Strengthening the European Research Area

From brain drain to brain gain: The first three Dioscuri Centres open in the Czech Republic

May 1st 2024 marked the 20th anniversary of the Czech Republic joining the European Union (EU). The past 20 years have profoundly changed the Czech research landscape, German-Czech research cooperation and the European Research Area. “Science has greatly benefitted from the possibilities that Europe offers during the last decades. Mobility is a striking example, funding opportunities are another,” says Max Planck President Patrick Cramer at the opening ceremony for the first three Dioscuri Centres in the Czech Republic on 17 May 2024. “The European research area offers great opportunities to work together across borders. Strong collaborations throughout the entire EU are needed to advance European science as a whole,” Patrick Cramer continues. This is where the Dioscuri Programme comes in.

In order to even out the existing performance gap between EU-13 and EU-14 member states, the Max Planck Society (MPG) is pursuing the people-centred funding programme as a top priority. Initially, three innovative research groups in the Czech Republic, called Dioscuri Centres of Scientific Excellence, will support promising young researchers on their path to excellence and independence - and thus strengthen Czech science and the European Research Area as a whole. One of the aims of the Dioscuri Programme is to reduce the so-called brain drain. This is the term used when highly qualified researchers leave certain regions and migrate to others.

The opening ceremony in Prague was organized by the MPG together with the partners involved in the Dioscuri Programme and the host institutions of the first groups: the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MEYS) is funding the Dioscuri Centres together with the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF); the first three Dioscuri Centres in the Czech Republic are being established at the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences and at Masaryk University. "On behalf of the Czech Republic and the Czech scientific community, I can say that we are sincerely grateful for the expansion of the Dioscuri Programme into our country. This is a unique opportunity to attract excellent young researchers with international experience who will further advance not only Czech research. The first call confirmed the attractiveness of the programme, and the Czech Republic is ready to continue developing it," stated Radka Wildová, Director General for Higher Education, Science and Research Section of the MEYS.

The first three Dioscuri Centres in the Czech Republic

Helena Reichlova, Barbora Špačková and Peter Fabian have also benefited from the freedoms and opportunities that the EU has to offer in their scientific careers to date, for example by taking advantage of mobility and conducting research in France, Germany and Sweden. The two physicists and the developmental biologist succeeded against 30 other applicants in the first Dioscuri call. The outstanding young researchers will set up their own research groups at Czech host institutions with the first three Dioscuri centres in the Czech Republic:

Helena Reichlová has already opened her Dioscuri Centre for Spin-Caloritronics and Magnonics on 1 October 2023. It is based at the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences in Prague. The solid-state physicist aims to open up new research directions and investigate spin caloritronics and magnonics in altermagnets. Barbora Špačková, who will establish the Dioscuri Centre for Single-Molecule Optics at the Institute of Physics of the Czech Academy of Sciences from summer 2024, wants to use the principles of nanophysics to develop state-of-the-art instruments that can change our understanding of the fundamental components of life. Peter Fabian, head of the Dioscuri Centre for Stem Cell Biology and Metabolic Diseases, and his research group aim to unravel the mysteries of inherited human diseases using animal models. The Dioscuri Centre is being established at Masaryk University in Brno, the second largest university in the Czech Republic.

The Czech Republic as an attractive science hub

57 per cent of those who applied to head one of the Dioscuri Centres were not born in the Czech Republic, and 30 per cent of applicants had no previous connection to the Czech Republic. The figures show that not only is the funding programme initiated by the Max Planck Society highly attractive, but that the Czech Republic is also a compelling research location: over the past ten years or so, Czech policy has increased investment in research and development at various levels. For example, EU structural funds from the 2007 to 2014 funding period were used to build new state-of-the-art research facilities across the country. The Dioscuri Programme also has the advantage that Dioscuri Centres are linked to the MPG, which uses proven and innovative strategies to support young researchers on their path to scientific excellence and independence.

The idea behind the Dioscuri Programme 

Up to five Dioscuri Centres of Scientific Excellence are to be established at Czech host institutions in the coming years. Funding under the Dioscuri Programme goes far beyond conventional project funding. The funding of a Dioscuri Centre supports outstanding researchers to establish an innovative and internationally visible research group in the region.

The group receives up to 300,000 euros per year for an initial period of five years and is scientifically supported by experienced partners from Germany. The host institution provides the equipment required for research as well as additional financial resources and offers the leader of the Centre a long-term career perspective. Funding is provided in equal parts by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the Czech Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports (MEYS).

Following the launch in Poland in 2019, where eight Dioscuri Centres have been established thus far, Czechia is the second country in which the transnational Dioscuri Programme is being implemented. By establishing innovative research groups in Central and Eastern Europe, Dioscuri contributes to promoting standards of scientific excellence in the region and to overcoming the existing performance gap between Western and Eastern Europe. The Max Planck Society is thus making a substantial contribution to strengthening the European Research Area as a whole.


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