Symposium to celebrate 100 years Max Planck Society

Symposium to celebrate 100 years Max Planck Society

On September 15, 2011, the MPI for Psycholinguistics organised a symposium at the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen (KNAW) to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Max Planck Society. Ten of more than 80 German institutes are currently headed by Dutch directors. They were individually portrayed in short videos, followed by panel discussions about the relations between German and Dutch science, and the ample possibilities of the MPS for young researchers.

Foto: KNAW

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The Max Planck Society is one of the world’s most important scientific organisations. Since the foundation of the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft in 1911, which in 1946 became the Max Planck Society, the MPS has generated 33 Nobel Laureates, 2 of whom were/are Dutch scientists (Peter Debije and Paul Crutzen). “One of the characteristics of the Max Planck Society is a profound confidence in the importance of fundamental science”, Robbert Dijkgraaf, president of the KNAW, noticed in his opening speech. “The MPS is highly committed to independence and research quality.”

Prof. dr. Hans F. Zacher, former president of the MPS (1990-1996), praised the contributions of Dutch scholars to the Max Planck Society and stressed the importance of scientific dialogue to bridge the distances between cultures and between the current state and new state of knowledge. Zacher talked about the intellectual, social, and individual dimensions of cooperation between Dutch and German scientists, and its relevance and potential for Europe as a whole.

Video portraits

The speeches were followed by individual video portraits of eleven Dutch MPI directors. The short introductions, made by video producer Henk Visser, presented a brief insight into the research fields of the institutes and the directors’ passion for science. The videos were followed by panel discussions with the respective directors, lead by science editor Martijn van Calmthout (de Volkskrant).

Historical outline

The scientific relations between the Netherlands and the MPS are close and abundant, Pim Levelt, director (emer.) and founder of MPI for Psycholinguistics, emphasized in his presentation. “Not only do we have a Max Planck Institute in Nijmegen, ten Max Planck Institutes are currently headed by Dutch directors, and there are two former Dutch directors: Nobel Laureate Paul Crutzen and myself.” Levelt then presented a historical outline of the relation between the Netherlands and the Max Planck Society.
F.l.t.r.: prof. dr. Hans Zacher, prof. dr. Paul Crutzen, prof. dr. Marcel Kuypers, prof. dr. Philippe Bastiaens, prof. dr. Johannes Lelieveld, prof. dr. Willem Levelt, prof. dr. Peter Hagoort, prof. dr. Maarten Koornneef, prof. dr. Gerard Meijer, prof. dr. Robbert Dijkgraaf (KNAW), prof. dr. Peter van der Veer, prof. dr. Mischa Bonn, prof. dr. Liu Hao Tjeng. In the photo, prof. dr. Eric Jan Mittemeijer is missing. Foto: Frank van Beek.

Intellectual environment

“One of the privileges of working at a Max Planck Institute is to gather a group of young people around you who continuously bring forward new ideas, which is extremely inspiring”, said Peter Hagoort, director of MPI Nijmegen. “Directors are always in the spotlights, but the role of these young researchers for science can not be overestimated.”

“The Max Planck Society creates an intellectual environment in which we can do what we want to do: scientific research”, observed prof. dr. Liu Hao Tjeng, director of the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Physics of Solids in Dresden. “The MPS offers you the opportunity to do risky research which otherwise could not be done. The MPS model shows that there’s no need to put pressure on researchers, because scientists have an intrinsic motivation. Science is our passion.””Scientists are like children”, admitted Philippe Bastiaens, director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology in Dortmund. “Childhood gives you curiosity, eagerness and enthusiasm. That’s precisely what you need in science.”