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Germany’s 52nd nationwide young researcher competition was hold in the Bavarian city of Erlangen from May 25 to 28.
Jugend forscht – the Competition
At the end of May 2017, Germany’s best young researchers came together in Erlangen, Germany, for the 52nd national Jugend forscht – Young Researchers – competition. Participants presented their projects in seven areas of expertise and answered judges’ questions. And for the third time, Siemens was the contest’s national sponsor, after having previously served in this capacity in 1976 and 1997. But what’s the story behind Jugend forscht? Here you can find out more about this competition, whose goal for more than 50 years has been to promote extremely talented young researchers by means of a unique network. You’ll also learn why Siemens and Jugend forscht are united by the motto “The future: I’m shaping it.”
Sputnik Shock and the Education Crisis
Thanks to the “Sputnik shock” and the “education crisis” Germany’s education system was subjected to public criticism in the 1960s. Henri Nannen, who was the Editor in Chief of Stern magazine at that time, joined in the criticism, but he didn’t leave it at that. He launched an initiative to support highly qualified young scientists in the Federal Republic of Germany – an initiative called Jugend forscht that rapidly garnered broad public support. Nannen called for young people to participate in the program, which opened in December 1965. The program’s motto was, “We’re looking for the researchers of tomorrow!”
The model for this initiative came from the USA, which already had a long tradition of science fairs in schools and colleges. In these competitions, which were organized in the style of trade fairs, young people presented their research projects and inventions not only to juries of experts but also to the general public.
Partners from Business and Science
From the very start, Nannen received strong support for the idea of organizing science fairs in Germany as well. Several major companies became sponsors of the competitions in the individual federal states. In so doing, they began a tradition that continues today: States organize the competitions, endow awards, and promote additional activities such as meetings of former participants. For more than five decades, this concept has been a key recipe for the competition’s success.
Today Jugend forscht is supported by approximately 250 partners from Germany’s business and science communities. In every annual round, a total of 116 competitions are held at the regional, state, and national levels.
Jugend forscht generates enthusiasm. This is where Germany’s smartest young people come together and engage in a competition with their ideas.
Steadily Increasing Registrations
Initially, participants came from traditional science subjects taught in schools and universities: biology, chemistry, mathematics, and physics. A category focused on technology was added in 1968. One year later it was joined by geological and space sciences, and from 1975 researchers studying the world of work could also apply. The latter category was primarily meant to attract young trainees and apprentices to the competition.
Ever since Henri Nannen launched Jugend forscht in 1965, the competition has steadily increased its popularity. Whereas only 244 boys and girls participated in the first annual round, by 1971 the number of participants exceeded the one-thousand mark. And this year, more than 12,000 young researchers have registered from throughout Germany for the 52nd annual round. Almost 39 percent of them are girls, thus setting a new record. In 1966 girls accounted for only eight percent of participants. Over the past five decades, a total of more than a quarter of a million talented young people have participated in Germany’s best-known competition for up-and-coming researchers.
Siemens and Jugend forscht
The requirements for future innovations in research and technology are the creativity and imagination contributed by young scientists. That, in turn, requires talented people such as the participants of Jugend forscht — people with scientific curiosity, individual initiative, and a commitment to top performance, who redefine problems as challenges to be mastered. Siemens, as a globally operating technology group, needs these young people now more than ever.
“Jugend forscht generates enthusiasm,” says Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser. “This is where Germany’s smartest young people come together and engage in a competition with their ideas. It’s a wonderful forum that inspires people and may enable us to discover some future inventors who could end up at Siemens.”
It’s understandable that Siemens considers its sponsorship a good platform for finding talented future employees and attracting them to the company. That has been its policy for decades. This year the company will be sponsoring the national final round for the third time, after having previously served in this capacity in 1976 and 1997. Among other things, the sponsorship is a way for Siemens to present itself as an attractive and future-oriented employer that offers interesting jobs for outstanding young inventors and researchers in the areas of mathematics, information technology, natural sciences, and technology (MINT) — people whose creativity and imagination make future innovations possible.
Former National Winner is this Year’s Contact Person
Siemens was represented in its role of sponsor of the 52nd national final round by Dr. Frank Anton, who is now turning the vision of electric flying into reality at Siemens Corporate Technology. Anton himself was the 1975 national winner of Jugend forscht in the field of technology. “Jugend forscht is great,” says Anton. “Young researchers have creative and innovative ideas, but they have reached their goals only by tenaciously persisting with their topics. This is what gives them the self-confidence they will need in order to come up with scientific answers and technological solutions for difficult issues in the future. We at Siemens have learned to listen to young researchers. Their self-confidence will serve as the basis of our company’s success in the decades ahead.”
The Competition’s Categories
Jugend forscht participants are free to choose their research subjects. Once they have identified an interesting issue, they examine it using scientific, technical or mathematical methods. However, their project must be allocated to one of seven areas of expertise: work environment, biology, chemistry, geo- and space sciences, mathematics/IT, physics, and technology.
We are broadcasting portraits, features, and further highlights from this year’s finale of Jugend forscht in Erlangen. Thanks to our Videobox, you can keep abreast of this year’s final of one of the world’s biggest competitions for young researchers.
Interview with Frank Anton
A talk with Frank Anton, who today works at Siemens as a pioneer in the development of electric aviation. He was the national winner of Jugend forscht over 40 years ago, and this year he represented Siemens in its capacity as the sponsor of the national final round.
Winners of the 1975 national Jugend forscht competition travel to Persia, which was the official name of the country before the Iranian Revolution. In attendance: Participants Frank Anton and his later wife Gisela (2nd and 3rd from left).
Siemens was sponsoring 2017' Jugend forscht national competition. As the representative of Siemens’ sponsorship, you were your company’s most important contact person for this competition. What’s your personal connection with Jugend forscht?
Anton: I participated in Jugend forscht in 1975, when I submitted an apparatus for decoding Morse code. That year I became the national winner of Jugend forscht in the field of technology. But that’s not all. I also received a very personal award at the competition. That’s where I met my future wife, with whom I’ve now been happily married for 38 years. I can certainly say that the competition changed my life.
Why is Siemens sponsoring the competition this year?
Because there are lots of similarities between Jugend forscht and Siemens. Young researchers have creative and innovative ideas — and that’s exactly what characterizes our company. These brainy people work with tremendous dedication to reach their goals. And the main thing they learn in the process is something I also learned back in 1975: They acquire the self-confidence they need in order to find a scientific answer or a technical solution for a difficult question. We’re always looking for people like that at Siemens.
Throngs of young people will come to Erlangen at the end of May for the national round of the competition. What do you think their key take-away about Siemens should be?
I’d like them to see how innovative and fresh we still are after 170 years of corporate history, and how we are preparing ourselves for the next 170. I want them to experience how much fun it is to work at Siemens.
As teenagers, Wilko Wilkening and a fellow researcher wanted to find out if chemiluminescence could be triggered by an electric current. To do so, they immersed two electrodes in a solution of luminol, exposed the solution to electricity, and discovered that the substance glowed. The experiment was so successful that the project won a special prize in the Chemistry category. Today, Wilkening is working on imaging the heart by means of pulses of ultrasound that are less than a tenth of a second in duration. Read more
Twenty-five years ago, the images from magnetic resonance tomography units were no clearer than the flickering on a TV screen after a station signed off. Of course, experts could interpret the images, but young Kjell Oppermann couldn’t. As a student in a school for gifted youngsters he was required in one class to deal with those flickering images – which is how he discovered his topic for Jugend forscht. And there was more. In 1992 his project won a special prize in the Mathematics / Informatics category. Today, two decades later, he heads Siemens’ software purchasing. Read more
As the event’s host, Siemens was allowed to choose the city where the national contest will take place. Siemens selected Erlangen because it is home to several of the company’s divisions and serves as a key hub for its operations. In fact, Siemens has more than 23,000 employees here.
The city of Erlangen demonstrated its farsightedness early on by welcoming a Siemens complex that began with only two employees but has gradually expanded over the years to become a major center of expertise for the company. Thanks to its ideal infrastructure, Erlangen has developed from a small town to a key center of industry and education in northern Bavaria. Siemens’ extensive city campus has not only played a major role in shaping the city’s physical profile, but has also significantly changed Erlangen’s economic and social structure.
A successful partnership
Erlangen and Siemens are bound by a long tradition that will soon be a century old. The Siemens complex in Erlangen, which employs more than 23,000 men and women, is one of the company’s major hubs and one of its biggest locations worldwide. It has received numerous awards as an important research and development center, and it has a well-established program for supporting talented young people. Siemens currently has almost 1,000 trainees in Erlangen. As well-qualified specialists, they can be expected to contribute significantly to the future of the local and regional economy, as well as to Siemens.
An investment in the future
Siemens will continue to invest in Erlangen in coming years. Indeed, by 2030, the company expects to complete a new 54 hectare campus that will combine future-oriented office, laboratory, and research workplaces with residential units and leisure facilities.
Picture Credits: from top: 1-3, 5-12 Stiftung Jugend forscht e.V.