A New Phase for German-Israeli Research Cooperation

Prof. Jürgen Renn appointed new Chair of the Minerva Centers Committee

September 21, 2021

The Minerva Stiftung is delighted to win Prof. Dr. Jürgen Renn, director of the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin, as the new chair of the Minerva Centers Committee. Renn takes over from Prof. Dr. Lothar Willmitzer, director of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, and will lead the committee for the next three years as it continues to appoint new Minerva Centers and evaluate its existing 24 ones.

Jürgen Renn brings to the committee valuable experience in German-Israeli cooperation, having taught at the Tel Aviv University from 1993 to 1994 and served as advisory board chair of the Minerva Humanities Center at Tel Aviv University since 2010. Together with Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund (Hebrew University), he delivered a keynote lecture in 2015 marking the 50th anniversary of German-Israeli diplomatic relations, in which he highlighted the significant turning points in the course of research cooperation between the two countries.

As Professor for the History of Science at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Freie Universität Berlin, and with an academic background in mathematics and physics, Renn also serves both as an expert and a broadly positioned generalist who is perfectly suitable in leading this interdisciplinary committee. We look forward to welcoming him on board as the Minerva Centers Programme continues its work in deepening research cooperation between Israel and Germany.

Four questions to Jürgen Renn

What targets have you set yourself for your chairmanship of the Minerva Centers' Committee, what is especially important to you?

The programme is well-structured, with a highly diverse range of subjects and participating institutions. I was especially impressed by the courage to tackle even highly risky, socio-politically relevant, at times even controversial, research and to develop suitable formats. It is especially important to me to preserve and promote this diversity and willingness to take risks.

What do you consider to be special about the Minerva Centres Programme?

For me, the characteristic feature of the programme is the large-scale independence of its funding format which is focused exclusively on excellence and innovative research. All Minerva Centres live interdisciplinarity and are distinguished by a high level of internationality. Those are the conditions for ensuring that the Minerva Centres continue to be locations of cutting-edge research in future.

In your opinion, how important is the Minerva Stiftung for the German-Israeli research sphere?

The Minerva Stiftung has a long-standing tradition which has significantly influenced the German-Israeli scientific cooperation. After the crimes of the Shoah and the first attempts at a rapprochement between Israel and Germany, it also significantly promoted mutual understanding between the two countries. From the start, the collaboration also set key impulses for the development of the respective research spheres. In particular, the Minerva Centres were hubs for a wider international exchange which was and is important for both countries.

In 1993-1994, you were a guest professor at Tel Aviv University. What did you learn during this period? What was your highlight? Do you have a favourite place in Israel?

My time in Israel was an important influence on my scientific career. This was where I found friends and set up collaborative endeavours that are still with me today. At the time, I was of course especially impressed with the Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University and the opportunity to work with original documents there, especially its notebooks and letters. My meetings with my Israeli colleagues are among the most exciting moments of my scientific life.

About Jürgen Renn

Born in 1956 in Moers, Germany, Prof. Jürgen Renn received his degree in physics at the Free University of Berlin in 1983, followed by his doctorate in mathematics at the Berlin Technical University in 1987. From 1986 to 1992 he was collaborator/co-editor of the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein. In 1989 he became Assistant Professor at Boston University and later in 1993 Associate Professor. Afterwards, he held the Simon Silverman Visiting Professorship of History of Science at Tel Aviv University, a Visiting Professor of Philosophy at ETH Zurich from 1993 to 1994 and an Adjunct Professor Boston University since 1994. In the same year he became Director and Scientific founding Member at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science where he is still located. In addition, he became honorary professor at the Humboldt-University of Berlin in 1996. Since 2005 he is a Member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina as well as honorary professor for the history of science at the Freie Universität Berlin since 2006.

Turning Points in the History of German-Israeli Scientific Cooperation

In the relationship between West Germany and Israel the bilateral scientific cooperation is regarded as an ‘icebreaker’ for the troublesome development of a regular diplomatic and cultural exchange. The preprint Jürgen Renn wrote together with Thomas Steinhauser and Hanoch Gutfreund in 2017 “A Special Relationship: Turning Points in the History of German-Israeli Scientific Cooperation” sketches the evolution of bilateral scientific relations from the 1950s to the 1980s with the Max Planck Society and the Weizmann Institute of Science as leading institutions and complements earlier historical interpretations with new, broadened horizons. As a result of contingent obstacles and opportunities the path dependent formation of these bilateral relations in close mutual connection between scientific and political agendas highlights reasons for long-term changes in German and Israeli science and society. Moreover, it reveals new contexts for the development of a more conscious attitude of the MPG towards science policy.

About the Minerva Centers' Programme and its  Committee

Minerva Centers
Minerva Centers are scientific pioneer institutions with a focus on innovative research topics in Israel and are funded by the Minerva Stiftung and the particular host university where the Center is based with a volume of up to 150,000 euros each year.
Research at the Centers is carried out in cooperation with German partners and involves excellent scientists regardless of their institutional affiliation in order to create an inter-university community in the field. more


Minerva Center Committee
The Minerva Center Committee is responsible for selecting and assessing applications of new Minerva Centers and appoints independent scientific committees for the evaluation of already existing Centers. The committee is comprised of internationally recognised German and Israeli scientists from various fields. more

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