Humboldt: from research pioneer to international research cooperation
Like Alexander von Humboldt, after whom it was named, the Humboldt Foundation promotes worldwide exchange between scientists. The materials scientist and Germany-Alumnus Professor Jai-Sung Lee is establishing the network in Korea. As a Humboldtian he is promoting sustainable international and interdisciplinary cooperative research projects.
The sheer volume of letters sent to Russia, Mexico and other countries was enormous. Alexander von Humboldt wrote about 50,000 messages triggering worldwide correspondence among researchers, and encouraged them to share their experience and knowledge at face-to-face meetings. Today von Humboldt is known around the world for his journeys of discovery and his publications on a range of research topics – from geology and botany to astronomy – and he is also valued not least as a pioneer of networks.
Professor Jai-Sung Lee uses modern communication technologies, lives in the city of Ansan in Korea, and began his academic career as a materials scientist about 200 years after Humboldt lived. Yet there is more linking the two scientists than meets the eye.
Humboldtians build bridges between the sciences
Professor Lee is a Humboldtian. After studying at Hanyang University in Ansan and obtaining a doctorate in metallurgy at the University of Stuttgart, in 1986/87 he was awarded a scholarship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to study at Münster University. As a former scholarship holder, even today he still has close ties with the public-benefit Foundation for promoting international research cooperative projects. For example, he represented the Foundation as an Ambassador Scientist in his home country from 2006 to 2011 and has been president of the Humboldt Club Korea from 2012 to 2013.
In this role he has engaged in targeted publicity and networking activities to support scientific exchange between Germany and Korea. ‘During the last fifty years, the Republic of Korea has undergone huge developments in virtually all areas,’ Lee says. ‘My scientific career has grown during precisely these years, against the backdrop of cooperation between Korea and Germany.’ Today the renowned scientist acts as an intermediary between researchers’ communities with a series of events and ‘Kollegs’.
Cooperative research projects between Korea and Germany
Professor Lee is convinced that experienced scientists whose research work is promoted in Germany by bodies such as the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (AvH) have made a key contribution to Korea’s development. ‘Korean scientists have been able to continue their cooperation with the German institutes on an ongoing, sustainable basis,’ he adds. The field of research and development is gaining importance in Korea, as illustrated by the rising expenditure in this area, which is disproportionately large by international comparison. Alongside state projects, such as the Initiative for Establishing a National Technology and Innovation System, Korean universities are now also active on the international stage.
For instance Lee’s alma mater, Hanyang University, has an international reputation. As the initiator and former managing director of the Education-Research-Industry Cluster at Ansan (ERICA for short), Professor Lee has a major role to play. ERICA is a network of research institutions and companies, where highly qualified academics work and receive training. ‘The high-tech cluster promotes exchange between state and private research institutes and strives to establish international cooperative research projects.’ One of its activities is arranging bilateral internships for students of the Esslingen University of Applied Sciences and of Hanyang University.
When Professor Lee looks back at the beginning of his own scientific career, he notices some marked differences from academia in Korea today. ‘I worry that today’s schoolchildren and young students have much less opportunity than before to learn something about German culture and the German language,’ the materials scientist says in fluent German. He adds that this restricts the possibilities for scientific cooperation between the two countries and thus also the potentials for strengthening it. Professor Lee therefore thinks it is especially important to offer students and young scientists as many opportunities and platforms as possible for sharing their experiences in scientific cooperation.
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Into the scientific future with Humboldt
Professor Lee explains: ‘Sustainable communication and exchange can lead to successful cooperative projects between international players.’ Humboldt’s interdisciplinary and international approach to research is echoed by Professor Lee in cooperative research projects. Important partners here include China and Japan, countries with closely related histories and cultures. Lee points out that cooperation in the Humboldtian network has the great advantage ‘that not only international exchange, but also interdisciplinary exchange within academia can be activated effectively. To date we have established first and foremost an exchange at an individual level, and now we will create a network in East Asia.’
Discussion on international research cooperation