Dr. Christian Winter: Interdisciplinary dialogues in the tradition of Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz

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Founded in 1846, the Saxon Academy of Sciences in Leipzig continues the ­tradition of the academic idea formed by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in 1700: to bring scientists from different fields of studies together on a regular basis to exchange views and discuss methods and results in an interdisciplinary setting and conduct long-term projects.

The Saxon Academy of Sciences in Leipzig – founded on 1 July 1846 under the name of Royal Saxon Society for the Sciences – is rooted in the tradition of the academic idea established by Leibniz in 1700. Scientists from different disciplines are to be brought together on a regular basis to exchange views in interdisciplinary discussions to unite »theoriam cum praxi«, in line with the idea formed by the world famous polymath Leibniz. According to the idea, the Academy covers the entire spectrum of disciplinary knowledge and seeks to create transdisciplinary relations and establish a permeability between different disciplines and scientific institutions.

The Academy is divided into three equal classes: the Mathematical-Natural Sciences Class, the Philological-Historical Class and the Class of Engineering Sciences. The association of scholars currently consists of 151 members, who live and work in the catchment area of the Saxon Academy, the states Saxony, Saxony-Anhalt and Thuringia, plus 72 corresponding members. These scientists from a diverse range of disciplines meet regularly to exchange ideas, examine methods and results of specialist studies in interdisciplinary discussion and initiate important research projects.

Ceremonial awarding of the Codex diplomaticus Saxoniae

Ceremonial awarding of the Codex diplomaticus Saxoniae

The Saxon Academy is a member of the Union of the German Academies of Sciences and Humanities. It co­­ordinates the Academies’ Programme – a humanistic research programme, which is unique in the world and funded equally by the German federal and state governments. It supports, in particular, long-term basic humanistic research projects and fulfils the central role, as confirmed by the German Council of Science and Humanities, of retrieving, preserving and visualising our cultural heritage.

Currently, there are 20 projects of the Academies` Programme being executed at the Saxon Academy, which have to routinely prove their excellence during evaluations by internal and external reviewers. The research work is carried out in close cooperation with the universities in the countries of domicile as well as non-university re­search facilities including the Bach-Archiv-Leipzig, Packard Humanities Insti­tute in Los Altos, California, the Herzog August Biblio­thek Wolfenbüttel, the Simon Dubnow Institute for Jewish History and Cul­ture Leipzig and the Goethe and Schiller Archive in Weimar. Edition projects are one of its main focuses, which on the one hand reflect the significant role of the Central German region for Germany’s and Eu­­rope’s history and culture and on the other hand focus on historical basic research regarding thematic aspects. Tradi­tionally, dictionary projects are of great importance, whereby the focus lies mainly on historical comprehensive dictionaries. Other focuses are projects on musicology as well as legal history and linguistics. Digital Humanities have become an essential part of the research work throughout these projects. Research results and ed­­ited sources are digitally processed according to highest scientific standards and made accessible online to the scientific specialist community and the public.

Research object Obere Talsperre Neunzehnhain

Research object Obere Talsperre Neunzehnhain

Along with humanistic basic research, research based on science and technical science also looks back on a long tradition at the Saxon Academy. For example, on pro­­ject examines the long-term development of material flows and biological structures of ecosystems around dams. Medical research studied the effect of me­­latonin receptors on pancreatic α-, β- and δ-cells and examined to what extent clock genes control the circadian rhythm of insulin secretion. Here, interactions be­­­tween the chron­­o­biologically relevant hormone melatonin and the pancreatic hormones insulin and glucagon were verified, providing important results for a pos­­­sible interrelationship between melatonin and diabetes mellitus. An import­ant objective is in­­­terconnecting science and en­­gineering science in materials science, environmental re­­search, geology and geo­­eco­­­­logy. A joint research project carried out by Leipzig Uni­ver­­sity and the Technische Uni­versität Dresden, initiated by the Saxon Academy, focuses on researching and developing functional biomaterial to regulate healing processes in bone and skin tissue. It was supported by the German Re­­search Foundation (DFG) and builds a bridge between ma­­terials science and basic bio­­chemical research up to clinical application.

Based on methodological con­­cepts from technology as­­sess­­ment, both the decision making process and the promotion of acceptance among de­­­cision makers in science, business, society and politics should be supported when new technologies are intro­­duced. A project supported by the Helmholtz Centre for Envi­ron­mental Research (UFZ) assesses the location po­ten­­tials of post-mining landscapes regarding their potential use for an increased biomass production. By applying low-input procedures (mixed crops and multi-species systems), the energy input during the cultivation of biomass is to be decreased and using marginal locations of the post-mining landscapes is to reduce land use conflicts. Experimental tests are to validate available re­­search results and convert them to application-ready pro­­duction technologies.

Use of renewable raw materials (wood chips)

Use of renewable raw materials (wood chips)

A joint workplace was created at the Institute of Energy Process Engineering and Chemical Engineering (IEC) at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg, which is incorporated into the strategy conception for developing innovative and competitive technologies for a low carbon economy as part of the “Zwanzig20 Forum – Partnership for Innovation” forum, sponsored by the Federal Min­istry of Education and Research (BMBF). Here, potentials of respective technologies are to be analysed and economic, ecological and social opportunities as well as fields of conflict pointed out and appropriate courses of action derived. Another research project examined sustainability strategies to reduce CO2 emissions in industry and business.

As part of the Science Year 2015 »City of the Future« initiative, the Academy and the Leibniz Institute of Ecological Urban and Regional Development are seeking out discussions with specialists as well as the interested public about the city as a social, economic and political point of reference, but also as a place of cultural diversity, innovation and a new way of social togetherness with the series of events »Renaissance der Stadt – Chancen für die Zukunft« (the city’s renaissance – future possibilities).

The Saxon Academy also pursues its hereditary objective of promoting transdisciplinary dialogue and providing an opportunity for open discussion regarding the relationships between sciences and politics and society through their academic journal »Denkströme«. The academic journal is accompanied by two public series of events: while the Acad­­emy Forum is open to debates regarding science, its forms, institutional constitutions, sociopolitical re­­quirements and its role in training and education, the Academy Colloquium serves as a facility for a timely presentation of research results of projects and adjacent undertakings. These should not only be presented to a small community of specialists but also made accessible to the public space for the entire scientific community and generally made available to people interested in sciences.

doc01063920150921080706Dr. Christian Winter
The author was born in Borna in 1965. Christian Winter studied theology at Leipzig University and earned his doctorate in 1994. Between 1992 and 2012, he headed the department working on an early modern edition project at the Saxon Academy of Sciences. Since 2013, he is the General Secretary at the Saxon Academy of Sciences in Leipzig.