It has been a tradition for more than 40 years for the Federal Chancellor to invite all winners of the national youth science competition “Jugend forscht" to the Chancellery – “ever since Helmut Schmidt first did so in 1981”, said Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday at this year’s reception.
A first for two reasons
The event was a first for the Federal Chancellor in two ways: “Firstly, I’m still fairly new to the job. And secondly, this event was cancelled due to the pandemic in the past two years”, said Scholz, adding that this made it all the more satisfying to be able to get together “in the flesh” on this occasion.
Over 40 percent of young researchers are female
8,500 young researchers submitted projects this year, of which more than 40 percent were female. “I’m particularly pleased about this. In fact I’d like to see us get to the 50 percent mark in the next few years – in terms of both participants and prize winners,” said Scholz.
At least 8,500 participants nationwide submitted more than 4,800 projects for this year’s competition under the motto “Ingenious by chance?”. The share of submissions by girls reached 40.5 percent – the highest figure in the history of “Jugend forscht”: a total of 3,456 young female researchers registered for the competition in 2022. The share of girls last year was 39.6 percent.
Research more important than ever
In order for this successful development to continue – potentially even encouraging the prize winners to take up a career in science and research – it is vital to ensure good-quality schools and universities as well as world-class research institutions.
“This is why the Federal Government has made it a priority to promote education, science and research,” the Federal Chancellor emphasised. He said that Germany was among the leading countries in the world in terms of R&D spending, which had been at a level of three percent of the gross domestic product for some years. “Now we’re looking to go one better and reach 3.5 percent by 2025. So the prospects are good for the scientists of the future!” said the Chancellor.
Every year, the Federal Chancellor awards the “Special Prize for the Most Original Project”, a tradition that dates back to 1971, when the then Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt did so for the first time. Back then, the number of participants was just under 1,000: today, as many as 10,000 young people regularly enter the competition every year.
“Fast-growing seeds for new moorlands”
Intact moorlands store large quantities of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. But most moorlands in Germany have been drained, and renaturation is a lengthy process. 18-year-old student Cornelius-Ägidian Quint from Schleswig-Holstein developed a particularly unusual idea: he found a way of re-establishing mosses more quickly in former moorland areas.
In order to accelerate the process of renaturation, the Husum secondary school student propagated sprouts of the moss species Sphagum fallax in filtered moor water and coated them with alginate, a carbohydrate gained from algae. In a tub filled with moist peat, small moss plants grew out of the alginate beads. The student then packaged the reproducible plant cells in such a way that they could be scattered over a large area like seeds. “Peat moors have recently become my closest companions,” said Cornelius-Ägidian Quint at the presentation of his project at the Chancellery.
Scholz presented the Federal Chancellor’s Special Prize to the student. He said he thought the project was “really quite good”, offering his warm congratulations and paying tribute to the work done by the young researcher: “It sounds like a ground-breaking idea to me – a kind of circular economy for moorlands”.
In a brief interview prior to the meeting, Cornelius-Ägidian Quint talked about his idea and what he was expecting of his meeting with the Federal Chancellor.
Opportunities for future generations
The Federal Chancellor emphasised how important the “Jugend forscht” competition and the work of the prize winners were for the future of our country. He mentioned this not least because “we’ve suffered a major shock this year, too: Russia’s war of aggression against Ukraine not only undermines peace in Europe.” There were global consequences as well – in terms of energy supply, food security and the availability of raw materials, said Scholz.
At the same time, he said, Germany was having to confront the most radical transformation of its economy and society since industrialisation began. "This is because we’re seeking to become climate-neutral by 2045 – indeed we have to do so if we want to be able to secure a decent livelihood for your generation and the generations to come,” said the Federal Chancellor.
“Jugend forscht” is a competition for young researchers that has been held 57 times to date. 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 subject specialists and university lecturers as well as experts from the private sector – likewise on a voluntary basis.
“Jugend forscht” promotes outstanding achievements and talent in the so-called STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics). The aim is to get young people interested in these subjects in the long term and give them support in starting a career after the competition.
After the official reception, the award-winning researchers had the opportunity to talk to the Federal Chancellor in person on a one-to-one basis. In the Q&A session, there was a lively discussion both of current political issues and Olaf Scholz’s personal career.