This month marks 40 years since the birth of Germany's young researchers competition. "Jugend forscht" is designed to both trigger a scientific interest among youngsters and promote long-term research in the country.
Young German researchers could be looking at a bright future
Back in December 1965, Germany's weekly news magazine Stern ran an advertisement which said "we're looking for tomorrow's researchers."
Thus far, the competitive project has not spawned any Nobel Prize winners, but given that most of those who are invited to Stockholm to collect the prestigious prize are over 60 and that "Jugend forscht" (or "Youth researches") has only been running for four decades, that's not entirely surprising.
Nobel Prize medallion
Although the competition's managing director, Uta Krautkrämer, would be delighted to see the Nobel Prize go to a German, she stressed that just taking part in the young researchers' project is a great way to further a scientific career.
"We provide participants with contacts and opportunities for internships in prestigious establishments such as the Max-Planck Institute or the Frauenhofer Institute," she said, adding that a competition entry on a resume shows potential employers that the candidate has initiative and comes up with independent and innovative ideas.
Creativite teaching equals creative thinking
"Jugend forscht" is not only designed to encourage committed youngsters to get competitive, but also to capture the imagination of unsuspecting school children. And that can't start early enough.
Ulrich Hagemann, a teacher at the Johann-Gottfried-Herter high school in Cologne, said teachers have to work in creative ways if they wish to encourage creative thinking in their pupils.
Can't start them early enough
"Children in the lower years are overflowing with ideas, and the difficult thing is sometimes that they are impossible to implement," Hagemann said. "In such cases, we have to channel the children's energy into realistic projects."
He added that it is crucial to encourage children by pointing out the possibilities inherent in their suggestions.
Science study too dull
Nonetheless, by the time youngsters reach the average age for taking part in the competition -- between 16 and 21 -- they have often grown dismissive of the sciences altogether. Krautkrämer-Wagner said only a handful of establishments are actively involved in promoting a healthy interest in science.
Being allowed to experiment can fuel kids' interest in science
"The problem is that science classes don't offer enough by way of practical study and are thus unattractive for young people," Krautkrämer-Wagner said. She would like to see that situation reversed, not least because of an ongoing interest within the industry in nurturing emerging talent.
"It is important that different groups are involved," Krautkrämer-Wagner said. "We are linked to research institutes, foundations and associations, which I think shows pupils how well-supported the project is."
Proving that point is crucial if the competition is to continue to grow.