“Germany needs you”

Federal Chancellor pays tribute to “Jugend forscht” prizewinners “Germany needs you”

An event she was particularly looking forward to: Federal Chancellor Merkel paid tribute to this year’s winners of the nationwide competition “Jugend forscht”. Unlike in previous years, the event took place via video link due to the pandemic. The presentation of the Federal Chancellor’s special prize for the most original project was also held virtually.

A screen shows participants at the “Jugend forscht” award ceremony

Reception for the winners of “Jugend forscht” with Federal Chancellor Merkel: 40 percent of entrants were girls.

Photo: Federal Government/Kugler

“What I see here in terms of creativity and inventiveness never ceases to amaze me,” said Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel at the reception for “Jugend forscht” winners on Monday. The competition had attracted entries from nearly 9,000 talented youngsters. Fortunately, the coronavirus pandemic had done little to dampen their urge to carry out research, said Merkel.

With last year’s reception having been cancelled altogether due to the pandemic, the Federal Chancellor said she was pleased that at least a virtual gathering was possible – “Jugend forscht” was a personal highlight in her schedule, she added.

 “Jugend forscht” is a competition for young researchers that has so far been held 56 times. It was launched in 1965 by Henri Nannen, then editor-in-chief of the magazine “stern”. More than 280,000 young people have entered the competition to date, and it involves 5,000 volunteers – teachers and trainers, professors and human resources specialists – as project supervisors and competition managers. The individual projects are evaluated by some 3,000 subjects specialists and university lecturers as well as experts from the private sector – likewise on a voluntary basis.

Diversity and fascinating detail

The Federal Chancellor said the award-winning young researchers made her optimistic about the future, adding that she was particularly struck by the diversity and fascinating detail of the numerous projects. Whether medical technology, artificial intelligence, environmental technology or renewable energies – she said she believed this was the way to open up the future, offering all the prizewinners her warm congratulations for their wonderful ideas.

She said it also meant a lot to her that some 40 percent of entrants were girls. This was less than half, she noted, but the positive long-term trend in terms of participant numbers was a hopeful sign. “We need all the talent our country has to offer. We need it to fight climate change, to drive technological transformations and digital revolutions, and last but not least, we need it in order to make progress in the healthcare sector,” stressed Merkel.

Science and research more important than ever

The coronavirus pandemic in particular had shown how important science and research were for all of us, said Merkel. The fact that it was possible to develop effective vaccines in a relatively short time was an achievement that simply couldn’t be appreciated highly enough, she said.

This is why, even during the pandemic, the Federal Government’s target is still to spend a total of 3.5 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on research and development by 2025. According to the Federal Chancellor, 3.18 percent of GDP went into research and development last year – a total of 110 billion euros. This puts Germany among the world’s innovation leaders. Investment in research and innovation and the faster transfer of research findings into products and services are the basis of prosperity, sustainable development and quality of life in Germany.

“Jugend forscht” – a success story and a special anniversary

Every year, Federal Chancellor Merkel awards a special prize for the most original project. This tradition dates back to 1971, when the then Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt awarded the special prize for the first time. This year was the 50th time the special prize was awarded.   Back then, the number of participants had been just under 1,000, said Merkel, while today, as many as 10,000 young people regularly entered the competition every year.

The motto of this year’s “Jugend forscht” competition was Lass Zukunft da (“Let there be a future”). Almost 9,000 young researchers entered the competition with more than 5,100 projects nationwide. “Jugend forscht” promotes outstanding achievements and talent in the STEM subjects – mathematics, IT, science and technology. The aim is to get young people interested in these subjects in the long term and give them support in starting a career beyond the competition.

Special prize for the most original project 2021: “Dramatic species loss”

Insect mortality is a subject of frequent debate, but less is said about how it is directly linked to the loss of flowering plants. Jakob Nolte (21) from Laubach/Hesse mapped the flora in the vicinity of Laubach over three summers and compared his surveys with botanical records in the literature.

Since several publications exist for the area under investigation – the oldest dates back to 1887 – it was possible to make long-term comparisons. These indicate a massive impoverishment of the flora: the number of orchid species has declined rapidly, while goosefoot plants have disappeared completely. Around 80 percent of all species have become increasingly rare or have died out. The only species to have increased are a small number that are particularly soil nitrogen-loving. Young researcher Nolte therefore calls for less fertilisation and greater emphasis on nature conservation – to boost biodiversity.

For his research project, Jakob Nolte received the “Federal Chancellor’s special prize for the most original project”, which is worth 3,000 euros. He had the opportunity to explain his award-winning project to the Federal Chancellor at the virtual event. After numerous research papers in past years featuring “technical experimental set-ups” and “mathematical puzzles”, the Federal Chancellor said she was particularly pleased to see that a research project in the field of botany had been selected for the special prize this year.

Germany thrives on innovative flair

Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek also congratulated the prizewinners on their award-winning research projects, saying they demonstrated that “we can all be winners”. After all, it was people with qualities such as innovative flair, inventiveness and practical curiosity that made Germany thrive, she added – people who were driven by the question of how to improve the quality of life.

The prizewinners were just such individuals, said the Federal Minister of Education and Research, because step by step they were creating something new to tackle many of the major issues of our time. “They are proof that our country has lots of wonderful and very bright young people, and that creativity and commitment are highly valued among youngsters in our society,” said Karliczek.

Questions to the Federal Chancellor

The award-winning researchers had the opportunity to address personal questions to the Federal Chancellor during the video conference. Current political and economic issues were not the only subjects to be brought up: the questions also addressed Angela Merkel’s career.

Aruna Sherma (19): why physics?openMinimise
Helen Hauck (18): advice for young scientists?openMinimise
Amon Schumann (17): what can be done about climate change?openMinimise
Saramaria Scheib (18): what can be done to remedy the shortage of doctors in rural areas?openMinimise
Lukas Dellermann (18): do plastics have a future?openMinimise
David Sauer (17): prospects in academic research?openMinimise