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“Most scientists lack the business know-how”

Dr. Michael J. Bojdys from HU took part in the annual meeting of the new champions (AMNC) in China. The theme was "Leadership 4.0: Succeeding in a new era of globalization".

Dr. Michael J. Bojdys
Dr. Michael J. Bojdys
Photo: private

From 1 to 3 July, the annual meeting of new champions (AMNC), also known as "Summer Davos", was held in Dalian, China, at the World Economic Forum (WEF) with forward-looking scientific insights. This year's event focused on "Leadership 4.0: succeeding in a new era of globalization".

For the eighth consecutive year, the European Research Council (ERC) participated with a delegation composed of the President of the ERC, Prof. Jean-Pierre Bourguignon, and ten ERC Fellows, all leaders in their respective fields. One of these ten ERC fellows was Dr. Michael J. Bojdys, head of a junior research group at IRIS Adlershof and at the Department of Chemistry at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin.

Michael, you’ve just returned from the Annual Meeting of New Champions (AMC) at the World Economic Forum. What kind of meeting is it, and how did you come to be a part of it?

The Annual Meeting of New Champions (AMNC) is the foremost global summit on innovation, science and technology, and it is promoting entrepreneurship in the global public interest. This is the second year in a row that I am a member of the Forum’s “Young Scientists”; these are extraordinary scientists from across academic disciplines and geographies, under the age of 40, who align their research with the UN’s “Sustainable Development Goals”. My own research is well within the spirit of these goals, and hence, it was selected by the Forum. Last year, we demonstrated how automated, chemical synthesis may speed up the search for a photo-catalyst for the sustainable generation of the green fuel hydrogen (Angew. Chem. Int. Ed. DOI: 10.1002/anie.201809702). This year, we discussed together with leaders from industry and politics how to speed up the transfer of ideas from the laboratory to the market, like for example our new battery technology, that might keep your mobile phone alive for weeks rather than hours.

You just got back from China. What were your impressions?

The AMNC is stunning, even the second time around. I am amazed at the timeliness, determination and erudition with which the political leadership of the People’s Republic of China reacts to global challenges. China’s “Belt and Road” initiative takes into account an extension of digital infrastructure and academic exchange. Here, China will very soon be setting rules and best-practices when it comes to facilitating and implementing Open Data and Open Science, but also how we think about academic partnership-programs, like the existing programs between the United Kingdom and China – these are questions that haven’t been thought through sufficiently here, in the EU.

The theme of this year’s meeting was "Leadership 4.0: Succeeding in a New Era of Globalization ". What was the goal and what did you discuss?

What do the most effective leaders today have in common? They wake up and ask themselves: “What sort of world do I live in? What are the most important trends in this world? And how do I educate my citizens about it, and adjust my policies so that they benefit from it?” Growth and success increasingly depend on the ability of yourself, your town, your factory, your school and your country to be connected to more and more of the flows of knowledge and investment — and not simply to rely on stocks and on rent, simply because knowledge stocks depreciate at an accelerating rate in an interconnected world.

In the sense of science policy, we discussed two central questions. One: at universities we are sitting on a treasure-trove of stocks like data, publications and patents. How do we turn these stocks of knowledge into a flow of knowledge? Here, Open Data and Open Science will very soon become the major topics for funding bodies and researchers. Two: the implementation of innovative technology takes way too long – on average it takes a new product 10-15 years from lab to market, in particular in the chemical industry. How do we accelerate the renewal of this knowledge flow?

World Economic Forum
Dalian International Conference Center
Photo: Dr. Michael J. Bojdys

At the meeting you found, that quite a few scientists already have solutions for some of the most pressing questions of today. However, they seem to be struggling with the transfer from lab to society. What was seen as the main problem?

In fact, we identified two main problems: most scientists lack the business know-how and literacy to effectively communicate with funders. I’d very much like to see that every single researcher is able to deliver an “elevator pitch” on how their research impacts society. Here, we need substantially more institutional efforts to promote science communication skills – the Netherlands set a great example with compulsory courses in science communication for their grad students. Furthermore, we need better funding instruments to develop prototype devices – here, the European Research Council (ERC) is leading with the ERC “Proof of Concept” grant scheme that pays not only for prototype development but also for a market study. An exciting new initiative by the ERC is the “Virtual Ventures Fair” that aims to bring scientists that successfully resolved their “Proof of Concept” grants together with investors.

You are investigating nanomaterials and you are a junior group leader at the IRIS Adlershof. How did you benefit from this meeting?

The networking opportunities at the AMNC are quite unique; I was hopefully able to get the message across that the Adlershof campus gives rise to exciting projects and start-ups like INURU GmbH and OrelTech Mobile GmbH. I was able to discuss our scientific work with the renowned publisher “Nature”. Further, we’ve discussed investment proposals from two venture capital seeders into our battery technology. I can only recommend that any scientist at the HU actively seeks out events like this.

The interview was conducted by Boris Nitzsche.


Dr. Michael J. Bojdys
Department of Chemistry
Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Phone: +49 (0)30 2093-7160