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Digital Warm-up

Digital Warm-up on November 12, 2020


Digital Warm-up on November 12, 2020

Sustainability at DESY and Helmholtz speeds up

Clear commitment at the Helmholtz Association's Mini-Sustainability Summit

The great interest in sustainability throughout the research centers of the Helmholtz Association and the demands for concrete action are enduring. This became clear during the Digital Warm-up for the Helmholtz Sustainability Summit on 12 November 2020, which many employees from various Helmholtz centers attended. The event gave a foretaste of the next Helmholtz Sustainability Summit, which was originally scheduled to take place at DESY this November and was postponed to April 2021 due to the corona pandemic.

In a one-and-a-half hour online format, "Societal responsibility in research" was discussed. The main focus was on the "how" and not the "what" of research. Far-reaching reflection criteria on the impact of research are addressed: Do I as a scientist work transparently? How do I deal with complexities and uncertainties? Does my research possibly have societal impacts that I have not yet considered? These and similar questions were discussed during the Digital Warm-Up.

Starting point for the debate was a research project at DESY whose vision sounds a bit like science fiction: Will wooden houses come out of 3D printers in the future? A joint research team from the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) Stockholm and DESY has produced the strongest known biomaterial to date from cellulose nanofibers. The biodegradable fibers are stronger than steel and more tensile than spider silk. The scientists see a number of promising applications for the material. For example, it could be used as an alternative to plastics for cars and airplanes or as rotor blades for wind turbines, and thus has the potential to reduce the use of plastics or packaging material.

More than 100 people took part in voting via an online tool and asked many interesting questions. These revolved around raw material charge, energy use, applicability and above all climate protection. There were heated discussions with Stephan Roth, Senior Scientist at DESY and Professor at KTH, his PhD student Calvin Brett and Science Manager Nele Müller. At the end of the discussion, the challenge of freedom of research versus control of research was highlighted.

At the end of the Warm-up, Christian Harringa, Administrative Director at DESY, presented the brand new commitment to sustainable development of the Helmholtz Association. For the sustainability officers of the centers, the last sentence was particularly important: "This commitment is connected with the aspiration to promptly take up actions [...] in order to develop, actively implement and report on measures and goals for the sustainable development of the centers and thus also of the Helmholtz Association.” A voluntary commitment that must now be fulfilled.

Interview with Stephan Roth at helmholtz.de (in German)

Commitment of the Helmholtz Association to its sustainable development (in German)

More information about the 2. Sustainability Summit on 19. and 20. April 2021 (in German)


A clear vote for a sustainable development of the HGF
(Picture: DESY/D. Völker).

The warm-up event from a graphic recorder perspective
(Picture: DESY/A.L. Schiller; Riesenspatz).