Cover: Humboldt Kosmos 109/2018: Humboldt today
Portrait by Friedrich Georg Weitsch, 1806 (creditline: Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Nationalgalerie / photographer: Karin März / montage: Raufeld Medien)

No. 109/2018

Humboldt today

The secret of an eternal idol

What if Humboldt were a researcher today, in 2019?

He was a marketing genius. A networker who never stopped writing letters. He loved succinct sentences and punchlines. He held lectures for a wide audience. He took a stand on slavery, colonialism and environmental destruction. Today, he would probably tweet – against climate change sceptics and fake news mongers. He would appear on talk shows and have his own YouTube channel.

Which area would this polymath choose to specialise in today, where would his adventures lead him?

Perhaps he would study the melting permafrost in Siberia. He would certainly be attending international conferences all over the place. Or he would be on the first manned-flight to Mars.

By the end of his life, Humboldt had spent his family’s fortune on travel and ruinous publications. Where would he get the money from to pursue his dreams today? Would he hold a chair in Berlin or have turned his back on Germany as he did then?

Form your own image of the historical Alexander von Humboldt and what makes him relevant to this day.


The Humboldt Code

Networker, daredevil and marketing genius: The reports on his travels and adventures earned Alexander von Humboldt star status. On the secret of an eternal idol.


For me, Humboldt today means ...

Anja Karliczek, Hans Christian Pape, Ranga Yogeshwar, Heiko Maas and Carolina Doran talk about their personal Humboldt.


Everybody’s Star

Discoverer, Romantic, climate prophet or working class hero: Nicolaas A. Rupke has investigated how the various images of Humboldt have come about.

Humboldtians in Private

Bridging the Gap

With Soapbox Science, Carolina Doran takes science to a broader public and makes female scientists more visible.

Brief Enquiries

Who Tells the Swarm Where To Go, Mr Jolles?

Animal swarms have fascinated us for a long time. How do they coordinate their behaviour? This is one of Jolle Jolles’ research fields: he focuses on sticklebacks.

Brief Enquiries

Ms Omarini, What Do You Do With Discarded Citrus Fruit?

Some people put orange peel in their dishwasher,others put lemon peel in their wardrobes. Alejandra Omarini wants to make such waste industrially viable.

Brief Enquiries

When Did Consumers Discover Their Power, Mr Trentmann?

Ever more people are making conscious purchasing decisions in order to drive changes in society. A new consumer awareness? “Not at all,” says historian Frank Trentmann.

Brief Enquiries

Mr Yetisen, What Do You Read in Our Tears?

Many diabetics have to test their blood sugar levels several times a day. Chemical engineer Ali Yetisen demonstrates that contact lenses can act as sensors in the eye.

Brief Enquiries

How Can the Impact of ADHD Be Minimised, Ms Roy?

Although many children with behavioural disorders grow up to lead a normal life, others never find their place in society. Arunima Roy’s dream is to stop this from happening.

Close Up on Research

The High-Flyer

The biologist, Martin Wikelski, studies animal migration – from space. In his project ICARUS, he collects the data from animals fitted with GPS transmitters.

View onto Germany

The Lure of Germany

For years he had to justify why he was such a good friend to Germany. Today, Myles W. Jackson has to explain to his friends why he doesn’t want to work in Germany permanently despite having been offered a Humboldt Professorship.


Programme for threatened researchers cemented

Under its Philipp Schwartz Initiative, the Humboldt Foundation supports threatened researchers from abroad. The programme is now being financed permanently by Germany’s Federal Foreign Office.


Humboldt Foundation Receives €25 Million of Additional Funding Until 2024

The Munich-based Carl Friedrich von Siemens Foundation and the Humboldt Foundation are extending their cooperation, which was launched in 2015.


New Sofja Kovalevskaja Award Winners Honoured

Six international research talents have received this year’s Sofja Kovalevskaja Awards. Valued at up to €1.65 million each, the awards were conferred in Berlin. 

The Faces of the Foundation

Full Thrusters Ahead!

Who actually does what at Humboldt headquarters? Who are the people behind the scenes? This page is devoted to the colleagues at the Humboldt Foundation. Today: Sven Vorbach.