Helmholtz Monthly 05/24
75 years of academic freedom in the Basic Law
GEOMAR new building officially opened
May jellyfish dominate the future Arctic Ocean?
Three questions for environmental chemist Hanna Joerss
“Europe concerns all of us” - Otmar D. Wiestler‘s point of view
Dear Readers,

The European elections are just over a week away. Some 373 million voters in the 27 member states will be able to decide who will sit in the European Parliament until 2029. An election that will set the course in many respects – including for European research, as Helmholtz President Otmar D. Wiestler explains in the Point of View. Also: Helmholtz was represented at re:publica, Europe‘s largest digital conference. Artificial intelligence in all its forms was one of the dominant topics. Also: A new study shows why jellyfish are benefiting from climate change and spreading further north.

Martin Trinkaus, Online Manager
Talk of the Month
75 years of academic freedom in the Basic Law
  A few days ago, the German Basic Law celebrated its 75th birthday and with it the freedom of science enshrined in Article 5 (3). On this day, the Helmholtz Association sent out a clear signal with a social media campaign under the motto “Science in Freedom”: “Only on the basis of scientific freedom can we find solutions to the great challenges of our time,” says Helmholtz President Otmar D. Wiestler. The Federal Government took the anniversary as an opportunity to invite guests to a major democracy celebration. Helmholtz was represented with a pavilion at the celebrations in the government district. 
Hostility towards researchers on the rise
  Hostility towards researchers is a serious problem and has recently increased. This is the conclusion reached by the project network “Capacities and competencies in dealing with hate speech and hostility towards science (KAPAZ)” in a nationwide representative study. The results of the survey included responses from 2,600 scientists. The attacks ranged from hate speech to death threats and were a burden for the respondents. The hostility is not limited to the digital space and does not only affect certain areas of research. This also threatens to reduce the willingness to engage in scientific exchange and communication. Training could help those affected to deal with such situations.
Helmholtz at the re:publica 2024
  Internet activists and representatives from politics, media and science met in Berlin to discuss the state and future of the digital society. One of the dominant topics at Europe's largest conference of its kind was artificial intelligence in all its forms. The Helmholtz Association was also present. Under the title "Open for science and open to the world", the Helmholtz Foundation Model Initiative presented its pilot projects. Simon Eickhoff from Forschungszentrum Jülich spoke about how AI can read individual characteristics and personality traits from brain scans. The question of how researchers can defend themselves against hate and threats was also discussed.
Helmholtz Community
GEOMAR new building officially opened
  An impressive research building has been constructed at Kiel’s Seefischmarkt over the past seven years. In addition to modern laboratories, offices for around 500 employees, climate chambers and seawater connections as well as two berths for research vessels, the new building offers numerous places for scientific exchange. It unites all four research areas, administration and central facilities of the GEOMAR Helmholtz Center for Ocean Research under one roof. The new building has now been officially opened in the presence of Federal Research Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger and the Minister President of Schleswig-Holstein Daniel Günther.
CISPA Director meets Macron in Dresden
  Michael Backes, Director of the CISPA Helmholtz Center for Information Security, participated in a panel discussion with Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and French President Emmanuel Macron at the Fraunhofer Institute in Dresden. Topics of the discussion included trustworthy artificial intelligence and cybersecurity. “It was a pleasure to see how much Emmanuel Macron values the Franco-German friendship,” Backes commented on the meeting on his LinkedIn channel. Dresden was one of the stops on Macron’s state visit to Germany at the end of May.
Helmholtz Imaging Conference in Heidelberg
  In mid-May, researchers from the Helmholtz Centers with expertise in imaging met for their annual conference in Heidelberg. The focus was on the latest developments in image analysis, data acquisition and the practical applications of imaging technologies in various fields of research. In the “Bring Your Own Imaging Challenge” format, participants were able to present a problem and search for solutions together with the others. Another highlight was the award ceremony for the winners of the Best Scientific Image Contest.
May jellyfish dominate the future Arctic Ocean?
New AWI study shows that jellyfish in the Arctic Ocean are profiting from climate change and spreading farther and farther north

In the future, jellyfish and other gelatinous zooplankton could be some of the few organism groups to benefit from climate change. As numerous studies have confirmed, the transparent cnidarians, ctenophores and pelagic tunicates thrive on rising water temperatures, but also on nutrient contamination and overfishing. When combined, these factors could produce a major shift in the ocean – from a productive, fish-dominated food chain to a far less productive ocean full of jellyfish. As such, many researchers are already warning of an impending ‘ocean jellification’, i.e., a worldwide rise in jellyfish populations. 

Despite their importance for all marine organisms, the transparent gelatinous organisms are often forgotten or neglected in ecological studies and model-based simulations. The study just released by Dmitrii Pantiukhin and his team closes an important gap in our knowledge, while also concentrating on a hotspot for climate change. “Of all the oceans, the Arctic Ocean is warming the fastest,” says the study’s first author. “In addition, roughly ten percent of global fishing yields come from the Arctic. As such, the High North is the ideal site for our research.”

These results clearly show how dramatically climate change could affect the ecosystems of the Arctic Ocean. “The projected expansion of the jellyfish habitats could have tremendous, cascading impacts on the entire food chain,” says AWI expert Dmitrii Pantiukhin. One question that remains open is how fish stocks in the Arctic would be affected by a jellyfish expansion. “There are many indications that key Arctic fish species like the polar cod, whose larvae and eggs are frequently eaten by jellyfish, will feel the pressure even more,” says ARJEL Group Leader Charlotte Havermans. “Therefore, our study offers an important basis for further research in this field. And management plans in the fishing sector urgently need to bear in mind this dynamic development in order to avoid the collapse of commercially exploited stocks but manage them sustainably.”

To the original publication

Picture: Scyphozoan Cyanea capillata (Photo: Joan J. Soto-Angel)


Night-time heat significantly increases the risk of stroke
In a recent study, researchers from Helmholtz Munich and the Augsburg University Hospital show that nocturnal heat significantly increases the risk of stroke. The findings can contribute to the development of preventive measures: With them, the population can better protect themselves against the risks of climate change with increasingly frequent hot nights. In addition, knowledge of the consequences of hot nights can improve patient care. Read more

How a new material could replace glass windows
Researchers at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) introduce a polymer-based material with unique properties in the latest issue of the journal Nature Communications. This material allows sunlight to enter, maintains a more comfortable indoor climate without additional energy, and cleans itself like a lotus leaf. The new development could replace glass components in walls and roofs in the future. The research team has successfully tested the material in outdoor tests on the KIT campus. Read more

One of 46,000

Hanna Joerss is an environmental chemist and deputy head of the Department for Organic Environmental Chemistry at the Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon. Photo: Helmholtz-Zentrum Hereon

What is the most exciting thing about your job?

It is exciting to take environmental samples in the most remote regions of the world to better understand the transport and behavior of organic pollutants. To do this, we go on research cruises and then analyze samples such as seawater from a depth of 3,000 meters, snow from the North Pole or ice cores from the Antarctic in the laboratory. I am particularly interested in the results for emerging pollutants on which little is known. Our work can provide initial data on the long-range transport of these substances, which is important for possible international regulation.

If money and time were no object, what would your next project be?

I would start a project on the role of certain chemicals for the triple planetary crisis – climate change, pollution and biodiversity loss. The three aspects are often considered individually at a scientific and political level, but not tackled jointly. It would be exciting to work with researchers from a wide range of disciplines in a case study region to understand links and identify options for action. An important component of the project would be a professional science communication team that involves politics and society from the beginning.

Who would you like to have dinner with and what would you talk about?

I would like to have dinner with Jutta Paulus, who is a Member of the European Parliament and an expert on chemicals policy. I would be very interested in how chemicals legislation comes about, how the various interest groups act and how we as researchers can best contribute.

Point of View
“Europe concerns all of us”
The elections to the European Parliament are about to take place; in Germany, elections will be held on June 9, 2024. A living democracy is a crucial cornerstone for fundamental freedoms, including that of research. A viewpoint by Otmar D. Wiestler.

The major issues of our time for science, the economy and society do not stop at borders – and it is of the utmost importance to tackle them together and at European level. Now more than ever.

In competition with other regions of the world and in the face of such immense challenges as climate change or the energy transition, no EU member state can succeed alone. In 21st century Europe, we should work together to advance the European project and not fall into the trap of prioritizing national interests.

Research can significantly contribute to the European project. Dedicated research collaborations across borders enable Europe to achieve its ambitious goals in areas such as health, energy, transport, environment, climate or digital transformation. There are enormous opportunities here.

In order to seize these opportunities, we need a democratic, effective and future-oriented European Parliament that is willing and able to act – and the same naturally applies to the European Commission and the Council, in which the Member States are represented. 

A large part of our legislation originates at European level. Thus, the European Parliament negotiates and co-decides on numerous research-related topics – including, for example, the European Health Data Space, new genomic techniques in plant breeding and the handling of Artificial Intelligence.

The European Parliament has been an important advocate for research in recent years repeatedly preventing the budget of Horizon Europe, the EU’s framework program for research and innovation, from being cut.

Horizon Europe promotes the European and international research cooperation that is so crucially important for finding answers to our complex questions. Among other things, the program brings together project partners with different expertise and methods from all over Europe and beyond. Only in this exchange can social and technological development be fostered.

Should extreme right-wing voices become louder in the European Parliament, this could also have a negative impact on research cooperation. And if the EU were to be less open, the attractiveness of Europe as a hub for research and innovation threatens to decline and deter international scientists. We cannot afford that.

Elections are democracy in action. They are also an opportunity to support and protect fundamental values such as academic freedom. The European Research Area, which is a kind of EU internal market for research, provides the essential framework for the excellent cooperation and open exchange of science outlined above. The ideas for shaping it are as diverse as its players. Often the details are disputed. In my view, the overall picture is clear:

Research and development at the highest international level are a decisive factor in shaping a sustainable future for Europe. This requires, not least, a European Parliament whose members recognize and acknowledge the value of research, actively contribute to the development of the research portfolio and base their decisions on science-based facts. Europe concerns all of us. In the elections to the European Parliament, we must set the right course.

(Photo: Helmholtz/Phil Dera)

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Published by: Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, Anna-Louisa-Karsch-Str.2, 10178 Berlin

Editors: Sebastian Grote, Franziska Roeder, Martin Trinkaus
Questions to the editors should be sent to monthly@helmholtz.de

Photo credit: Phil Dera (Editorial)

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