November 28, 2012
“Intelligence,” Chaim Weizmann once remarked, “is the only 'raw material' Israel possesses.” And Israel's first President planned the future of this small and resource-poor country accordingly. Subsequent governments, too, have invested primarily in research and education. Today, with its six universities, the Weizmann Institute and numerous other research institutions sponsored by the state, industry and public sector bodies, Israel is one of the world's leading scientific nations. For years now Israel has topped the world rankings with the equivalent of almost five percent of gross domestic product given over to research and development, while at the same time hosting the highest density of scientists and engineers.
Israel shows just how rewarding very high levels of investment in research and development can be in the long term: Since the State of Israel was first founded in 1948, this country, with a population of barely 7.8 million inhabitants, has already produced six Nobel Prize winners in the fields of chemistry, economics and space research – positive proof of the high quality of its science. Economically, within a short space of time, Israel advanced from a kibbutz country to a high-tech nation. It did so because its politicians made room and money available to encourage creative solutions in the fields of cancer and stem cell research, communications and biotechnology, medical technology and solar energy.
Nor can one help but be impressed by how far Israel is ahead of Europe in mobilising private venture capital. The country's industrial laboratories and small to medium high-tech companies are responsible for large numbers of research breakthroughs. The universities, too, since the 1990s, have played an increasingly important role, as evidenced both by the emergence of commercial marketing agencies and by the high number of university-held patents and the industrial parks clustered in their vicinity.
The success of Israel's economy, as well as its research effort was also supported from the beginning by its close cooperation with the USA and later increasingly also with Europe. Today, apart from the USA, it is Germany that is Israel's most important scientific partner. Whereas initially German-Israeli relations were influenced, on the German side, by the desire for restitution after the Holocaust, our two countries are meanwhile linked by a dialogue between equals. For me, the coming inauguration of the ″Max Planck – Weizmann Center for Integrative Anthropology and Archaeology″ developed by the Weizmann Institute and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig symbolises the equal partnership between us in the field of scientific research. We are even now in discussions with the Hebrew University in Jerusalem for another Center in the field of neurobiology.
We have found some outstanding partners here who wish to exploit the synergies offered by such a Center that in turn is outstandingly well resourced by both sides, the Max Planck Society and an Israeli research institution. This cooperation in promising fields of study gives cause for great expectations. Dependent on the subject, annual funding is available of up to one million euros, half of which is contributed by us and half by our partner institution. Cooperation in this form is possible as the Israeli universities allocate their funds on the basis of quality, while at the same time offering their scientists the necessary independence to exercise their creativity.
We establish Max Planck Centers worldwide together with just a few, selected partners of the highest calibre with whom we wish to cooperate intensively in areas of research that hold great future potential. This cooperation goes far beyond a mere bilateral partnership. Through these Centers we aim in particular to stimulate the exchange of junior scientists, whether via the route of joint doctoral training at an International Max Planck Research School, via the development of joint post-doctoral programmes, or via the establishment of Junior and Partner Groups. Laboratories, equipment and libraries are used in cooperation, and even funding applications to third-party sponsors are jointly submitted – a method that has worked well for years in terms of EU funding applications by Israeli and German researchers.