“Research independent of national borders and political developments”

25 Apr 2019

The University of Cambridge and LMU are officially launching their strategic partnership with an inauguration ceremony in Munich today. This partnership will see the two institutions forge ever closer links in research and teaching across a broad rang...

"In the face of increasingly accelerated scientific developments especially research-intensive universities are facing the challenge to provide flexible and reliable conditions for their researchers. Cooperation and international exchange play a pivotal role in this context. Researchers at the University of Cambridge and at LMU have been working together successfully and trustfully across a broad range of scientific fields for many years. Many more ideas and initiatives are still in the pipeline. It is foreseeable, that the uncertain developments of the Brexit will have substantial effects on society, economy and consequently also on scientific collaboration. With the Strategic Partnership CAM-LMU we are building a sturdy bridge for current and future cooperation in research and teaching to enable and foster scientific innovation – also in turbulent times."

Professor Stephen J. Toope, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge and Professor Bernd Huber, President of LMU Munich

Interstellar gas and dust are the basic ingredients of stars, and the angular momenta of young stars are responsible for the formation of protoplanetary disks which – as their name implies – are the nurseries in which planets grow up. Our home planet very probably emerged from a process of collision and accretion, which progressively transformed tiny dust grains into ever larger and denser agglomerations, from such a circumstellar disk. In addition, radiation from the young star itself gradually erodes the disk via a phenomenon known as photoevaporation and facilitates the survival of the growing protoplanets.

This is a brief sketch of the theory developed by astrophysicist Professor Barbara Ercolano of the LMU Observatory and her colleagues at the University of Cambridge. She has collaborated with the group since completing a stint as a postdoc and Fellow at that venerable and renowned institution. “We want to understand how protoplanetary disks disintegrate,” she says. The mechanism responsible is controversial, as another research group based in the US has analyzed the problem using different methods, and has come to different conclusion. “So we now have to work out which model is right and which is wrong,” she says. “Naturally enough, we believe that ours is the right one.” She therefore hopes that the new strategic partnership between LMU and Cambridge University will enable her and her collaborators to “combine our respective strengths still more effectively and nail down the real mechanism”.

Pooling talents and resources As Programme Directors, Professor Thomas Ackermann, Dean of the Faculty of Law at LMU, and Professor Chris Young, Head of the School of Arts and Humanities, are responsible for the implementation of all measures taken in the context of the partnership. The major objectives of the collaboration are to pool the existing expertise in important subject areas, to promote the exchange of and exchanges between scholars and scientists, and to identify novel and promising fields of research.

In 2018, a Memorandum of Understanding formally setting up the partnership was signed by both universities, and the first collaborative projects, beginning in 2019, were selected. “We received 65 proposals from 11 Faculties,” says Ackermann, who himself spent part of his academic career in Cambridge. “And a relatively large proportion of these submissions, 42 in all, were approved for funding.” This in itself demonstrates that, even before the formal inception of the partnership, there was a great deal of scholarly cooperation between groups based in Cambridge and Munich. “We certainly didn’t have to start from scratch,” he says, “and with the resources provided by the strategic partnership we can now broaden our cooperation and make even better use of the existing potential.”

Projects to evolve naturally Members of all Faculties at Cambridge and LMU are invited to submit project proposals for upcoming funding rounds. A total of 2 million euros has been earmarked for such projects in the coming five years – with each institution contributing half of that sum.

Among the types of collaborations envisaged are joint workshops or symposia, training courses in new research techniques that are well established in one of the partner institutions, or jointly organized events hosted by the Center for Advanced Studies at LMU, the Rachel Carson Center for Environment and Society, or the Munich University Library, all of which have submitted successful proposals.

Scientific discussions and exchange visits between researchers at both universities are also on Barbara Ercolano’s schedule, and she and her fellow astrophysicists will benefit from access to the research infrastructure available at both institutions. There are even some preliminary ideas for a PhD program in Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge – in which LMU researchers would be directly involved.

Thomas Ackermann wants to emphasize one point in particular: “As Directors, we very deliberately decided not to steer applications and projects in certain directions. We assume that they will evolve naturally.” A committee consisting of eight researchers is in charge of selecting projects for funding. “We had so many good proposals in the first round that the selection process was a real challenge,” he says.

The strategic cooperation also extends to teaching, and arrangements are being made for Principal Investigators to teach seminars at both universities on topics related to their joint projects. According to Ackermann, there is a sense of euphoria surrounding this collaboration, and he is personally looking forward to seeing the partnership develop. “It was very nice to meet representatives of the University of Cambridge once again, whose student I once was.”

Specifically in the context of the German Excellence Strategy, LMU President Huber emphasizes another important advantage of the new cooperative venture: “It will further enhance LMU‘s international visibility.” And it will once more emphasize the fact that outstanding research can be pursued independent of national borders and political developments.

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