The Max Planck Society maintains a long-standing "exclusive partnership" with the Shanghai Institute for Advanced Studies (SIAS), which is associated with the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). The Institute was founded on the initiative of Professor Uli Schwarz (Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology) in 2001, as an international "round table" for conferences on new, interdisciplinary topics.

The new so-called "Exploratory Round Table Conferences (ERTC)" are a joint project of the Max Planck Society and CAS, attached to SIAS.

The ERTC focuses on topics that are only just beginning to emerge in the "scientific community". The Max Planck Society and CAS offer a platform for a small circle of internationally leading experts and for scientists from the Max Planck Society and CAS to become acquainted with new areas of research, discuss them and discover their potential.

At the end of a conference, recommendations are given to both Presidents on which aspects of the topic should be included in the development plans of the two organisations, and how intensively they should be addressed. In addition, the aim is to publish the edited conference contributions as review and foresight articles in top international journals.

The first "Exploratory Round Table Conference" was launched from 19 to 21 October 2010 and looked at the subject "Synthetic Biology". The second conference took place from 2 to 4 November 2011 on "Quantum Information Science". The third ERTC, hosted from 1 to 3 November 2012, covered the topic "Space-Based Research". The fourth conference from 18 to 20 November 2013 dealt with “Electrochemistry – revisited”. The topic of the fifth conference from 14 to 17 May 2014 was “Personalized Medicine”. The sixth conference from 19 to 21 November investigates “Big Data in the Natural Sciences and Humanities”.

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