E Pluribus Compositum - or - The Salad Bowl

Germany's New Center for Research and Innovation in New York

bridges vol. 25, April 2010 / Institutions & Organizations

By Sebastian Fohrbeck , Marion Müller and Joann Halpern

egcri009bsheehan_small.jpgOn February 19, 2010, Germany's Federal Minister of Education and Research, Annette Schavan, and the German Ambassador to the United States, Klaus Scharioth, opened the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI) in New York1.  Part of the German Government's Strategy for the Internationalization of Science and Research, it is one of five such centers worldwide. The other locations are Moscow, New Delhi, São Paulo, and Tokyo. Funds for the centers' start-up phase are provided by the German Federal Foreign Office.

The mission of the GCRI is to strengthen transatlantic collaboration in science and technology to help solve the challenges of the 21st Century.

Its primary goals consist of:

  • Presenting Germany to the North American market as a land of research and innovation
  • Enhancing the dialogue between academia and industry
  • Creating a forum for the initiation and enhancement of transatlantic  projects
  • Providing an information platform for the German research and innovation landscape.

Two key German organizations have been entrusted with bringing the idea to life and establishing GCRI in the American market: the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)2  and the German Research Foundation (DFG)3 . These organizations have had their own liaison offices in North America since 1971 and 2002, respectively. This new entity allows them, in an unprecedented way, to go above and beyond what individual agencies, organizations, and stakeholders can achieve in the American market. It is a road not previously traveled but one that surely holds great potential.

{access view=guest}Access to the full article is free, but requires you to register. Registration is simple and quick – all we need is your name and a valid e-mail address. We appreciate your interest in bridges.{/access} {access view=!guest} Under the umbrella of the new GCRI, German research has a unique opportunity to gain greater visibility and an active presence in North America by pooling resources, ideas, and competencies, thus maximizing synergies. Due to its institutional and political neutrality, GCRI affords an opportunity for the diverse players comprising the German research and science system to rally around a new entity whose strength lies in the distinctive qualities of its individual members. Unlike the melting-pot image promoted by the e pluribus unum idea, GCRI is more aptly described as e pluribus compositum, a salad bowl whose ingredients retain their individual flavors while contributing to the aggregate. GCRI does not seek to blend and blur, but rather to enhance and enrich.

The two most crucial tasks of GCRI for the medium-term will be
1. To attract top-level German players to be part of the enterprise; and
2. To position itself on the American market as the central point of easy access to the multifaceted German science and research landscape.

It goes without saying that the two tasks are inextricably linked. In order to safeguard success on both counts, GCRI will use its "Grenzgänger" position in the best possible way. It will build on its independent access to a plethora of constituencies and partners in Germany, while at the same time showcasing Germany as a land of ideas, know-how and innovation. GCRI's primary advantage is its independence and flexibility: Without the constraints of organizational self-interests or corporate agendas, it can bring together the foremost authorities on a topic or theme and thus develop a vibrant context for cutting-edge transatlantic interaction. Advised by a group of top-level transatlantic experts from public and business spheres, GCRI also strives to foster and enhance exchange and permeability between the private and the public sectors. In a way, GCRI's function can be compared to a kaleidoscope:  It creates a powerful picture out of individual components and brings about an engaging consumer/viewer experience.

The GCRI building in New York.

We are convinced that New York is the perfect location for this endeavor. Not only is the city steeped in European and, in particular, German culture, but it also provides an ideal environment for setting up and cultivating dense networks of contacts with universities, research institutions, and companies, and for building strong ties between Germany and North America. The region boasts a multitude of research universities and national laboratories. Eight of the 50 most innovative international companies are located in the greater New York area, as are numerous DAX-listed German companies. It is a hub of research universities, brain power, and entrepreneurial success and innovative potential - and thus forms an ideal starting point for GCRI.

In a nutshell, DAAD and DFG will strive to develop GCRI into a transatlantic hinge that opens the door for Americans to Germany's rich research and innovation sector, while also serving a multiplicity of German stakeholders as an attractive stepping-stone to the American market.

How will we go about it? The scope of envisioned activities is broad. GCRI will:

  • Convene scientific conferences and symposia to examine cutting-edge research and explore solutions to global problems that integrate understandings of science, the economy, and society
  • Provide a "one-stop shopping" online presence for information about the German research landscape and funding sources
  • Celebrate and promote German contributions to research and development through lectures and exhibitions 
  • Develop workshops for graduate students and other young researchers to facilitate engagement with German institutions
  • Support North American universities as they develop strategies to enhance international research collaborations with Germany 
  • Organize events that bring together international experts and partners from research institutions, industry, and government
  • Confer awards for lifelong achievement in transatlantic scientific cooperation
  • Increase public engagement with German science and technology.

The joint leadership of DFG and DAAD, as well as the enthusiasm and professionalism of the GCRI's American program director, Dr. Joann Halpern, and her team, have gotten the Center off to a promising start. After an opening ceremony that featured German-born Nobel Prize Laureate Wolfgang Ketterle, among others, the GCRI has planned an ambitious program for 2010.

Federal Minister Schavan with representatives from DAAD, ACS, GCRI, MIT,
DAAD, DFG, Humboldt-Stiftung, Ambassador Scharioth, NY Consul General

Among upcoming events are:

A UN roundtable on "Harnessing the Power of Life Sciences to Achieve the Millennium Development Goals," with the new President of Germany's National Academy, Leopoldina, Professor Dr. Jörg Hinrich Hacker;

A roundtable discussion entitled "How Effective is the Current Patent System for Global Technological Innovation?" with expert speakers from RWTH Aachen University, New York University, Bucerius Law School, and 21Ventures;

A networking dinner with Professors Jürgen Meisel (University of Hamburg) and Michael Ullman (Georgetown University), who will discuss "The Bilingual Brain";

Additional events will address issues such as renewable energy and the environment, archaeology, and plasma medicine.

The German Center for Research and Innovation brings together leaders in research and innovation from Germany and North America, allowing them to share their knowledge with others, while enhancing their individual profiles and networks.



This article was contributed by, Sebastian Fohrbeck, director of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Marion Muller, director of the North American Office of the DFG, and Joann Halpern, director of the German Center for Research and Innovation (GCRI).


1. Links to pictures and reports (in German):

2. DAAD: the largest organization in the world for supporting the international exchange of students and scholars, www.daad.org

3. DFG: Germany's central public funding agency for science and research in Germany, www.dfg.de