A Milestone in Relations With Germany


The newest bead in a "magnificent string of pearls" is how former Max Planck Society President Prof. Hans Zacher described the Gerhard M.J. Schmidt Minerva Center for Supramolecular Architectures at its inauguration during the Weizmann Institute Board of Governors meeting last November.

The new Center, headed by Prof. Meir Lahav of the Materials and Interfaces Department, will promote the study of new materials at Weizmann and enhance contacts with Max Planck Institutes in Mainz and Teltow and with the University of Mainz. Its establishment represents the latest milestone in the ongoing cooperation between Germany's research establishment and the Weizmann Institute.

This collaboration, which originated in the late 1950s, led to the historic 1964 agreement whereby the Minerva Foundation for Research, a subsidiary of the Max Planck Society, channeled funds provided by the German government to Weizmann Institute research projects, thus fostering a wide range of scientific exchanges between the Institute and the Max Planck Society. These ties helped lay the foundation not only for German-Israeli scientific cooperation, but also for the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries one year later.

"The attempt to bridge the gap resulting from the most dreadful chapter in German-Jewish history and to re-establish the extremely fruitful cooperation in science as it existed before 1933 was the initial impetus for Minerva's undertakings," says Dr. Dietmar Nickel, Minerva Foundation co-Director General, who last year opened an office in Israel, where he is now based. "This effort, based on good-will on both sides, has been surprisingly successful."

The Foundation's activities have constantly grown in scope and now encompass diverse academic institutions throughout Israel. At the Weizmann Institute, it has supported numerous research projects and helped establish eight research centers.

Some 1,000 German scientists have visited the Institute since the late 1950s, while close to the same number of Weizmann researchers have spent time at German institutes. Many of these visits have taken place within the framework of the annual Gentner Symposia, which honor the memory of Prof. Wolfgang Gentner, the outstanding physicist who set the program in motion.

While Minerva remains the bedrock of the cooperation, other bodies have played a major role in promoting collaborative studies. These include the German-Israeli Foundation for Scientific Research and Development (GIF), which annually funds some 40 Weizmann-German projects, and the German Ministry of Science, which funds around 20 such projects each year. In many cases, such as with Minerva Center endowments and GIF grants, matching funding is provided by the Israeli government or the Weizmann Institute. Private German foundations, notably the Minna James Heineman, Volkswagenwerk, Thyssen and Schilling foundations, also support Weizmann studies, as do German industrial concerns such as Bosch and Bayer.

The combination of ideas and talents stemming from this collaboration has led to a remarkable assortment of achievements across the spectrum of modern science.