These scientists from India and Germany talk about their enriching experiences in each other’s country—the knowledge sharing, research work, cross-cultural delights and challenges!
“Dohoggeddiadiaemmerdohogged” states a sign above a bench near the beautiful Castle Hohentübingen, which in Swabian means, “Those who sit here, sit here always.” I feel the same ever since I came to this beautiful little university town almost a decade ago, and it continues to inspire me. Tübingen perfectly exemplifies why Germany has been referred to as “Das Land der Dichter und Denker” (the country of poets and thinkers). Nucleic acid, the genetic basis of life, was discovered in the castle’s kitchen, and the famous poet Friedrich Hölderlin penned his poetry in a tower in the town centre. Working at a Max Planck Institute, along with researchers from all over the world and the ever-precise Germans, has broadened my horizons beyond compare.
Honey bees are important pollinators worldwide. India is one of the countries with the greatest diversity of honey bee species. It has at least five different ones! My Indian students and I study the ecology and evolution of honey bee behaviour using state-of-the-art technology. We want to understand how honey bees do what they do and how the different species differ in what they're doing. I'd also like to help advance honey bee research in India and increase awareness on their importance for food production. However, one should be aware that the issues in India are different from those in Europe and the US.
Being a geographer at a German university is a great profession. It’s interesting and the tasks are diverse—research, teaching and administration are all part of the job. I'm currently working on an Indo-German research project, which is a great privilege. Sometimes my work can be challenging, but it’s always exciting and inspiring. Besides generating data, exchanging knowledge with Indian scholars and scientists and learning from them is critical for generating scientific findings. It’s the basis for reaching mutual understanding between scientists from different cultural backgrounds. And this is crucial for achieving the aim of science: to understand today’s world.
Working in an Indo-German context and being part of the German House for Research and Innovation consortium reminds me of the African proverb, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Since our Delhi branch office’s inception in 1962, we have focussed on building bridges by initiating, fostering and deepening the scientific collaboration and exchange among scholars from Heidelberg and India. In spite of its challenges, the work in an interdisciplinary, multicultural and innovative atmosphere is as exciting, motivating and rewarding as it can be.
Science in India focusses on developing innovative, low-cost solutions in the fields of healthcare, diagnostics and information technology. Made-in-India solutions that have impacted many lives worldwide include Axiostat, an advanced wound dressing that stops traumatic external bleeding and has been awarded the “Good Samaritan Award 2016”; ToucHb, a non-invasive anaemia scanner; and DiaSense, a diabetic neuropathy device. The latter has huge potential in the German market, as lifestyle diseases such as diabetes are prevalent, and cost-efficient treatment technology born out of dire need in India can help rein in the exorbitant cost of healthcare services.
My colleagues at Johns Hopkins University were surprised when I moved to Germany in 1996, after having stayed in the US for almost eight years. I was excited about my new job at the Max Planck Institute, but less sure about the new country and language. But I am so happy that I moved. Germany has been an extremely valuable partner in terms of research cooperation, intellectual growth and student movement. My involvement as an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow and as the India Chair at the Indo-German Frontiers of Engineering has been so rewarding. I am sure such collaborations will continue to flourish.
Science creates knowledge, and global society needs new knowledge to handle the challenges of a changing world and ensure everyone’s well-being. Germany is a knowledge hub with institutions that are at the forefront of developing new technical solutions that will pave the way for a sustainable future—for example, the Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems set a new world record for solar cell efficiency. India has an increasing need for energy, as the population and consumption per person is constantly rising. Germany and India work closely together to create and implement green energy solutions and to manage the green lungs of our planet: forests.
Germany’s knowledge of how to transition from a coal-based energy economy to a people-owned renewable energy economy can benefit India greatly. The Energiewende, driven and funded by the citizens of Germany, is one of the greatest success stories of 21st-century Germany and deserves to be replicated in India. When shared fairly, revenues from renewable energy can bring reliable income to the rural economy and give panchayats the revenue required to invest in better roads, schools and water supply. Renewable energy can bridge the rural-urban divide in terms of facilities and infrastructure and can help India develop in a sustainable manner.
Looking at the earnest efforts being made by India and Germany at the academic/scientific level, as well as at the governmental level, I strongly feel that Indo-German science cooperation is poised to grow by leaps and bounds in the coming years. On a personal level, I can gladly say that the platform offered to me 30 years ago to carry out research work with a German collaborator has now blossomed into a platform involving several German collaborators with diverse scientific backgrounds from universities spread across Germany. Thanks to German science, I have become an inter-disciplinary researcher.
I began my scientific career in Germany in 2010 when I embarked on a PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research (MPI-HLR) in Bad Nauheim. I recently moved to LMU in Munich. My experience so far has been wonderful. I have received unparalleled academic training, supplemented with many opportunities to improve upon essential soft skills. As an Indian, the cultural exchange has been interesting and sometimes challenging. Overall, it has been a great experience. It has opened my eyes to the world and my colleagues’ eyes to an India that is beyond snake charmers and elephants!
Over the last 60 years, the size of a transistor has been reduced to a few nanometres, resulting in faster, cheaper and smarter computers. But the miniaturisation crusade in the silicon chip industry faces a wall of limitation—a wall that is governed by the laws of quantum mechanics. My job as a physicist is to break this barrier, and there is no better place to do this than in Germany. It is a place where walls fall down: social walls, political walls, and of course, the Berlin Wall, giving us hope that we can achieve the impossible.
Working towards social, economic and ecological sustainability is one of the biggest challenges for India today, but it is also a great opportunity for the country and its people. Introducing the concept of sustainability as a systems science at universities—both in research and teaching—means to transgress long-standing disciplinary boundaries and departmental barriers. As a German visiting professor, I act as a bridgehead, navigating between two academic cultures and structures, with a view to provide an interface for students, scholars and scientists from both countries to leverage their knowledge for mutual benefit.
Collaboration is key to solving complex problems in science and beyond — both across disciplines and across cultures. The Research Unit FOR2432 which investigates transformation processes in agriculture as a consequence of urbanisation, is one such example. Two German and several Indian institutions are involved in this Indo-German collaboration, and both countries are participating in the funding through the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT). This degree of integration is a novel experience when it comes to cooperation in the basic sciences—from the doctoral students to the professors and the administrative officials.
This Indo-German collaboration has challenged all of us: the German partners in arranging with the bureaucracy and complex decision making in India; the Indian colleagues in bearing with the German strive for the use of new methodological approaches and the pressure to plan way ahead. But, through a combination of improvisation and trust, things have worked out surprisingly well, and we are thankful for the progress the project has made so far.
As a team, we not only have complementary cultural backgrounds and scientific expertise in agriculture, economics, ecology and system sciences, but also a good mix of personalities: those who push, those who mediate and those who have the patience and persistence to carry out the daily groundwork with all its tedious details. Most importantly, we are all committed to learning from each other, to jointly widening our knowledge and contributing to a sustainable future for our societies.
Prof Andreas Buerkert, S von Cramon-Taubadel, BV Chinnappa Reddy & E Hoffmann