Basic research in the natural sciences, mathematics, and computer science were of fundamental importance to Klaus Tschira when he founded HITS gGmbH together with his foundation on January 1, 2010. The new research institute initially consisted of the four research groups incorporated from EML Research gGmbH: Molecular Biomechanics (MBM), Molecular and Cellular Modeling (MCM), Natural Language Processing (NLP), and Scientific Databases and Visualization (SDBV).
However, in keeping with Klaus Tschira’s vision, HITS was intended to be larger and thematically broader in scope than its predecessor. In addition to its existing areas, new research groups focusing on astrophysics, statistical methods, and computer sciences were thus introduced, which HITS provided with a vast spatial and technical infrastructure. The goal then became to develop methods that enable computer-aided research – for example, with the help of simulations, visualizations, data analyses, or theoretical models. However, conducting research was merely one of several goals at HITS. According to its founder, the institute was also specifically designed to be a facility for scientific education. Therefore, HITS now closely collaborates with Heidelberg University and the KIT Karlsruhe, both of which are also affiliated with HITS as minority shareholders. Many group leaders at HITS are additionally university professors who accompany young individuals from across the globe throughout their scientific careers.
Scientists from about 20 nations currently work at HITS, including numerous guest researchers. These scientists are united by their academic curiosity and their computer-aided approach to investigating complex scientific issues. At HITS, these scientists can conduct research for their doctoral or post-doctoral programs at one of the two partner universities or at another university, and other scientists can complete work for their bachelor’s and master’s thesis. HITS represents an important milestone in young individuals’ scientific careers. In 2017, a total of 29 doctoral students worked at HITS, 6 of whom completed and defended their dissertations. In 2018, Rüdiger Pakmor from the group Theoretical Astrophysics (TAP) will become the second HITS scientist to successfully complete post-doctoral research at HITS, which was only possible through a close collaboration with both aforementioned universities (in addition to others). While young researchers at HITS mainly conduct research, they also gain experience at universities in teaching lectures, seminars, and other courses – an essential element of personal qualification.
HITS hosts many young scientists who – according to psychological research – hold great potential for innovation. Today’s researchers generally work in groups, and due to the complexity of their tasks, they now work in increasingly close collaboration with other disciplines. This exchange is particularly encouraged by the vast scope of research topics available at HITS. If a HITS researcher needs to collaborate with a neighboring group, the result is often a discussion between an astrophysicist and a biologist or a linguist and a mathematician. Most individuals who participate in professional training are familiar with the feeling that there is never enough time to complete the necessary work and that the personnel frequently change. Although these changes are intentional, the skills needed in the groups must nevertheless be maintained. Therefore, each group can employ one permanent Staff Scientist in addition to the group leader. HITS allows promising young scientists who succeed in raising considerable funding to take an additional step forward in their career: They have the option of building their own group and can thereby begin to lay the foundation for a later position as a university professor. The most recent chapters of this success story belong to two astrophysicists: Christoph Pfrommer and Andreas Bauswein. In 2017, Pfrommer, who had earned an ERC Consolidator Grant and led his own group on the subject of High Energy Astrophysics and Cosmology (HAC) at HITS, accepted a professorship at the University of Potsdam as well as a group leader position at the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics (see Chapter 2.6). Bauswein, a member of the Physics of Stellar Objects (PSO) group, received an ERC Starting Grant in October 2017 for his work on neutron star mergers (see Chapter 9.5).
However, it is not only junior scientists who come and go at HITS: Beginning on August 1, 2018, Volker Springel – head of the TAP group since 2010 – will leave the institute to assume a directorial position at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, a position he had been offered in 2017. Moreover, in February 2018, the junior group Computational Biology (CBI) successfully completed its work after five years and was granted two publications in and a cover of the prestigious academic journal “Nature”. The vision of HITS founder Klaus Tschira has been fulfilled: HITS has made a name for itself as a research institute internationally while simultaneously establishing itself as a sound scientific training institute. The necessary collaborations in both areas have had benefits for all parties involved, especially for the many young individuals who have found their way to HITS along their career paths, which has always been one of the institute’s essential goals.
Dr. Gesa Schönberger, Managing Director
Prof. Dr. Michael Strube, Scientific Director 2017-2018