New perspectives for cooperation with African partners
The Max Planck Society has launched an Africa Initiative. It is intended to counteract an African brain drain and strengthen local research institutions. At the same time, the Max Planck Society wants to contribute to better exploiting scientific potential on both sides and to opening up new perspectives for Africa's young scientists through cooperation on an equal footing. In a very dynamic process, programmes are currently being developed for this purpose, which are to be implemented step by step. These include a mentoring programme for African students and doctoral researchers, virtual lecture series, mobility grants, but of course also the intensification of research cooperation on the part of Max Planck scientists.
Thematically, astronomy is one of the focal points of Max Planck's cooperation with African partner institutions. Optimal geographical conditions in the southern hemisphere allow the operation of high-performance telescopes. Another point of contact is provided by the unique biological diversity of the African countries. In this context, researchers at the Max Planck Society are particularly interested in the study of insects. But it is also about tracking animal movements, for example with solar-powered GPS transmitters in the Kruger National Park. Finally, in biomedicine, groups funded by the Max Planck Society are cooperating with the African Health Research Institute in Durban in the field of HIV/TBC research.
High energy research in Namibia
The Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics (Heidelberg) is playing a leading role in the H.E.S.S. project. The acronym stands for "High Energy Stereoscopic System". At the same time, the acronym is used to honour the Austrian discoverer of gamma rays, Victor Franz Hess (1883-1964). H.E.S.S. is a telescope system used to analyse high-energy cosmic gamma rays in Namibia. Commissioned in 2003, the system has already been able to scan the Milky Way and increase the number of known radiation sources in the TeV energy range tenfold. Around 260 researchers from forty scientific institutes in 13 countries, including Namibia, are involved in the H.E.S.S. project at Farm Göllschau.
One of the most ambitious scientific projects in South Africa
A special research focus is the Square Kilometre Array (SKA). It is considered one of the most ambitious scientific projects of the 21st century. Around 20 countries are involved in designing this radio telescope with a collection area of one square kilometre for frequencies from 70 MHz to at least 10 GHz. Within the Max Planck Society, there is sustained scientific interest in getting involved in the SKA project, especially at the Max Planck Institutes for Radio Astronomy (Bonn), for Astrophysics (Garching) and for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute, Bonn and Hannover respectively). The SKA telescope will be built at sites in Australia (SKA-LOW) and in South Africa (SKA-MID). The site in South Africa will consist of a total of 197 individual parabolic mirrors, each 15 metres in diameter, in the Karoo semi-desert near Cape Town. Already 64 of these antennas are being operated by the South African Radio Astronomy Observatory (SARAO) under the name MeerKAT. The Max Planck Society is involved in the MeerKAT+ extension project with its partners SARAO (South Africa) and INAF (Italy), which will later be integrated into the SKA.
Opportunities for young scientists
A mentoring programme will provide students and doctoral researchers from African countries with young mentors from the Max Planck Society for an initial period of two years. The task of the doctoral researchers or postdocs from one of the Max Planck Institutes will be to advise their research colleagues on all scientific matters. In doing so, the Max Planck Society wants to counteract the brain drain from Africa and prove itself as a long-term cooperation partner.
In addition, the Max Planck Society is developing virtual lecture series from the ranks of its early career researchers, but also from directors for African students. These are intended to contribute to relieving young researchers in Africa of at least some of the burden of their diverse teaching tasks.
Another instrument that should make it easier for young researchers from Africa to cooperate internationally and gain experience are the Max Planck Mobility Grants. It is planned that they will give young African researchers the opportunity to stay at a host Max Planck Institute for at least one month per year and thus "dive into" a common research field.