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Into the World!

Everybody is talking about knowledge transfer. At Jülich, too, it is an important component in order to transfer knowledge from the laboratories to society and making it usable there. The exchange process helps to answer major social questions. At the same time, new challenges are associated with it.

The scientist sitting alone in his ivory tower puzzling over problems? This former idea of research work no longer has anything to do with the reality of the 21st century. Global challenges such as climate change, energy transition, data security and widespread diseases cannot be met in a quiet chamber. The exchange with actors outside science is becoming ever more important in order to achieve breakthroughs. At the same time, society, culture, business and politics are increasingly demanding answers. They need science to better understand global developments, to reflect on and classify facts, to make informed decisions and, eventually, to drive innovation. In recent years, the transfer of knowledge to the general public has increasingly become the focus of science policy attention. It also plays a major role at Jülich. Many researchers here are actively engaged in knowledge transfer – for example with formats in consulting, training and dialogue.

Prof. Hans-Joachim KrauseProf. Hans-Joachim Krause, together with other partners, has developed a mobile rapid test procedure to detect contamination in drinking water as quickly as possible. The follow-up project "NANObeST" has been running since the beginning of February 2020 and is being carried out together with the THW and the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology.
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Ralf-Uwe Limbach

Clean drinking water in crisis areas

“Clean water is scarce in many developing countries and crisis and disaster areas. Contaminated drinking water poses a great danger because it can lead to fatal diseases and cause epidemics such as cholera. Together with our partners, we have developed the mobile rapid test method AquaNANO. Using nano probes and a magnetic measuring device developed at Jülich, it is possible to detect impurities in drinking water within an hour. Until now, this took up to 48 hours – far too long for a disastersituation like a flood, when it comes to making clean water available to the people again as quickly as possible! For the project, we worked closely with Fraunhofer IME, the German Federal Agency for Technical Relief (THW) and the special equipment manufacturer DITABIS AG – and quickly noticed that the partners, some of which are very different, speak just as ‘different languages’. To avoid communication problems in the first place, we took enough time at the beginning of the project to explain to each other the ideas we had and how we work. A local water supplier was also involved in the beginning. However, it quickly became apparent that in countries such as Germany, conventional water analysis is not as dependent on how short a test takes – because samples are continuously taken here anyway. Such findings are also part of successful knowledge transfer. I took part in disaster exercises three times, and only there did I really understand under which exceptional conditions a mobile drinking water laboratory has to function. At the same time, knowledge transfer here can become successful technology transfer: THW has applied for a followup project in which we want to make our analysis system even more robust and faster so that it can soon be used in disaster operations – a great feeling for us!”

Prof. Hans-Joachim Krause, ICS-8

Not a one-way street

Knowledge transfer, however, is not a one-way street in which scientists only provide facts so that others can learn from them. Rather, the researchers them selves should learn new things as well. To this end, they engage in a targeted exchange with politics, administrations and business as well as people from civil society, education and the media. New questions and perspectives emerge from such a dialogue, which in turn fl ow into the knowledge process of research. What is important for knowledge transfer to succeed is that scientists must be able to translate their knowledge in such a way that it can be understood and used by the respective target group. A politician, for example, needs other facts in a different language for an opinion on the energy transition than an interested citizen or a student.

Forschungszentrum Jülich engages in knowledge transfer in numerous ways. Whether counselling for politics and society, information services for experts or the general public, Internet platforms, round tables, social discourses or the further training of teachers and pupils – Jülich’s formats and activities of knowledge transfer are as broad and diverse as society itself. Citizen science projects, in which citizens give impulses to further develop research topics, are also in the ascendant. Citizens often use smartphones, cameras, sensors and apps to collect data that scientists then use to test their theses. Here too, the aim is to allow the knowledge of both sides to grow together.

How successful knowledge transfer is in the end, however, cannot simply be expressed in pure key figures. Nevertheless, there are already many examples of knowledge transfer at Jülich – which is unquestionably working out: in addition to their work, researchers are involved in social panels, organisations and expert associations, for example. There are also institutions on campus that have established institutionalised forms of knowledge transfer, such as the JuLab Schools Laboratory.

Knowledge TransferKnowledge transfer in addition to technology transfer, public relations and scientifi c publications, is one of four possible ways of making research fi ndings effective.
Copyright: Helmholtz-Gemeinschaft

Prof. Armin SeyfriedProf. Armin Seyfried is developing an instrument to better calculate the dynamics of traffic flows at major events.
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Ralf-Uwe Limbach

Safety in crowds

“The disaster at the Love Parade 2010 was a great shock for the whole of Germany. It made clear: despite longterm planning, life-threatening situations can occur if visitor fl ows cannot be reliably predicted. In our knowledge transfer project, we want to develop a scientifically validated open source tool that combines pedestrian and road traffic simulations to ensure the safety of the citizens. We will then provide this tool to approval authorities and planning offices so that they can better calculate the dynamics of traffic flows at major events right from the planning stage. At the same time, we will train the employees to use the tools properly and to interpret the simulations correctly – because this, too, is a source of error. The aim is to enable planners to identify and avert dangers at an early stage, thus making major events safer. If this is successful, knowledge transfer has been successful. Personally, however, the project is also close to my heart because it helps to raise people’s awareness to the fact that pedestrian traffic is part of a life worth living in cities – and that future modern urban planning should take pedestrians more into account.”

Prof. Armin Seyfried, IAS-7

A challenge in everyday research

Although the relevance of knowledge transfer is increasing, it is still playing a rather subordinate role in the German research landscape. If scientists want to bring their knowledge to society, this commitment is oft en simply added to the normal workload. This takes strength and time – and can also compete with one’s own career. The Helmholtz Association (HGF), however, intends to take more care in the further development of programmeoriented funding (PoF) that knowledge transfer will play a greater role in applications. In addition, the HGF regularly provides funding for knowledge transfer projects and citizen science projects.

Prof. Franz RohrerTogether with the JSC, Prof. Franz Rohrer developed an online nitrogen oxide calculator.
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Ralf-Uwe Limbach

At eye level

Opens new window

“Together with the JSC, we have developed a nitrogen oxide calculator with which citizens can calculate themselves how high the nitrogen oxide concentrations are at a measuring station where they live. At the same time, you can see by how much the traffic needs to be reduced there in order to comply with the EU limit. It has been possible to reach many non-professionals with this very easy-to-use web tool and to illustrate complicated facts to them. What was particularly exciting for me, however, was the time shortly before the nitrogen oxide calculator went online. Public discussion about possible driving bans was particularly emotional, and I had the opportunity to use my knowledge in press releases and many personal conversations with citizens to help objectify the debate. Suddenly, people understood what it was all about. From their point of view, there was an independent researcher who could explain the background story to them at eye level. They called or wrote me and asked me smart questions, all of which I answered. TV stations and newspapers also regularly asked me for interviews and statements. I have been researching this topic for over 25 years, but I have never experienced such an exchange with society before! But: this exchange took a lot of time, which was needed elsewhere. Moreover, public resonance does not usually play a role in the scientific community. What counts most are publications in topclass journals. I hope that something will change in this culture in order to pave the way for more knowledge transfer. The feeling that my research had helped society in a concrete way was uniquely good!”

Franz Rohrer, IEK-8

nitrogen oxide calculator

 

However, communication with the public does not always come naturally to researchers. After all, exchanging ideas with other colleagues at a scientific symposium is completely different to bringing one’s subject closer to a nonscientific target group, providing expertise to politicians or initiating a project together with citizens. This also creates uncertainty: how, for example, should one react if one’s listeners do not understand or if one’s own statements trigger a shitstorm in the social media? In order to reduce such concerns at an early stage and to make researchers fit for new forms of communication, Jülich’s Knowledge Transfer Unit will in the future offer researchers specific target group management in communication and advice on these topics, because one thing’s for sure: only if Jülich’s newly acquired knowledge reaches society and is used can Forschungszentrum Jülich help to solve the global challenges of the 21st century and thus shape the future.

 

Dr. Klaus GörgenDr. Klaus Görgen supports farmers with a platform that provides information on current soil moisture.
Copyright: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Ralf-Uwe Limbach

"Field-research" for farmers

“Climate change is both a global and a regional problem, posing major challenges to farmers. In addition to long-term climate change, short-term weather phenomena such as severe drought or heat waves pose a particular threat to harvest success. Therefore, in the ADAPTER project, we enter into dialogue with farmers, chambers of agriculture, plant breeders and agricultural consultants. Together, we want to find out what new or extended information these target groups need so that cultivated plants may thrive. For example, the question is which simulation-based prediction products does a farmer additionally need in order to optimise variety selection, land use or irrigation. Our Terrestrial Systems Modeling Platform (TSMP) already provides hourly, almost parcelspecific predictions as to how wet soils are, how much of the water is available for plants or how the groundwater level changes. We are now working closely with farmers on a comprehensive expansion of TSMP as part of a Citizen Science approach. To this end, they receive soil moisture sensors from us which are spread on their fields. The almost real-time measurements are included in the simulations with TSMP. They help us researchers better understand and predict how local weather changes and what the consequences will be for soil conditions. Farmers are very committed to this because they, too, can benefit from the edited forecast results and observation data. In the future, we will make these available to them online in an interactive, location-based manner, and we will at the same time learn from the experience-based feedback. We want as many farmers and other participants as possible to use the platform: the aim is to enable them to make even better decisions for their business and gain even better understanding of weather and soil. This is our contribution to a more sustainable agriculture that has a better resilience to the weather and climate.”

Dr. Klaus Görgen, IBG-3

Katja Lüers / Jülich Campusmagazine "intern"