Germany shows commitment to scientific research | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 12.10.2009
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Germany shows commitment to scientific research

Making sure that Germany remains internationally competitive in the field of science is a question of both funds and creativity.

A young man wearing rubber lab gloves holds up transparent plastic vials filled with a red liquid

Germany is spending more on research

Latest statistics show that research and development funding in Germany has continually increased over the past few years. According to Germany's federal statistical office, non-university research institutions alone spent 8.5 billion euros ($12.5 billion) on research and development in 2007 - a 4.7 percent increase from the previous year. For 2009, the federal government planned a 10-billion-euro investment in this area.

Universities, research institutes and the industry are viewed as the "three pillars" that support German scientific research - a field that has undergone much change in recent years.

Striving for excellence

The main building of the RWTH University, with people going in an out through its doors

RWTH Aachen - one of Germany's "excellence universities"

One of these changes can be seen in the so-called Excellence Initiative, thanks to which 1.9 billion euros in public money will be invested into cutting-edge university research by 2012. This program is carried out by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

"Looking back at the last two years, you have to admit that there has never before been a measure or initiative in German science that has created so much dynamic," said DFG President Matthias Kleiner. "And this includes both the successful and not so successful activities."

Nine German schools have proven that they can contribute something new to cutting-edge research and can officially call themselves "excellence universities."

In addition, there are 40 new graduate schools offering structured postgraduate programs and around 40 so-called "Excellence Clusters," in which university experts and scientists cooperate in research field development.

Working with the best

These "Excellence Clusters" often involve working together with the Max Planck Society - a group of 76 institutes Germany-wide that conduct basic research in the interest of the general public. Several thousand scientists work at these institutes in areas such as biology, chemistry, medicine and humanities.

Harald zur Hausen in a laboratory, dressed in a white coat and smiling

Harald zur Hausen won the Nobel Prize for his cancer and virus research

Another of Germany's renowned research organizations is the Helmholtz Association, whose mission is "strategic research in the national interest," according to its president Juergen Mlynek. This involves "taking on projects that a university or a smaller research institute sometimes cannot take on."

The Helmholtz Association regularly attracts attention through its research achievements. These include breakthroughs - like finding the link between a viral infection and cervical cancer. For this discovery, scientist Harald zur Hausen was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2008.

Another of the Association's recent achievements was the development of a tsunami warning system in response to the 2004 tsunami disaster in South-East Asia.

Industry support is vital

Apart from universities and research centers, industry is the third "pillar" of German science. Industry-based research institutes spend roughly twice as much money on research as government institutes.

A young man wearing special glasses and holding a gadget, surrounded by projected computer images, as part of computer simulation research

The RWTH University wants to create a better industry connection for its science students

However, this does not necessarily have to be seen as competition, since numerous businesses work together with universities on innovative projects. A good example of such cooperation is the Rhenish-Westphalian University of Aachen (RWTH), which is currently setting up a new science campus to strengthen its industry connection. The project was initiated by Guenther Schuh, a production engineering professor at the university.

"For industries this is certainly the most cost-efficient way of developing core capabilities in new knowledge areas and technologies," said Schuh.

Overall, there is a lot going on in the world of German research. Many things are being done to strengthen the cooperation between universities, research institutes and industry - all for the sake of cutting-edge research.

Author: Britta Mersch (ew)

Editor: Kate Bowen

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