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A Visit to the Max Planck Society in Germany

Posted October. 13, 2005 07:06,   


“Most basic science doesn’t result in instant benefits. It costs universities a huge amount of investment money, too. The Max Planck Society’s role as a link between local government finance and high-tech institutes and facilities was the driving force behind the world-class scientific competence of Germany today,” said B. Neitzert, the chief of the Center for International Exchange.

The Kaiser Wilhelm Society, the predecessor of the Max Planck Society, was established in 1911, and is famous for producing 15 Nobel laureates for 30 years, including Albert Einstein. If the period when it was the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute is considered, the number of Nobel laureates from this institution will reach 31. Considering the 18 total Asian Nobel laureates in the field of medicine, chemistry, and physics, the Kaiser Wilhelm’s number, 31, is truly amazing.

The organization has 80 institutes nationwide, and each has its own specialty. Its budget for last year was 1,325.22 million Euro (approximately 1.5 trillion won), with 80 percent of that supported by the federal and local government.

“Recently, we have promoted joint research among institutes, and thanks to that, huge science projects, such as human genome projects, are actively underway. We’ve also focused our investment on promising subjects, including structural biology and brain science,” said the chief.

The next stop was the Max Plank Institute of Quantum Optics in Garhing, which was established in 1981, where 189 researchers are performing quantum optics studies using laser beams.

Ph.D Peter Pendel of the spectrum optics team led by Ph.D Hensch gave us a tour of their lab.

“From this experimental equipment with green light beams, we succeeded in getting a pure laser at an ultra-super-precision frequency for the first time in the world, which can be applied to super precision clocks and GPS.”

“The secret of the Max Planck Society’s splendid achievement lies in its unique supporting system which encourages joint study with nearby universities, while not pressuring researchers for short-term results,” according to an institute source.

Germany, since its reunification, has suffered a stagnating economy, leading to a large reduction in the government’s education and research budget. During that time, many universities and institutes had to go through a painstaking restructuring, but Germany has successfully maintained a long-term perspective and continued to consolidate its position as a nation with a strong knowledge base, instead of being anxious for short-term results. The Max Planck Society and its affiliate institutes are proof of that.

Yoon-Jong Yoo gustav@donga.com