Cover: Humboldt Kosmos 108/2018: Coming to change

No. 108/2018

Coming to change

Ten years of Alexander von Humboldt Professorships

Five million euros to get a researcher from abroad to relocate to a German university! When the Humboldt Foundation launched the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship ten years ago, the sponsorship amount caused furore. Those in the know commented that research was starting to get like football with its transfer market.

But if this makes you think of the Ronaldos and Neymars with their hundreds of millions, that is not what this is all about. Only a fraction of the money associated with the Humboldt Professorship flows into a competitive salary for a brilliant, internationally-coveted academic. The lion’s share is used for building new structures, labs, teams and for materials.

In the end, it is not so much the salary that governs the decision to relocate but the ideal research environment, the high degree of freedom and, last but not least, the trust implicit in being granted a Humboldt Professorship.

Apart from excellent research, what is expected of the recipients of a Humboldt Professorship is, first and foremost, that they create something new, inject new ideas and bring a fresh breeze. They come to change things.


Coming to change

The Humboldt Professorship enables German universities to attract top international researchers with fantastic offers. A review of the first ten years.


We need fearless universities

A conversation with Enno Aufderheide, Secretary General of the Humboldt Foundation, on recruiting research luminaries and the benefits they bring German universities.


Humboldt Professor Burkhard Rost

Curiosity is what drives him – “and the fascination with all the things we still don’t know about biology”. His goal: a bridge between medicine and biosciences.


Humboldt Professor Elisabeth Décultot

If you want to trace the history of knowledge transfer in the aesthetics of the 18th century, you need old books – and they exert a particular fascination on Elisabeth Décultot.


Humboldt Professor Sharon Macdonald

“Museums are extremely important for our societies because that is where people decide which things will play a role in the future,” says Sharon Macdonald.


Humboldt Professor Karen Radner

“I love the feeling of discovering something nobody has ever discovered before,” says Karen Radner, describing what drives her as a researcher.


Humboldt Professor Oliver Brock

To build robots that can deal with everyday tasks and situations just as well and as efficiently as people can – that is Oliver Brock’s mission.

Humboldtians in private

My (non-)selfie with the German President

As a Humboldt Research Fellow Qiang Guo visited the Foundation’s Annual Meeting in Berlin and Schloss Bellevue. He came back with a selfie with Frank-Walter Steinmeier, at least almost.

Brief enquiries

How do you make online maps more social, Ms Leal-Taixé?

In her “Social Maps” project the computer scientist Laura Leal-Taixé wants to integrate social information into digital maps.

Brief enquiries

Is there a connection between prejudice against black people and police violence, Mr Calanchini?

It seems likely that racism could be the reason for police violence but, so far, no-one has published any scientific studies on the issue.

Brief enquiries

Can literature connect worlds, Ms Fathy?

Goethe, Schiller, Fontane and then what? The Egyptian Germanist Hebatallah Fathy wants to enrich German teaching in Germany.

Brief enquiries

What is it about polygamy, Mr Junker?

In his book “Die verborgene Natur der Liebe” (The Hidden Nature of Love), the historian of biology Thomas Junker reveals that we are still creatures of nature.

Brief enquiries

Can social media enhance the quality of research, Ms Shema?

The information scientist Hadas Shema argues for recognising online commentaries as a component of quality assurance.

Close up on research


Wilfred Fritz managed to carve his path through racial barriers and became one of the first non-whites to study at the South African Stellenbosch University.

Focus on Germany

Forget the grammar you learn at school

Today’s broken rules are often tomorrow’s norms. The Hungarian linguist Vilmos Ágel has developed a completely new grammar.


The new President: Hans-Christian Pape

The Humboldt Foundation has a new President: in January, the neurophysiologist Hans-Christian Pape took over the helm of the Foundation from the chemist Helmut Schwarz.


Foreign researchers’ favourite German universities

The Humboldt Rankings document the intensity of international contacts as well as the reputation of German universities.


Humboldtian honoured

Joachim Frank is the 55th researcher in the Humboldt Network to be awarded a Nobel Prize.

The faces of the foundation

The science behind it

Who actually does what at Humboldt headquarters? These are the colleagues at the Humboldt Foundation, their lives at work and beyond. Today: Dr Johannes Belz.