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The essential role of large-scale research facilities for high-tech societies

Prof. Dr. Beate Heinemann is Director of Particle Physics at Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY. Photo: DESY/Angela Pfeiffer

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.

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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. This cooperation 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.

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