Harnack Medal for Daniel Zajfman

The Max Planck Society honours Daniel Zajfman with the Harnack Medal in recognition of his remarkable contributions to the advancement of science and German-Israeli cooperation

Daniel Zajfman has been closely associated with the Max Planck Society for many years. Since 2001, he has served as an External Scientific Member of the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg, where he previously held the position of the “Heavy Ion Physics” department from 2005 to 2008. Stratmann emphasized the significance of Zajfman's friendship with the Max Planck Society, noting that his decision to come to Germany required immense courage and openness in many ways. Zajfman's background as the son of Holocaust survivors makes this leap of faith even more remarkable. 

Zajfman has held a seat in the Senate of the Max Planck Society since 2011 where he has made substantial contributions “to the scientific and strategic issues central to the Max Planck Society through his wise guidance and strong support“, not only within the framework of the Senate, but also in the Senate Committee for Research Planning, as Martin Stratmann said in his tribute.

Between 2006 and 2019, Zajfman was President of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Israel, during which time he promoted its internationalisation by appointing many renowned scientists from abroad and organising cross-national conferences. He has always worked closely with the Max Planck Society. Two major scientific research collaborations have been established between the Weizmann Institute and the Max Planck Society: With the Max Planck Weizmann Center for Integrative Archeology and Anthropology, Zajfman promoted complementary cooperation between the two institutions in a dynamically newly developing field of research. And with the Max Planck Weizmann Laboratory for Experimental Neuropsychiatry and Behavioural Neurogenetics, he has supported an important joint research project in terms of science policy, thereby facilitating annual symposia and the exchange of scientists.

In addition, during his Presidency, Zajfman enhanced the Minerva Weizmann Programme as a funding opportunity for innovative and open-ended individual projects, thus contributing to its distinctiveness and unique value proposition. 

An extraordinary collaboration

Zajfman, currently serving as the Chairman of the Academic Council of the Israel Science Foundation, thanked Stratmann with the following words: “I must [...] express my appreciation to the Max Planck Society for providing me with a scientific partnership that was nothing less than extraordinary.” He praised the collaboration with the MPI for Nuclear Physics: “impressive proof that the sum of our scientific strengths is sometimes far greater than its individual parts. Not only did we achieve outstanding scientific results, but we also managed to combine the journey with a large portion of joy and friendship.“

The decision to award Daniel Zajfman with the Harnack Medal had been made by the Senate in March, following Stratmann’s proposal. It is the highest award that the Max Planck Society has to bestow. In 1953, the MPG had revived this tradition of its predecessor organisation, the Kaiser Wilhelm Society. Over the years, a total of 24 individuals have been honoured with this distinction, with the most recent recipient being former German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2021.

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