EML Research: Sycamore, BIOMS, and galactic ideas
In the years that followed, EML Research – with its five initial research groups – likely remained the only scientific research institute in Germany in which the quota of women in management positions exceeded 50%. The three group leaders Dr. Isabel Rojas (“Scientific Databases and Visualization,” SDBV), Dr. Rebecca Wade (“Molecular and Cellular Modeling,” MCM), and Dr. Ursula Kummer (“Bioinformatics and Computational Biochemistry,” BCB) and their teams developed new models, simulations, and databases to analyze complex biological processes. One such example is “Sycamore,” a web-based environment that not only makes a set of computational tools and methods available but that also helps biologists to select the most appropriate method for a given task – for example, for a biochemical simulation.
Research from all three groups contributed to “Sycamore”: the COPASI software package, which analyzes and simulates biochemical processes; the PIPSA software, with which parameters for simulations are derived from three-dimensional models of protein structures; and the databases of the electronic metabolic atlas, ELSA.
BIOMS: An investment in smart minds
EML Research group leader Ursula Kummer became the co-coordinator of the German Center for Modelling and Simulation in the Biosciences (BIOMS), which was founded in 2004. The German Cancer Research Center, the EMBL, the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, and Heidelberg University are also involved in BIOMS. The Klaus Tschira Foundation supported the center financially with a sum of 2.5 million euros, and these funds went exclusively to the promotion of young scientists. BIOMS’ goal is to gain new insights from biological data via mathematical modeling and computer simulations.
Minutes at the touch of a button
Under the direction of Dr. Michael Strube, the computational linguists of the “Natural Language Processing” group also achieved success in their field by developing an annotation system that automatically summarizes meetings and by using Wikipedia as a corpus for linguistic research.
Beyond the Limits: Moving towards a new research approach
The year 2007 marked a turning point in the development of EML Research: Ursula Kummer received a professorship at the University of Heidelberg and left the institute with her group. Since then, she has continued to develop the “Sycamore” software with the MCM and SDBV groups at HITS.
Klaus Tschira spent time reflecting on the institute’s future in line with the motto “Think Beyond the Limits!” For decades, the focus of scientific research had been on experiments in which vast amounts of data were produced. In Tschira’s mind, the world of academic research lacked theories and the necessary methodological tools to gain new insights from these mountains of data. He therefore imagined that a multidisciplinary institute would enable researchers from different fields to work on this task and exchange views on their methods. Not only was Tschira thinking about biology, but as a fan of astronomy, he also had galaxies and supernovae on his mind. After all, there are many questions that can´t be answered only with observations and experiments and require a theoretical understanding, be it in life sciences or astrophysics.
The plans for a “Heidelberg Institute for Theoretical Studies” were driven forward by Klaus Tschira and Andreas Reuter. In addition to the life sciences, the research fields of scientific databases and computational linguistics as well as theoretical astrophysics, statistical methods, and computer science were intended to be included. The institute was planned to grow larger than EML Research and would eventually house around 120 scientists in about ten groups.
Chemist Frauke Gräter, who came to Heidelberg in 2009, and astrophysicist Volker Springel, known for his work on the Millennium Simulation, soon joined the planned institute.
It was now time for the “HITS” experiment to begin.