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Speech of the President of the German Physical Society (DPG)
on the Occasion of the Marcel Grossmann Award Presentation
on 24th July 2006 at the Free University Berlin
during the 11th Marcel Grossmann Meeting on General Relativity
from 23rd to 29th July 2006

“The Role of Dahlem in the Development of Modern Physics”

by Prof. Eberhard Umbach, Würzburg

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have the great pleasure of speaking to you within the framework of today’s presentation of the Marcel Grossmann Awards to the three winners of Individual Awards, Roy Kerr, George Coyne, and Joachim Trümper, and to the President of the Free University, Dieter Lenzen, who shall be accepting the Institutional Award. I would therefore like to take this opportunity to cordially congratulate these four award-winners – or should I better say these about 35,000 award-winners including all members of the Free University – for receiving this highly prestigious prize.

On the occasion of the awards ceremony, I would also like to seize the opportunity to bring to mind the impressive rich scientific tradition of Berlin-Dahlem. Dahlem is not only a part of Verwaltungsbezirk Steglitz-Zehlendorf in the south-west of Berlin. It is also a synonym for arts, science, and education since it provides a home to various institutes of the three universities of Berlin, of the Max-Planck Society, and of several other institutions including museums, and it is also an area that has brought forward many world-famous scientists. Thus, the 11th Marcel Grossmann Meeting is being held at a very prominent location: Dahlem, where the Free University of Berlin (FU) stands today, is a domain of science and hence often named the “German Oxford”. It is a place of such great scientific tradition, that for instance a world map of physics without it, would be simply inconceivable. Dahlem is inseparably linked to the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Promotion of Science, which became the Max Planck Society in 1948 and started offering lectures of the FU on 15th November 1948. That happened even before the official founding ceremony of the FU on 4th December 1948 at the Titania Palace.

A decisive factor in the birth of the so called “Dahlem legend” was the fact that the technical development during the second half of the 19th century was fast, which in turn led to the sciences becoming an increasingly integral component of the production processes. In Berlin this meant a process of change in the organization of the sciences, which in the persons of Friedrich Althoff, the Prussian Under-Secretary of Education and Cultural Affairs and the theologian, Adolf Harnack, who was later to become the first president, finally led to the founding of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society for the Promotion of Science in 1911. This society went on to set up its Kaiser Wilhelm institutes, which became leading research institutes in Germany and were especially dedicated to fundamental research by a scientific elite, allowing Dahlem to become an outstanding centre of science. Besides Albert Einstein, who was Nobel Prize winner and Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics from 1917 to 1933, Dahlem also brought forward other world-famous scientists, among them Lise Meitner and 12 Nobel Prize winners, such as Max Planck, Peter Debye, Otto Hahn, Werner Heisenberg, Max von Laue, Ernst Ruska, and Otto Warburg. This illustrious list, that resembles a “who is who” in science, is just a small selection. Therefore we find ourselves here at a very special place, a place that lives and breathes history and great discoveries, a place that has had a huge impact on physics and our technical and cultural achievements during the course of the last century, which has never been seen before and is unrivalled by any other discipline.

In honouring the role of Dahlem and Berlin in the development of modern physics, one should not fail to mention one particular institution, the German Physical Society (DPG), a society that was founded in the year 1845, making it not only the oldest, but with its more than 52,000 members, also the largest physical society in the world. The seat of its headquarters is the Physikzentrum Bad Honnef on the Rhine, but it also has an important office in Berlin in the Magnus House, which is closely linked to the history of physics in Berlin. The DPG, which has counted and still counts most German physicists, including the world famous ones, does not actually do any physical research itself, but rather promotes the exchange of ideas within the scientific community, takes part in public discussions in society and issues public statements on topics such as environmental protection, education and further education, as well as research and energy policies. The DPG attempts to achieve its objectives mainly through major conferences, the so-called “Spring Conferences”, symposia and scientific meetings, the awarding of prizes, such as the Max Planck and Stern-Gerlach medals, the promotion of good relations to domestic, foreign, and international associations, also by providing counselling on issues such as the promotion of research, education, and careers. Although the DPG is the oldest physical society, the average age of its members is only 34. This is quite gratifying for the future of the DPG, after all, almost half of its members are either still at school or university students. The other half follows all kinds of professions, and some of the members were world-famous scientists who even took the responsibility as presidents, like Max Planck (1905-1906, 1906-1907, 1908-1909 and 1915 1916) and his successor Albert Einstein (1916-1918). It is through Albert Einstein that we have the direct link to Marcel Grossmann and this conference, as Einstein was a fellow student of Grossmann. Besides their discussions on mathematical problems, they also published the “Outline of a Generalized Theory and of a Theory of Gravitation: Physical Part I by Albert Einstein; Mathematical Part II by Marcel Grossmann” (Leipzig, Berlin, B.G. Teubner, 1913).

Let me now take a leap from the DPG and Einstein to this year’s 11th Marcel Grossmann Meeting. Since the earliest days of science, cooperation has always been an essential and natural means of making new discoveries - a prominent example has just been mentioned -, and this is truer today than ever before. Cooperation means cooperation between disciplines, such as physics, mathematics, and astronomy, and between theory and experiment. The Marcel Grossmann meetings provide excellent examples for this kind of cooperation when addressing Theoretical and Experimental General Relativity, Gravitation, and Relativistic Field Theories emphasizing mathematical foundations and experimental tests from ground or space. Some of the aspects of this meeting, like general relativity, astrophysics and cosmology, including the big bang, supernovae, black holes, dark matter and dark energy also fascinate and amaze the general public and stimulate their fantasies. This is also important for attracting and recruiting motivated physics students, which are absolutely essential for the further development of our field and of our society, because we need the young generation of physicists for meeting the future challenges. Cooperation also means cooperation between research groups all over the world including common research projects, close collaboration in large scale experiments, exchange of coworkers, and frequent meetings. Nowadays, most research groups, which are competitive and successful on international standards, are embedded in international research networks.

However, it is less common - though highly desirable - that international education networks are established, for instance international programs for master or PhD education. Until recently there was no such effort in theoretical astrophysics. It is therefore highly appreciated that Prof. Remo Ruffini (Rome) has created a nucleus for such international cooperation with the International Center for Relativistic Astrophysics (ICRA) and the ICRA-NET which five years ago has launched an education program, the “International Relativistic Astrophysics PhD”. The institutes

  • Université de Nice - Sophia Antipolis,
  • Università di Roma „La Sapienza”,
  • Université de Savoi,
  • Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich,
  • Observatoire de la Cote d’Azur,
  • and the Freie Universität Berlin

cooperate in training their PhD candidates and in recognizing each other’s examinations. Such an effort is highly desirable in a competitive scientific world and in a Europe on its way of growing together. Moreover, such PhD programs that focus on a certain topic within one discipline, like physics or astrophysics, are also very much welcomed because they not only raise high quality researchers. Rather, they are necessary alternatives to the present concept of establishing Graduate Schools in the German university system with a main focus on interdisciplinary education, which means education between disciplines like physics, chemistry, life sciences, etc. Such interdisciplinary education and research is also fine in physics for about 20–30 % of its researchers but 70–80 % need intra-disciplinary cooperation within physics, but across the borders of institutes and countries. This is the strength of the “International Relativistic Astrophysics PhD”, and I congratulate Remo Ruffini and his collaborators, including those of the Free University, for the successful realization of this splendid idea. This brings us back to the tradition of the scientific domain Dahlem: physics and scientific discoveries are fuelled by scientific communication and the exchange of experiences, on both a national and an international scale. And that is what Dahlem and the mentioned world-famous scientists as well as this conference stand for.

I would like to end my speech on that note. I thank you for your attention and wish you all many new discoveries and exciting experiences, and I especially wish you a successful and highly interesting meeting.

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