“Let’s feel the spirit of unity”

Bill Hansson, Vice president of the Max Planck Society, talks in an interview about the Max Planck Day, the nationwide, public MPG science event that takes place on September 14th throughout Germany and beyond

February 25, 2018

The MPG marks three milestone jubilees in 2018. The 70th anniversary of the Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, the 160th birthday of Max Planck, and the 100th anniversary of Max Planck being presented with the Nobel Prize. Is it the case that instead on the milestones, however, the Max Planck Day focuses on a different aspect?

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Bill Hansson is Director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena and Vice President of the Max Planck Society.

Bill Hansson: You are right – we are focusing on celebrating the future! We want to shine a spotlight on the young researchers within our organization and use the opportunity to present our forward-looking research fields. In Göttingen, of course, the Max Planck Society’s birthplace’, there will also be an event remembering our historical roots However, the Max Planck Day has been designed as a nationwide popular science event.

How did the idea evolve?

The main question for me was: how can the Max Planck Society become more visible to the public? This is a question of central importance to me as the Vice President responsible for communications at Max-Planck, and I have tried to come up with ideas on how we could modernize our profile, how to reach a wider spectrum of the public. We discussed several ideas, debating the pros and cons and finally voted within the management board in favour of the Max Planck Day.

What is the main goal of this event?

I would say the goal is twofold: the main goal is to boost the Max Planck Society’s visibility within the general public. Of course, we have our scientific publications, around 15,000 a year. But we need to showcase all the amazing science that is being carried out within the MPG to a wider audience. We already have some well-established public outreach formats, but we feel we have to do more, particularly in the light of the quite outstanding science policies in Germany. A considerable amount of money is being invested into research – and we would like to show that this is really working out and paying off.

You mentioned the twofold character. What is the second goal?

I would say that the other aspect of the Max Planck Day is an internal one – it will bring us closer together within our organization. In the past few months, I have received substantial positive feedback that our institutes are cooperating in a new quality on public outreach.  For instance, all our three Leipzig institutes are working together for the first time organizing one event. This spirit of unity was one of my key objectives. I really hope that this sense of a collective Max Planck community will be showing.

What is the special feature of this event?

This initiative is bottom-up. And I am sure the programme will be very diverse, just like our science. Of course we will have a joint corporate framework for this event, such as a professional marketing campaign. But the institutes throughout the 36 German locations and abroad are free to organize their own activities. Beside this, we will have two common, cross-institutional events in Munich and Berlin. Many different institutes will join up to present talks, and our young researchers will showcase their work. In Berlin, the event is aimed especially at a young audience, in a venue in Berlin-Kreuzberg, with a lot of our younger researchers taking the stage.  

How is the feedback from within the MPG?

The feedback from the institutes has been very positive. The participation rate is very high. About ninety percent of our institutes have signed up and are extremely supportive of the idea, putting a lot of work into the project. The directors, too, view the Max Planck Day in a very positive light. Generally, I think this idea has been picked up – especially because we made clear that the Max Planck Day is in no way aimed at replacing the institutes’ local initiatives, which already exist at other times of the year. I can only say I really appreciate the strong commitment of our PR people and scientific coordinators because they actually drive the organization of this event, putting into practice the great ideas that will make this day a wonderful experience for all of us.  

The preparations are still underway. Have you already decided in which city you will take part?

Well, the people at my institute would of course like me to be home in Jena. At the same time, however, we have major events in Munich and Berlin. As the management board around President Martin Stratmann, we will discuss who will be officially present where on the day to ensure that the MPG will be represented at as many locations as possible. So I may actually move around, and be at multiple events.

Interview: Jens Eschert

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