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Science & Technology

January 21, 2008
Volume 86, Number 3
p. 46

C&EN Talks With

Helmut Schwarz

Physical chemist takes presidency of Germany's Humboldt Foundation

Sarah Everts

AND WOULD YOU like a BMW with that research award, sir?

A free car is hard to decline; likewise, the offer to head a German foundation that once provided a new BMW to its prestigious award recipients.

This month, Helmut Schwarz, a physical chemist at Berlin's Technical University, took on the presidency of the Humboldt Foundation, which each year provides grants to 600 international scholars, at all career stages, to spend a few months or even several years doing research in Germany.

Sarah Everts/C&EN

Schwarz, who has an active research group and was previously vice president of Germany's major research funding agency, DFG, has purposely shied away from other presidency offers at universities and funding bodies. But the Humboldt offer of a five-year renewable term as president was too "hard to resist," he tells C&EN.

"Alexander von Humboldt was one of the very first true cosmopolitans," Schwarz says. "He was a person who crossed borders, not only in terms of the many subjects in which he was interested but geographically and culturally.

"He was all the time interested in how to bring together sciences, peace activities, and mutual understanding, and to bring South American culture to Europe and European ideas to other countries. Part of that spirit is still present in the Humboldt Foundation."

The foundation funds international academics—from postdocs and assistant professors all the way to Nobel Laureates. The idea is