Exploiting scientific potential: An interview with Christoph Schneider, HU vice president for research

14. January 2022

Exploiting scientific potential

An interview with Christoph Schneider, HU vice president for research

HU-Vizepräsident Christoph Schneider © WISTA Management GmbH

Navigates Humboldt-Universität’s research activities in Berlin-Mitte and Adlershof: vice president Christoph Schneider © WISTA Management GmbH

Christoph Schneider is a professor for climate geography, founding member of “Scientists for Future”, and, beginning in last summer, Humboldt-Universität’s vice president for research. In this interview with Adlershof Journal, he speaks about excellent research, the role of policy-makers, and the potential of Berlin’s science and research community to give answers to the pressing questions our time.

What do you think makes research excellent?

Excellent research, in my opinion, is a matter of asking the right questions: Questions that take us to the limits of what we already know—in application-focused research as well as basic research. For me, when people start to question the way a topic was viewed so far, that’s where it gets fascinating: How can we push the boundaries of knowledge, insight, and theory just a little bit further? It is a matter of not staying put and simply conserving previous knowledge.

How will you promote this type of research at HU and within the Berlin University Alliance? What role does Adlershof play here?

The German Research Foundation is expected to launch the next round of the Excellence Initiative next year. We are currently taking stock of the existing excellence clusters in order to get the renewal proposals underway together with the scientists and researchers—with well-developed, fundable approaches that continue what has been accomplished so far and take it to the next level. Additionally, we are thinking about which ideas could complement our current portfolio. However, the scientific potential of Berlin is not limited to the excellence clusters.

Adlershof plays a role regarding natural science research and also because the interplay of non-university research institutions and Humboldt-Universität in Adlershof has created so many fruitful and outstanding research results. However, the time to talk about details has not yet come. This is also out of the question because the competition is still ongoing all over the country.

Beyond the Excellence Initiative, what ideas do you have for Adlershof? How would you want to develop the site?

I would like to see Adlershof develop a well-thought-out mobility concept, seeing as personal motorised transport is increasing every year. Of course, this is indicative of the site’s increasing prosperity—economically as well as academically. The S9 S-Bahn train line running every 10 minutes should be a part of this concept, too, highlighting the closeness between Adlershof and Berlin’s centre. What’s also lacking is a bike parking garage at the Adlershof S-Bahn station, where bikes can be securely stored.

This where the Scientist for Future comes through.

I have been working on the effects of climate change for over 25 years. Climate neutrality in transportation will not come anytime soon. Electromobility alone will not solve the problem because it doesn’t help us to manage traffic flows in to Adlershof. This will only be achieved with a mobility concept that takes all aspects into account.

What else is on your wishlist for the Technology Park?

A science club in Adlershof is one of those ideas. A place where scientists and researchers can meet to listen to a presentation and have an after-work drink in the early evening in a type of lounge atmosphere. A place of networking and community, where stimulating interdisciplinary discussion takes place, and which could also be a hub for science communication and, more generally, the scientific discourse in Berlin’s research area.

What is the role of policy in safeguarding excellent research?

The resignation of president Sabine Kunst, which was very painful for HU, will hopefully be a wake-up call for higher education policy in Berlin. Science and higher education policy provide framework conditions that are decisive for excellent research—having said that, for excellent university teaching, too. It is prudent to design this framework in a way that attracts top-level researchers and that enables us to keep them here. In my opinion, Berlin as a whole and Adlershof more specifically were quite successful in doing so and policy has contributed substantially to it. Whether we are able to do excellent research at our universities in future will strongly depend on how quickly Berlin’s government will take the right steps today.

Whether it’s the coronavirus crisis, the climate crisis, or a crisis of democracy—the world is currently faced with great challenges. Will excellent research from Berlin and Brandenburg contribute to solutions?

On the one hand, we need outstanding technological solutions in the 21st century. On the other hand, we must ask what society and policy need to tackle the challenges we are faced with. All over the world, researchers are working on such solutions. In Berlin and Brandenburg, too, many are making fundamental contributions. One of the strengths of Berlin as a place for research is that it facilitates research questions on the interface of the natural sciences and technology, on the one hand, and society and policy, on the other. There are not many other locations in Central Europe that have that breadth. Adlershof is an important place in Berlin for subjects like photovoltaics, microsystems technology, developing novel materials, and, more generally, the field of nanotechnology.

Interview by Nora Lessing for Adlershof Journal

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