of 15 billion euros are to be made available for cutting-edge technologies and technology-independent horizontal measures until 2009. The Hightech Strategy was ratified in August 2006.
Particularly when it comes to climate protection, various interest groups and organisations will often work together to achieve a common aim; a further example is one of the most comprehensive research projects carried out at a global level: the international research programme "Climate Variability and Predictability" (CLIVAR) is part of the World Climate Research Programme (WCRP).
Between 2002 and 2005, Germany participated in a project researching the variations of the global climate system with renowned research institutions and universities. The project was co-ordinated by the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research; numerous other project partners, such as the Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency, the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences in Kiel, the Max-Planck-Institute for Meteorology, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, and institutes of the universities of Bremen, Hamburg and Münster were also involved.

academics :: August 2008