Max Planck Research Groups – then known as "Independent Junior Research Groups" – were established in 1995 as a model initiative geared towards young Chinese researchers abroad. The objective of this scheme was to provide such researchers with an attractive opportunity to return to their home country. The programme also introduced such important elements as competitive-based selection procedures and independent evaluation: Research Group Leaders were selected on the basis of internationally advertised positions and an evaluation carried out by a Scientific Advisory Board composed of international experts.
The first leader of the Max Planck Research Group established in Shanghai, Professor PEI Gang, was appointed as director of the Shanghai Institute for Biological Sciences (SIBS), the largest bioscience Center of CAS, after five years. The leader of the second Max Planck Research Group, Dr. HU Gengxi, also went on to have a highly successful career. He is funding his current research activities from the proceeds of several of his own biotech companies of international renown. Both researchers decided against promising career opportunities in the USA in favour of heading up a Max Planck Research Group at home. In an interview, Pei Gang summarises his thoughts at the time: "Naturally, I had always wanted to return to China, because I am Chinese and China is my home. But I only wanted to return if I could find a position where I could make a difference. When I saw the advert in "Science" I could hardly believe my eyes. Here was the very position that enabled me to do both these things: to return home and to make a difference.
A few years later, in order to intensify the cooperation and bring about enduring changes to the Chinese research system, the Max Planck Society and CAS decided to establish Partner Groups. These Groups work in areas such as cosmology, material and plant research, chemistry and mathematics.
In time for the 30th anniversary of the partnership, the Max Planck Society and CAS succeeded in improving their cooperation further: in 2005, they founded the Partner Institute for Computational Biology (PICB) in Shanghai. Despite competing for the best minds and best research results worldwide, both organisations continue to place great value on setting joint goals – regardless of the borders between countries and continents.