Shaping the Research Landscape in the New German States

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.

The Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ 

What is today the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ was founded in 1991 on the site of the former Institutes of Isotope and Radiation Research and Biotechnology of the East German Academy of Sciences. The new large-scale research institution, then known as the UFZ Umweltforschungszentrum (Environmental Research Centre) Leipzig-Halle GmbH, opened its doors on 2 January 1992 and was made a new member in the forerunner organisation of the Helmholtz Association. The UFZ has locations in Leipzig, Halle, and Magdeburg, an experimental station in Bad Lauchstädt and a lysimeter station in Falkenberg. It changed its name to Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in 2006 and currently employs a total staff of nearly 900.

More about the history of the UFZ 

The Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences

The Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences was founded as a large-scale research institution in 1992 on the site of the former East German Central Institute of Physics of the Earth, and its infrastructure was improved considerably over the following five years. Starting out with a staff of 290 scientists and researchers (currently there are 1,000), it became a member in the forerunner organisation of the Helmholtz Association. As the first institution worldwide to conduct research in all the earth sciences, from geodesy to geoengineering, the GFZ takes an interdisciplinary approach, and its scientists work closely with researchers from the fields of physics, mathematics and chemistry and with engineers specialising in rock mechanics, engineering hydrology and engineering seismology. The centre was renamed Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences in 2008. 

More about the history of the GFZ

The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch 

The Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch was established in 1992 with the goal of using insights gained from the basic building blocks of life to develop new methods for diagnosing and treating serious illnesses. Over 800 scientists work towards that goal today, combining molecular-biological basic research with clinical research. The MDC developed out of the East German Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine and Biology, which was a renowned centre for research on cancer and cardiovascular diseases that closely integrated basic and clinical research. After German reunification, the three former East German central institutes for cancer research, cardiovascular research and molecular biology became the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC) Berlin-Buch. The two research clinics that had belonged to the central institutes became incorporated into the Charité University Hospital of the Humboldt University of Berlin. The MDC joined the predecessor of the Helmholtz Association around the same time.

More about the history of the MDC 

Satellite locations of Helmholtz Centres:

The Berlin-Adlershof site of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) has been tackling major issues in aerospace and transportation research since 1992. It arose from the Institute of Cosmos Research (IKF), which was established in 1981 and had roots reaching back to East Germany’s participation in the Inter Cosmos Programme and East Germany’s research body for Cosmic Electronics and Institute of Electronics. In 1990 the IKF and the DLR signed an agreement with the aim of coordinating the work of the two institutions. The IKF’s expertise in the areas of extraterrestrial physics, spectrometric remote sensing and the development of optoelectronic sensor systems was thus maintained and integrated into reunified Germany’s new research landscape. Two DLR institutes were established in Berlin-Adlershof in 1992 and merged into the Institute of Space Science Technology and Planetary Research in 1999. The Institute of Transport Research joined in 2001. (More about the Institute of Technology and Planetary Research and the Institute of Transport Research)

The Greifswald branch of the Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics (associated member of the Helmholtz Association) was established in 1994 on the recommendation of the European fusion research programme and with the aim of invigorating research in the new German states. Greifswald had been home to East Germany’s renowned Institute of Low-Temperature Plasma Physics. The IPP and the University of Greifswald signed an agreement in 1994 governing cooperation between the two institutions in the field of fusion-oriented plasma physics. An experimental stellarator (nuclear fusion reactor) called WENDELSTEIN 7-X is currently being built at the IPP, and the University of Greifswald has since solidified its reputation as a centre of fusion research. Another important milestone for the integration of East German plasma research into the European fusion research programme was the transformation of the former East German Academy of Sciences’ Central Institute of Electron Physics into the Max Planck Society as a branch of the IPP, which was founded in 1992 on the recommendation of the German Science Council. This branch was incorporated into the Greifswald branch in 2003. (More about the Greifswald branch)

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has had a site in Neustrelitz since 1992. The former satellite ground station in Neustrelitz received a positive evaluation from the DLR in 1990 and from the German Science Council in 1991. The evaluation resulted in a recommendation that operation of the facility be continued, albeit with a new strategic alignment and under the stewardship of the DLR, and the “Neustrelitz Remote Sensing Station” was established as a new branch of the DLR in 1992. The R&D work carried out on site focuses on satellite-based Earth observation and navigation, a profile which aligns the site with others in the GMES and GALILEO European research programmes. The national ground segment is a department of the German Remote Sensing Data Centre and employs about 60 scientists, engineers and clerical staff. (More about the DLR Neustrelitz site)

The Potsdam Research Unit of the Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research (AWI) evolved from the former East German Central Institute of Physics of the Earth, which played a prominent role in polar research and was also located at Telegrafenberg in Potsdam. Its research focuses on polar land masses, terrestrial geoscience in the periglacial regions (at the margins of inland ice sheets and in permafrost regions) and experimental investigations and modelling of atmospheric processes in the polar regions. Partly due to the site’s historical legacy – researchers here cooperated closely with Soviet scientists before the Iron Curtain fell in 1989 – polar research conducted at the AWI concentrates on the permafrost regions of Siberia and on the Svalbard archipelago in the Arctic Ocean, two areas that are key to understanding climate change in Europe. (More about the Potsdam Research Unit)

Work at the GKSS Research Centre Geesthacht’s Teltow site (Centre for Biomaterial Development) has traditionally focused on polymer research. The research conducted at the Institute of Polymer Chemistry (the former Institute of Fibre Research) of the East German Academy of Sciences received excellent evaluations after German reunification, enabling its 350 employees to find new positions at the new branch of the GKSS Research Centre Geesthacht and at other non-university research institutions. Today the GKSS Research Centre conducts polymer research both in the Centre for Biomaterial Development in Teltow and in Geesthacht. (More about the Centre for Biomaterial Development in Teltow)

The Zeuthen location of Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY was established in 1991 as the successor to East Germany’s Institute of High-Energy Physics (IfH). The Institute of High-Energy Physics had worked closely with the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research (Eastern Europe’s particle accelerator centre) in Dubna, Russia since its foundation. It also cooperated with CERN and DESY, participating in research on the H1 – one of the large particle detectors built for the HERA storage ring facility at DESY – from 1986 on. After a positive evaluation by independent experts in 1990, the Federal Republic of Germany signed an agreement with the state governments of Brandenburg and Hamburg in 1991 according to which the IfH Zeuthen would be incorporated into DESY. (More on DESY and its history in the anniversary brochure 50 Years of DESY in German)

Mergers, newly founded institutions and new members of Helmholtz Association

The Helmholtz Centre Berlin for Materials and Energy (HZB) was created in January 2009 when the Hahn-Meitner Institute (HMI), which was a member of Helmholtz Association, merged with the Berliner Elektronenspeicherring-Gesellschaft für Synchrotronstrahlung BESSY (BESSY II). The latter had been a member of the Leibniz Association until the merger brought it into the Helmholtz Association. The older of the two institutes, the HMI, was founded in Berlin-Wannsee in 1959. The two scientists after which it was named, Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn, and the Governing Mayor of Berlin at the time, Willi Brandt, attended the inauguration ceremony on 14 March 1959. Construction of BESSY II began in March 1993 on the former premises of the East German Academy of Sciences in Berlin-Adlershof, and the new High Brilliance Synchrotron Radiation Source, as BESSY II is also known, was launched in September 1998. 

More on the history of the HZB, HMI and BESSY


The new German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE)

The German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) was founded in April 2009 – the first entirely new Helmholtz centre to be founded since German reunification. In addition to its headquarters in Bonn, it has six branch locations, including the following ones in the new federal states that once were part of East Germany:

  • Rostock/Greifswald site: Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania is regarded as a model with regard to demographic change, as it is currently experiencing demographic issues other German states are not likely to face for another 20 or 30 years. The DZNE is working with the universities and university clinics in Rostock and Greifswald to address the needs of individuals afflicted with dementia and test and establish new approaches to providing medical care for this growing segment of the population. 
  • Magdeburg site: The work done here takes a multidisciplinary approach to research on the mechanisms underlying neuromodulation as well as the therapeutic perspectives it offers. Researchers focus on processes that unfold similarly in animals and humans with the aim of developing functional biomarkers for the early diagnosis of degenerative dementias and identifying the effects of new cognitive and physiological structures at the molecular, cellular and systemic levels. 
  • Dresden site: Research here focuses on how the plasticity of the adult brain and the aging brain determines the brain’s ability to compensate for degenerative processes. The scientists hope to harness the results of stem-cell and plasticity research to aid in the prevention and treatment of neurodegenerative diseases and develop biologically-based strategies to stimulate the body’s potential for compensation and regeneration.

More on the founding of the DZNE 

Forschungszentrum Dresden-Rossendorf 

On the recommendation of the German Science Council, the Forschungszentrum Dresden-Rossendorf (FZD), now a member of the Leibniz Association, will become the Helmholtz Centre Dresden-Rossendorf (HZDR) as of January 2011. The FZD currently operates six large-scale research facilities, including the ELBE Radiation Source, an Ion-Beam Center and a High-Magnetic Field Laboratory. In addition to its headquarters in Dresden, the FZD maintains a research site in Leipzig and the Rossendorf Beamline (ROBL) at the ESRF in Grenoble/France. The FZD evolved from the Central Institute for Nuclear Research (ZfK), which was East Germany’s largest nuclear research facility. The ZfK was dissolved in 1991 and replaced in 1992 by two new institutions housed on the premises, Verein für Kernverfahrenstechnik und Analytik (VKTA) Rossendorf e. V. and the FZD.

More on Forschungszentrum Dresden-Rossendorf 

Helmholtz Institute Jena 

The Helmholtz Institute Jena (HIJ) focuses on research based on accelerated particles and ultrahigh-power lasers. Its partner institutions are the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Deutsches Elektronensynchrotron and Friedrich Schiller University Jena. 

Participation in the Cutting-edge Research and Innovation in the New Länder programme of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Helmholtz Centres have been successful in the second round of the Cutting-edge Research and Innovation in the New Länder programme, a new funding instrument created by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. A competence centre for Thin-Film and Nanotechnology for Photovoltaics is currently being established under the stewardship of the Helmholtz Centre Berlin. In addition, the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam and the AWI are participating in PROGRESS, a joint project focusing on research dealing with natural hazards, climate change and sustainability. The Helmholtz Centre Potsdam was also acknowledged for the joint projects GeoE and GeoX, in which technologies are being developed to enable the climate-friendly and sustainable use of resources.

Promoting scientific talent in the New States

Little Scientist's House

The Little Scientist's House initiative was established nationwide two years ago. Today any preschool in the federal states of Thuringia, Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony that wants to can have a Little Scientist's House of its own.

  • In Thuringia the initiative is funded by the Stiftung Bildung für Thüringen (Foundation for Education in Thuringia), and the state’s Ministry of Education supports it on a regional level by assigning teachers to the project.
  • In Saxony-Anhalt and Saxony the networks are funded by a number of chambers of industry and commerce and chambers of crafts, and the respective ministries in both states have signed cooperation agreements. 
  • In Saxony a pledge to provide support for pre-schools wishing to establish Little Scientist's Houses has been incorporated into the state government’s coalition agreement. The initiative was able to welcome the 10,000th preschool to come on board along with Governor Tillich in Dresden. 
  • Saxony-Anhalt will be the first German state to offer primary school teachers further training from the Little Scientist's House foundation, extending the initiative to include six to ten-year-olds.

To the Little Scientist's House initiative

The Helmholtz School Lab Network 

The Helmholtz Association believes it is important to inspire the next generation of young scientists and researchers by stimulating an interest in science and technology early on. Its school labs are one successful example of its work in this area. They are now established in 25 locations throughout Germany and are visited by around 50,000 school-age children each year. In the new German Länder, the DESY centre in Zeuthen, the Greifswald site of the Max Planck Institute of Plasma Physics, the Helmholtz Centre Potsdam - GFZ German Research Centre for Geosciences and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ are actively involved in the initiative, working with numerous schools and providing special training for teachers. The centres have also participated in the “Science Summers” organised by the Science in Dialogue initiative from the very outset.

To the Helmholtz Association's School Labs Network

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