From loose association to community: Our history
Helmholtz combines excellence - and has done so for decades. Our Association started as a loose association of research centers. Today, we are Germany's largest research institution.
Then as now, we are united by the conviction that questions of relevance to society can only be answered through joint research by leading institutions.
The Research Centers form
Our origins lie in early nuclear research: In 1958, representatives of the Karlsruhe and Jülich Research Centers, which were still being established at the time, the Gesellschaft für Kernenergieverwertung in Schiffbau und Schiffahrt (Society for the Utilization of Nuclear Energy in Shipbuilding and Shipping) (today: Hereon) and the nuclear research institutes of a number of universities met to discuss the development of safe and efficient reactors. Together, they found the "Working Committee for Administrative and Operational Questions of the German Reactor Stations".
Initially, this committee is primarily concerned with exchanging experience on operational and safety issues, but soon other topics supplement the discussions: Questions about training and salaries or patent handling become relevant.
In the 1960s, centers join our Association that have to solve similar issues in other fields of science: Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY, for example, but also the Gesellschaft für Strahlenforschung (today: Helmholtz-Zentrum München), the Deutsche Forschungs- und Versuchsanstalt für Luft- und Raumfahrt (today: German Aerospace Center) and the Gesellschaft für Schwerionenforschung.
Relationship with the state is clarified
This association of research centers gives itself a structure and statutes. At the beginning of 1970, the representatives of the centers found the "Arbeitsgemeinschaft der Großforschungseinrichtungen" (AGF) and decide on guidelines for the relationship with politics: The state is to define basic tasks in partnership. The implementation of the tasks, however, is to be the responsibility of the research centers themselves.
Other institutions follow: In 1975, the German Cancer Research Center becomes a member of the consortium, followed a year later by the Society for Biotechnological Research (today: Helmholtz Center for Infection Research). In 1983, the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research becomes a member. And after reunification, the Association accepts newly founded centers from the eastern German states: the GeoForschungsZentrum Potsdam, the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine and the UFZ Environmental Research Centre Leipzig-Halle (today: Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ).
Strength and excellence through integration and greater autonomy
In 1995, the AGF finally transforms into the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers. Since then, a high-ranking senate has been making recommendations on important issues of content and structure, such as thematic priorities, the practice of joint appointments with universities, and the principles of the review process.
In 2001, the loose association of the community becomes a registered Association of legally independent members. The core of this reform is program-oriented funding. The financing of our research is thus radically transformed: it is carried out on a superordinate basis at the level of the Association.
To date, we have designed a total of 30 cross-center research programs, which have been thoroughly reviewed by internationally renowned experts with regard to their strategic relevance and scientific excellence.
Since the reform, the Association has been headed by a full-time president. With the Initiative and Networking Fund, this post has an effective funding instrument to set strategic and content-related priorities and to promote scientific excellence with the necessary critical mass. The Initiative and Networking Fund creates an incentive system that promotes internal scientific competition.
Since 2007, each of the Association's Research Fields has been represented on the Helmholtz Presidential Board by a vice president. In addition, the commercial sector also provides two representatives for this post.
As a result of the reforms of recent years, Helmholtz has achieved a high level of dynamism: the significance of the Helmholtz Association as Germany's largest scientific organization is growing steadily, also in terms of international perception.
This radiance attracts further members: In 2009, the Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie emerges from the merger of the former Hahn-Meitner-Institut Berlin and the Berlin Electron Storage Ring Society for Synchrotron Radiation (BESSY). In the same year, the newly founded German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) also joins the Association.
In 2011, the Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) became part of Helmholtz, and in 2012 the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR) transformed into GEOMAR - Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel. CISPA - Helmholtz Centre for Information Security has been a member of the Helmholtz Association since January 1, 2019 and researches information security in all its facets.