Helmholtz Monthly 04/24
Helmholtz invests 23 million euros in research on foundational AI models
Startup-savvy researchers present project ideas
Precise localization of miniature robots and surgical instruments inside the body
Three questions for Philipp Schaps
The essential role of large-scale research facilities for high-tech societies - Beate Heinemann‘s point of view
Dear Readers,

Artificial intelligence is a topic of intense focus for research, industry, and society. At the research summit, which took place at the Hannover Messe this year, participants discussed, among other things, how Germany and Europe can become more attractive for AI talent. At Helmholtz, we are also driving the topic forward by investing 23 million euros in the development of AI fundamental models that are intended to contribute to solving various societal challenges. Our large research facilities are also highly impactful – they enable much more than groundbreaking insights in basic research. Beate Heinemann, Research Director at the Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY, explains why the benefits of large research facilities justify the significant effort involved in their construction and operation.

Enjoy your reading!

Franziska Roeder, Multimedia Editor
Talk of the Month
Helmholtz invests 23 million euros into research on foundational AI models
  In climate research, medicine, or the development of new materials for the energy transition, foundation models can elevate data-driven modern science to a new level. These models are trained with vast amounts of data and run on supercomputers. The knowledge gained from the training can be transferred to many subsequent tasks. The Helmholtz Association is pioneering this field, supporting four pilot projects and the necessary infrastructure with approximately 23 million euros. Twelve Helmholtz Centers are participating in the projects, which aim to enable improved diagnoses and therapies based on radiological images, improve understanding of the global carbon cycle, elevate climate models to a new level, and accelerate the development of a new generation of photovoltaic modules.
Summit for Research and Innovation with a Focus on Artificial Intelligence
  Under a new name and in the presence of the Chancellor, this year’s research summit took place at the Hannover Messe. The main topic was Germany’s competitiveness in the field of artificial intelligence. The high quality of education in Germany and Europe was emphasized, however, it was noted that too many talents later migrated away. To become more attractive to young talent, the participants discussed, among other things, large-scale European AI projects and strong research organizations that work more closely with the economy. One leading example in the field of AI is Ipai, being established in Heilbronn with the participation of ETH, TUM, and Aleph Alpha.
Roadmap for Large Research Initiatives
  The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is launching the prioritization process again for large scientific initiatives, facilities, and research infrastructures in Germany. The outcome of the process is expected to culminate in an updated National Roadmap. The National Roadmap process serves the BMBF as a strategic tool for research policy planning of future, long-term research infrastructures. The Science Council takes on the task of evaluating all submissions based on criteria such as scientific quality, strategic relevance, project maturity, and cost planning, before making corresponding recommendations. These are intended to serve as a basis for decision-making for the federal government in the next legislative period. The submissions from the Helmholtz Association are based on the Helmholtz Roadmap 2021.
Helmholtz Community
Helmholtz Delegation Visits Singapore and South Korea
  A delegation from the Helmholtz Association, led by President Otmar D. Wiestler, visited Southeast Asia to initiate collaborations and gain detailed insights into the region’s research landscape. The first stop on the seven-day Asia trip was Singapore. Promising fields for cooperation included digital health, preventive medicine, sustainable construction, and artificial intelligence/foundation models. The delegation then proceeded to South Korea, where they explored cooperation opportunities in areas such as hydrogen, pandemic preparedness, and bioengineering. Executives from the Jülich Research Center and the Helmholtz Center Berlin each signed Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) with the Korea Institute of Energy Research (KIER).
Startup-savvy researchers present project ideas
  Students and scientists from the Helmholtz Association met in Berlin to take part in an Accelerator Bootcamp, organized by the Helmholtz Israel Office and ASPER-HUJI-Innovate. In 2,5 intense days, 23 innovative minds from the 18 Helmholtz Centers underwent a transformative bootcamp, acquiring skills to transition their groundbreaking ideas from the lab to the market. They presented their business pitches to an esteemed international panel comprised of venture capitalists, funding institutions and startup founders. In an interview, Andrea Frahm, Head of Helmholtz Israel Office, and Amnon Dekel, Executive Director of ASPER-HUJI-Innovate, talk about the aims of the program and the special features of this year’s edition.
Great success for Helmholtz with the ERC Advanced Grants
  The latest round of ERC Advanced Grants was a success for Helmholtz. Researchers secured a total of nine grants for the Helmholtz Centers. The ERC awarded 255 grants, with 50 of these going to Germany. The “Advanced Grants” funding line targets established researchers and provides up to 2.5 million euros over a period of five years.
Precise localization of miniature robots and surgical instruments inside the body
In the medicine of the future, tiny robots will navigate independently through tissue and medical instruments will indicate their position inside the body during surgery. Scientists from the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) have now described a signaling method based on an oscillating magnet that can identify the position of the robot in the body.

What until recently sounded like science fiction is now well advanced in development: Nanorobots that move independently through the body are expected to transport drugs, take measurements in tissue or perform surgical procedures. Magnetically driven nanorobots that navigate through the muscle, through the vitreous body of the eye or through the blood vessel system have already been developed.

However, there is a lack of sophisticated systems to track and control the activities of the robots deep inside the body in real time. Traditional imaging techniques are only suitable to a limited extent. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is limited in temporal resolution, computer tomography (CT) is associated with radiation exposure and the strong scattering of sound waves limits the local resolution of ultrasound.

A team led by Tian Qiu from the DKFZ in Dresden has now invented a new method to solve this problem. The tiny device they have developed is based on a magnetic oscillator, i.e., a mechanically oscillating magnet located in millimeter-sized housing. An external magnetic field can excite the magnet to vibrate mechanically. When the oscillation subsides again, this signal can be recorded with magnetic sensors. The basic principle is comparable to nuclear magnetic resonance in MRI. The researchers refer to the method as “Small-Scale Magneto-Oscillatory Localization” (SMOL).

SMOL allows the position and orientation of the small device to be determined at a great distance (over 10 cm), very precisely (less than 1 mm) and in real time. In contrast to tracking methods based on static magnets, SMOL can detect movements in all six degrees of freedom and with significantly higher signal quality. As the device is based on weak magnetic fields, it is harmless to the body, wireless and compatible with many conventional devices and imaging techniques.

To the original publication

(Image: Right: Miniature robot with built-in SMOL tracker, the built-in magnet is only 1 mm in size; left: R-shaped movement path of a SMOL-controlled miniature robot.
© Qiu / DKFZ )


The revolution from the test tube
 Just as engineers changed our outer world with the findings of physics in the last century, bioengineers are on the cusp of transforming our inner world with the tools of biomedicine in this century. This will fundamentally change the way we recognize and treat diseases. Read more

One of 46,000

Philipp Schaps is Spokesperson for Diversity & Inclusion and deputy head of the Equal Opportunities Bureau at Forschungszentrum Jülich. Picture: Forschungszentrum Jülich

What is the most exciting thing about your job?

Basically, I find it super exciting to work at a research institution that deals with such diverse, big and complex questions about the future. Whenever I, as a non-scientist, have the opportunity to learn something about research at Jülich or other Helmholtz Centers, I’m immediately involved. What I particularly like about my own work in the field of equal opportunities and diversity is the exchange and contact with the many great colleagues at Forschungszentrum Jülich. Getting to know their perspectives and experiences allows me to learn something new almost every day.

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

We actually have some cool and creative project ideas in the drawer. A less glamorous one, but one that I think would add a lot of value, would be mandatory and regular training for all employees on (anti)discrimination and microaggressions. This training would not need to be particularly time-consuming and, if done well, could work well as e-learning or in other flexible formats. I believe that if all employees went through this on a regular basis, similar to an occupational health and safety measure, a lot would be gained.

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

Oh, that’s hard: There are so many great people. Maybe I could talk to former soccer player Jonas Hector about his time at my favorite club, 1. FC Köln. I always found him to be very down-to-earth and likeable. Within the Helmholtz Association, for example, I would like to talk to Antje Boetius about research trips to the polar regions or about the climate catastrophe and its consequences. Maybe also about how to make longer research expeditions as inclusive and accessible as possible. Personally, I would probably prefer a simple dinner with a group of interesting people who don’t necessarily have to be famous or high-ranking.

Point of View
The essential role of large-scale research facilities for high-tech societies
Large-scale research facilities offer a unique scientific environment and are of crucial importance for Germany and Europe in many respects – says Beate Heinemann, Director of Particle Physics at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY.

They enable groundbreaking, sometimes unexpected findings in basic research. Scientists from universities and research institutes use them to investigate complex issues and gain insights in various fields such as physics, chemistry, materials science and life sciences. These findings not only contribute to scientific progress, but also lead to innovations that strengthen international competitiveness and technological sovereignty.

They enrich society. Research at large-scale research facilities helps to answer fundamental questions about the universe, the climate or the human body. This pursuit of knowledge not only has intrinsic value, but can also help to inspire, inform and culturally enrich society.

They strengthen the economic and innovative power of Germany. Large-scale research facilities create jobs and promote local and national economic development. Their overall economic benefit usually exceeds the construction and operating costs many times over. They drive technical developments, as their high demands require innovative solutions in areas such as optics, sensor technology, materials, lasers, magnetic technology or data science. Due to the highest standards required in terms of precision and reliability, they place very high demands on industrial partners. In addition, technology transfers from research institutions to companies can create new business opportunities and industries that boost economic growth.

They make a significant contribution to training and securing skilled workers. Large-scale research facilities offer a unique environment for training young researchers in an international environment. This practical experience and learning from leading experts ensures the training of highly qualified specialists for research and industry. Large-scale research facilities attract highly qualified international talent, which is crucial for the future development of Germany and Europe.

They strengthen national and international cooperation. More than ten thousand external scientists are doing research each year at the Helmholtz Association’s large-scale research facilities. This “classic” user operation of the photon, neutron and ion facilities as well as high-field magnetic laboratories is a prime example of the division of tasks in the German science system and the cooperation between German and universities from Germany and abroad. The cooperation at both German and international facilities enables the exchange of know-how and ideas across national borders, strengthens European integration and promotes a diverse society.

The operation of large-scale research facilities is one of the main purposes of the Helmholtz Association. The research vessel Polarstern or the light sources PETRA III and BESSY II are just a few of the world’s leading large-scale research facilities operated by Helmholtz centers. However, in order to continue to guarantee cutting-edge research in Germany, it is necessary to upgrade or build new facilities. There are also many exciting new ideas for the coming decade, such as the Einstein Telescope, which will address fundamental questions about our universe and at the same time develop fascinating technologies.

Although large-scale research facilities are associated with high investments, they are indispensable for a modern high-tech society.

(Photo: DESY/Angela Pfeiffer)

Read in Browser
X Mastodon LinkedIn
Newsletter auf Deutsch abonnieren 

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)

No subscription yet? Click here to register

If you no longer wish to receive our newsletter, simply click here: Unsubscribe

© Helmholtz

Legal information