This is how modern science works

20 Feb 2019

LMU entered into a formal academic cooperation with Tel Aviv University (TAU) in Israel in 2017. It began with Physics, but the arrangement now covers all academic fields. And the benefits are already obvious.

During a break in the Workshop, Professor Saharon Rosset only has time for a short interview, as he also needs to discuss a number of topics for future collaborative research projects with one of his LMU colleagues. – Only one day has been allocated to the Workshop, and there is so much to discuss! Yes, he says, he views the cooperation with LMU as important, Munich is wonderful and his collaborators are terrific – then he’s off to talk to his LMU partner, and is soon deep in conversation with him. After all, that’s what this Workshop is all about: finding common interests, identifying interesting questions, and making good use of the know-how accumulated by specialists from two outstanding universities to make further advances in research.

The Workshop held in Munich in October 2018 was initiated by Professor Göran Kauermann of the Institute of Statistics at LMU, and was devoted to the application of methods drawn from both statistics and informatics to the analysis of large datasets. The problem here lies in how best to combine the different approaches that have been developed in these intimately related fields. The enormous amounts of data that have been acquired in recent years have also prompted a reappraisal of analytical methodologies. Statisticians are primarily interested in elucidating what is going on, i.e. in the relationship between the volume of inputs and the total output. Informatics experts tend to focus more on “what happens next”. They seek ways of optimizing analytical procedures and algorithms, with the help of machine learning or artificial neural networks. Indeed, Kauermann is convinced that “the effective combination of these two philosophies has tremendous potential.” The first step towards this goal was taken with the recent launch of a new Master’s program in Data Science, which is being taught in English and is specifically designed to find ways of integrating statistical and informatics-based methods of data analysis. In addition, the program dovetails perfectly with the ongoing cooperation with the TAU, as the strengths of both institutions in Statistics and Computer Sciences complement each other very nicely, Kauermann says. In his opinion, one of the advantages of the complementarity is that it allows greater emphasis to be placed on comparatively neglected areas of Data Science, such as ethical and legal issues. This in turn helps to anchor the whole topic in the sphere of applied research. Not only do statisticians have an eminently practical bent, the ongoing wave of digitalization has also drawn the attention of the Social Sciences and the Humanities, and given birth to the interdisciplinary field of Digital Humanities. Here too, LMU and TAU, as ‘full-service’ universities that cater for the whole gamut of academic studies, are very well matched. “We regard this Workshop very much as the kick-off event for the further extension of our collaborative activities, Kauermann adds.”

The value of cooperation This is what the cooperation is intended to achieve, which explains why workshops, and the research projects that are hatched out by the participants, are two of the mainstays of the LMU-TAU partnership. The third is the Visiting Professorships program, which enable academics from TAU to carry out research at LMU for a year. “Visiting Professors are also required to give lectures,” remarks LMU physicist Professor Dieter Lüst, the coordinator of the partnership at the LMU end. – That is hardly surprising, given that education and career development are the other goals of the collaboration. The first two Visiting Professors from TAU have already been named. Professor Haim Wolfson, a computer scientist with a special interest in Structural Bioinformatics, will be Professor Ralf Zimmer’s guest at LMU’s Bioinformatics Unit. And historian and philosopher Professor Yossi Schwartz will be hosted by professors Michael Brenner and Eva Haverkamp in the Department of Jewish History, where he will pursue his investigations into the emergence in the Middle Ages of a specialized Hebrew terminology for use in the fields of philosophy and science.

Strategic significance “A commitment to strengthening the international orientation of our research, tuition, support programs for young academics, and our governance structures is the basis of LMU’s long-term development plan,” according to Professor Hans van Ess, Vice-President for International Affairs at LMU. “Our strategic collaborations with selected partners around the world are an important element of this plan. We are involved in cooperative ventures with many institutions in addition to TAU. Other partners include Harvard, Berkeley, Cambridge and Tokyo, and we maintain a whole network of links with China’s leading universities. Together with these high-ranking partners, we wish to extend, sustain and institutionalize international cooperation in research,” he says. And his colleague on LMU’s Executive Board, Dr. Sigmund Stintzing (Vice-President for Academic Appointments), adds: “Our key collaboration with TAU not only builds upon the successful cooperation between the two universities across the whole academic spectrum. It is also an important component of our International Strategy as set out in the LMUexcellent concept.”

After all, modern science works best at the level of international collaborations, as Daniel Nevo puts it. Nevo holds a professorship in the analysis of high-dimensional data at TAU. He too is delighted with the quality of the cooperation in general and with the Workshop on Data Science in particular, and says that both have more than fulfilled his expectations, before underlining the real rationale for cooperation: “We have different backgrounds, and only by working together can we apply our knowledge to the greatest effect. We have to learn from one another.”