Annual Report

The HITS Annual Report 2019 – Introduction:

Science emerges from conversation– this quote comes from physicist and Nobel Prize winner Werner Heisenberg. His book “Physics and Beyond” (German: “Der Teil und das Ganze”) consists of reconstructions of conversations with other scientists in which new ways of thinking were developed. Science emerges from conversation. At HITS, Heisenberg’s concept proves itself time and again, especially last year. Many individuals who work here are visiting scientists who take advantage of the opportunity to conduct research together with HITS scientists for a certain period of time. We believe that this collaboration is an important element for the success of the Institute, and we want to further increase the attractiveness of our program to scientific guests.

In addition, speakers from Germany as well as from all over the world come to us regularly, be it to give smaller lectures within the Institute or to give a lecture in the public HITS Colloquium (see Chapter 5.2). Colloquium lectures are streamed and posted on YouTube, and a discussion often develops after the lecture, which helps not only the questioners but also the lecturers to further their research.

The public lectures take place at the Studio Villa Bosch. The handicapped accessible conference center is located directly between HITS and the Villa Bosch and shares common property with both. In addition to the Studio’s unique surroundings, it offers the technical facilities to conveniently organize meetings with up to 90participants and to provide full catering on site. A large foyer and three lecture rooms of various sizes are available for the meetings.

HITS makes intensive use of the Studio Villa Bosch. In addition to colloquia, monthly lab meetings also take place in the Studio. These meetings have a central function as they are used for important organizational matters and – even more importantly – are used by each research group to present its progress to the entire Institute once a year via two talks. These talks offer the opportunity to develop interdisciplinary ideas. The Lab Meeting is complemented by an internal Scientific Seminar Series, whose talks usually address a more specialist audience. Another opportunity for internal exchange is the “HITS Interdisciplinary Meeting,” at which important topics concerning the scientific community are discussed.

The 2018 Meeting contributed substantially to the development of our 2019 Mission Statement. HITS additionally organizes events with broader visibility, such as the Open House and the Alumni Meeting with former HITSters, both of which take place once every two years (see Chapter 5.3).

Our list would not be complete without the scientific events that HITS organizes with the professional support of the events team. From small project meetings to larger events, such as the international COMBINE meeting and the “Sino-German Symposium,” HITS organized a good dozen events in 2019, with well over 300 participants in total (see Chapter 5.1). Many individuals fondly remember participating in a workshop at HITS. The setting, organization, and fast accommodation to the wishes of our guests are often praised in addition to the scientific quality of the events themselves.

Science emerges from conversation – that is, via synchronous communication. But does science require physical proximity? As we complete this annual report, measures to contain the coronavirus are in full swing. We all hope for a swift and well-planned end to these measures. Despite all the suffering of those with the virus and despite all the stress caused by physical distancing, opportunities are emerging for communication between scientists: For the first time, all collaboration partners are (almost) equally far apart. A video conference spanning two districts of Heidelberg feels exactly the same as a conference between Manchester and Heidelberg. New formats are being tested: How do 50 people meet meaningfully online for scientific exchange that does not take the form of a lecture? How can online communication create a sense of cohesion within working groups? How can we strike the right balance between small and large meetings? Moreover, how can we find the time to “get the real work done”? The current situation is forcing us to try out many new things. We are interested to see how communication within science will develop “after Corona.”

Science emerges from conversation, especially when scientists from different disciplines talk with one another. HITS has been dedicated to this idea from the very beginning – in keeping with the motto “Think Beyond the Limits,” which was also part of its predecessor institutions, EML European Media Laboratory (beginning in 1997) and EML Research (beginning in 2003). The change of name from EML Research gGmbH to HITS gGmbH in 2010 represented a significant expansion of the original concept: The goal was for HITS to develop into an interdisciplinary research institute with a focus on data sciences. From five research groups in 2010 HITS has 2019 expanded into eleven groups that consist of approximately 100 scientists from twenty countries, one-third of whom are women. A total of 122 people (as of the end of December2019) work at HITS, including the service sectors of the administration, IT, and the communication and events team.

HITS is closely associated with Heidelberg University and the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), which – in addition to the HITS Stiftung– are also shareholders of the Institute (see Chapter 10). This close association is reflected in joint appointments: At present, five group leaders at HITS also hold a professorship at one of the two universities. Additionally, two associated group leaders are professors at Heidelberg University, and one group leader is an honorary professor at the University. Two further joint appointments are planned for 2020.

As a well-established Institute that is closely linked to other research institutions, we will continue to organize scientific events in the future and – in line with the founding concept – expand our guest program to ensure that science continues to emerge from conversation at our Institute.

Dr. Gesa Schönberger, Managing Director

PD Dr. Wolfgang Müller, Scientific Director 2019 & 2020

Read the HITS Annual Report 2019 online here (PDF):


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