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Big Questions, Big Research Projects

“The Helmholtz Association is successfully tackling the pressing questions of society, science and the economy and is making tangible contributions towards resolving them.” This was the message of the President of the Helmholtz Association, Prof. Jürgen Mlynek, who spoke on 17th september 2009 at the Association’s Annual General Assembly in Berlin. He cited numerous examples of recent achievements, from gaining the Nobel Prize for Medicine to setting up the new Neumayer Station in Antarctica, from launching satellites for exploring the Earth to investigating unfamiliar sources of radiation, from devising new methods for diagnosing and treating common diseases to making progress in fusion research. “The Association is extremely dynamic and has shown that it can handle new challenges. We also have the right minds and the right tools to excel in research and management.”

The theme of the Helmholtz Association’s Annual General Assembly on the evening of 17 September 2009 was Große Fragen – große Forschung (“Big questions and big research projects”). In his speech, Prof. Mlynek stated that “we engage in research that both expands our understanding of phenomena in the natural world and provides for Germany’s future. That is our mission.” The event presented concrete examples of how Helmholtz researchers are fulfilling this mission in various areas, including health (detecting diseases earlier and treating them more effectively – Helmholtz Cohort), the operation of large international devices in Germany (FAIR ion accelerator in Darmstadt and XFEL European X-ray free-electron laser project in Hamburg) and supercomputing (Europe’s most powerful scientific computer – JUGENE).

Talking about such projects, Prof. Mlynek said “Helmholtz focuses on topics that demand a great deal of patience. We address fundamental questions whose exploration requires vast pools of resources and personnel. These projects exceed the limits of what can be done in the laboratory and often necessitate the creation of completely new research infrastructures.” The Helmholtz Association currently operates 25 research infrastructures and large devices, which Prof. Mlynek pointed out create “added value for Germany’s research system and benefit thousands of internal and external users in Germany and abroad each year.”

A further highlight of the Helmholtz Association’s Annual General Assembly was the bestowal of the Erwin Schrödinger Prize. The prize went to an interdisciplinary team of researchers from Forschungszentrum Jülich made up of Dr. Martin Bram, Dr. Hans-Peter Buchkremer and Prof. Detlev Stöver and to Dr. Thomas Imwinkelried of Swiss medical technology firm Synthes Inc. for developing an innovative new material for spinal implants. These scientists took a process for fuel cell development and adapted it for use in medicine.

Copyright Images: Helmholtz-Association/Ausserhoffer