Helmholtz Association

Universal scholar with a sense for the practical

There are good reasons why the Helmholtz Association bears the name of Hermann von Helmholtz, one of the greatest natural scientists of the 19th century. Hermann von Helmholtz stands for the whole diversity of scientific research with an orientation towards technological practice. He was one of the last true universal scholars. Helmholtz reflected a natural science which spanned the fields of medicine, physics and chemistry. His groundbreaking research work and developments combined theory, experiment and practical application. Helmholtz founded the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt (PTR) and served as its first president. The PTR was the world's first scientific research centre outside the university sector and so counts as a predecessor to the Helmholtz Association.
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From a loose-knit network to an association

Over the course of 40 years, what used to be the working committee of a loosely-affiliated community of research centres has become the Helmholtz Association. Formed in 1958 as a "working committee for administrative and operational affairs in German reactor control stations", the initial focus was on the exchange of experience related to operational and safety issues, but soon the focus was expanded to include topics that still concern the large research centres today. These involve questions of strategic orientation, training, remuneration and patent management, all of which are of great importance for the advancement of excellent research and its practical and commercial application. Today, seventeen national research centres contribute to solving the major challenges facing society, science and industry today with strategically focused and programme-oriented cutting-edge research in the six core fields of Energy, Earth and Environment, Health, Key Technologies, Structure of Matter, Aeronautics, Space and Transport.
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Shaping the Research Landscape in the New German Länder

Targeted funding policies have made it possible to expand and develop numerous research institutions in the new states in eastern Germany during the 20 years since reunification. The Helmholtz Association, which in 1990 was still a loose grouping of large-scale research institutions, has also systematically promoted selected scientific institutions in the new German states. Examples include the Helmholtz centres in Leipzig, Potsdam and Berlin-Buch, as well as several former East German research institutions, which were incorporated and expanded as branches of large Helmholtz centres. This long-term approach has contributed to maintaining the research landscape in eastern Germany and fostering scientific work at the highest level.

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