viernes, 12 de febrero de 2016

Germany’s science hubs win in major research revamp

Research clusters emerge as the big success of Germany’s Excellence Initiative — despite its focus on elite institutes.

Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo / Alamy Stock Photo
Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich is part of a government-backed ‘cluster of excellence’.

For many, Munich’s fame rests on the Oktoberfest beer festival. But for astrophysicist Stephan Paul, what makes the Bavarian capital so charming is its universities’ rise to stardom in studies on the origin and structure of the Universe.

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The region has long been a national hub for physics, but its appeal to theorists and particle physicists has soared in recent years thanks to a well-funded research programme that brings together the city’s two large universities — the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and Ludwig Maximilian University (LMU) — and several Max Planck institutes in nearby Garching.

The research infrastructure here is top-notch and the concentration of expertise is quite unique,” says Paul, a physicist at the TUM who coordinates the programme.

The programme is one of 43 ‘clusters of excellence’ launched in 2011 as part of Germany’s €4.6-billion (US$5-billion) Excellence Initiative. The clusters are among the ten-year-old initiative’s most tangible successes, according to a major report released on 29 January by an independent, international panel (see go.nature.com/qxo768).

The hubs bring together research groups — either within a university or across different institutes in the same region — that previously had little contact, so that they can pool their facilities and build on each other’s successes. “We were surprised to find out how much good science there was just around the corner,” says Paul.

The report, commissioned by Germany’s federal government and its 16 state governments, strongly recommends that they continue the excellence initiative, in particular the highly successful clusters. The report is less conclusive on the initiative’s success in achieving its much higher-profile goal: to produce a top-ranked research powerhouse akin to Harvard University or the universities of Oxford or Cambridge.

The high quality of science produced at the clusters of excellence is particularly impressive,” says Dieter Imboden, a Swiss environmental physicist and long-time science manager who chaired the evaluation panel. “But we are only at the beginning of a long road towards the group of global top universities.

Since it began, the initiative has designated a few universities as ‘elite’ — the latest assignment gave the status to 11 universities, including the TUM and the LMU — and rewarded them with an extra €10 million to €14 million per year. A report published last September by Germany’s main research-funding agency, the DFG, noted that these 11 universities have markedly increased their scientific output. A further analysis done last year by Nature found that at elite institutions, the proportion of publications that feature in the top 10% of the world’s most highly cited papers had almost doubled since 2002 (although Nature also found that the same was true on average of five good, but not elite, German universities).

But the new elite universities still lag far behind the likes of Oxford and Harvard in terms of 

  • world rankings, 
  • appeal to top scientists and 
  • funding

Critics of the initiative say that it has created a two-tier research system and an excessive administrative burden.
Source: IEKE final report (Jan. 2016); http://go.nature.com/QXo768
Even scientists at the ‘elite’ universities agree that the jury is still out on the success of the concept (see ‘Germany’s elite?’). “The initiative has created a palpable ‘we can do it’ spirit,” says Stephan Leibfried, a social scientist and research-policy specialist at the University of Bremen, which has elite status. But reaching the top of international university rankings “will require decades of hard work.

No matter how often you might try, a Harvard can’t be pulled, like a rabbit, out of the hat,” agrees Stefan Hornbostel, a science-policy researcher at the Humboldt University of Berlin, another of the latest 11 universities to be labelled elite.

The report recommends a two-year extension of the current programme, which ends in 2017, followed by a new programme starting in 2019. It suggests that no more than 10 institutions should receive the elite bonus in the future, and that prolonged support of promising research clusters should be at the core of a renewed excellence programme. The report also says that in the follow-up regime, “smaller disciplines” deserve proportionally more funding than in the past and that research clusters could span geographically distant universities.

The recommendations are non-binding but are sure to feed into the decision of federal and state governments on whether to continue the initiative, which is due by June.

For Paul and his team, who have received some €70 million from the programme so far, the prospect of renewed support comes at the right time. Since 2006, some 150 physicists have moved from leading institutes in Europe and overseas to Munich. Researchers there have started to operate a newly built ultracold neutron facility and an underground laboratory largely shielded from background radiation, both financed in part with money from the initiative. Key experiments at these new facilities, says Paul, might shed light on the properties of neutrino particles, the design of the early Universe and the elusive nature of dark matter.

The collaborations enabled by the Excellence Initiative have produced some “good friction”, he says. “Now we need to start using the heat.
Nature 530, 18–19 (04 February 2016) doi:10.1038/530018a

Corrections
Corrected: The dollar conversion for €4.6 billion was originally incorrect (at US$5 million insted of $5 billion). The text has now been corrected.

ORIGINAL: Nature

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Current Clusters of Excellence
Last modified: February 10, 2016
No.Absteigend sortierenTypeAufsteigend sortierenProject TitleAufsteigend sortierenBeginAufsteigend sortieren
4EXCNanosystems Initiative Munich (NIM)
München
2006
16EXCCultural Foundations of Social Integration
Konstanz
2006
59EXCMathematics: Foundations, Models, Applications
Bonn
2006
62EXCREBIRTH - From Regenerative Biology to Reconstructive Therapy
Hannover
2006
80EXCThe Future Ocean
Kiel
2006
81EXCCellular Networks: From Molecular Mechanisms to Quantitative Understanding of Complex Functions
Heidelberg
2006
114EXCCenter for Integrated Protein Science Munich (CIPSM)
München; Freising
2006
115EXCMacromolecular Complexes in Action
Frankfurt
2006
128EXCIntegrative Production Technology for High-Wage Countries
Aachen
2006
147EXCCardiopulmonary System
Frankfurt; Gießen
2006
153EXCOrigin and Structure of the Universe
Garching; München
2006
158EXCMunich-Centre for Advanced Photonics (MAP)
Garching; München
2006
168EXCCenter for Regenerative Therapies Dresden (CRTD)
Dresden
2006
171EXCNanoscale Microscopy and Molecular Physiology of the Brain
Göttingen
2006
177EXCIntegrated Climate System Analysis and Prediction (CliSAP)
Hamburg
2007
212EXCReligion and Politics in Pre-Modern and Modern Cultures
Münster
2007
229EXCCellular Stress Responses in Aging-associated Diseases (CECAD)
Köln
2007
236EXCTailor-Made Fuels from Biomass
Aachen
2007
243EXCThe Formation of Normative Orders
Frankfurt
2007
257EXCNeuroCure - towards a better outcome of neurological disorders
Berlin
2007
264EXCTopoi - The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations
Berlin
2007
270EXCAsia and Europe in a Global Context: The Dynamics of Transculturality
Heidelberg
2007
277EXCCognitive Interaction Technology
Bielefeld
2007
284EXCMultimodal Computing and Interaction. Robust, Efficient and Intelligent Processing of Text, Speech, Visual Data and High Dimensional Representations
Saarbrücken
2007
294EXCBIOSS Centre for Biological Signalling Studies - from Analysis to Synthesis
Freiburg
2007
306EXCInflammation at Interfaces
Kiel
2007
307EXCWerner Reichardt Centre for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN)
Tübingen
2007
309EXCThe Ocean in the Earth System - MARUM - Center for Marine Environmental Sciences
Bremen
2007
310EXCSimulation Technology
Stuttgart
2007
314EXCUnifying Concepts in Catalysis
Berlin
2007
315EXCEngineering of Advanced Materials - Hierarchical Structure Formation for Functional Devices
Erlangen
2007
1003EXCCells in Motion - CiM: Imaging to Understand Cellular Behaviour in Organisms
Münster
2012
1010EXCMunich Cluster for Systems Neurology (SyNergy)
München
2012
1023EXCImmunoSensation: The Immune Sensory System
Bonn
2012
1027EXCImage Knowledge Gestaltung. An Interdisciplinary Laboratory
Berlin
2012
1028EXCCluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences - from complex traits towards synthetic modules
Düsseldorf
2012
1056EXCCenter for Advancing Electronics Dresden (cfaed)
Dresden
2012
1069EXCRESOLV (Ruhr Explores Solvation) - Understanding and Design of Solvent Controlled Processes
Bochum
2012
1074EXCThe Hamburg Centre for Ultrafast Imaging (CUI): Structure, Dynamics and Control of Matter at the Atomic Scale
Hamburg
2012
1075EXCMerge Technologies for Multifunctional Lightweight Structures - MERGE
Chemnitz
2012
1077EXCHearing for all: Models, technology and solutions for diagnostics, restoration and support of hearing
Oldenburg; Hannover
2012
1086EXCBrainLinks - BrainTools
Freiburg
2012
1098EXCPrecision Physics, Fundamental Interactions and Structure of Matter (PRISMA)
Mainz
2012

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