As a research organisation, the Helmholtz Association develops solutions for pressing issues in the areas of science, the economy and society. Do you also tackle concrete problematic situations in developing countries and emerging markets?
Professor Teutsch: Yes, the Helmholtz Association is divided into six areas of research, a few of which tackle concrete problems in developing and newly industrialised countries. One of these is the research field Earth and Environment where we deal with issues relating to water supply, land use and soil erosion. We also offer support in disaster relief by providing satellite surveys which are of significance to the emergency services working in areas hit by earthquakes, floods or tsunamis.
With your work you would like to contribute to preserving and improving the fundamentals required for human life. What role does technology play here?
Professor Teutsch: Appropriate technical solutions are often the key to successful aid, especially in areas where the circumstances or conditions are particularly difficult. The emphasis here is on “appropriate“ because it is less about an excellent high-tech solution but rather the fact that it works reliably and is suited to local conditions. A simple technical solution embedded in a suitable package of measures with training and external support is, according to experience, not only more effective but also more sustainable. It won’t work without technology – but technology alone is rarely enough…
To what extent do you consider the deployment of new (key) technologies in developing and newly industrialised countries when you are developing them?
Professor Teutsch: As a research association of considerable size we work on fundamental scientific questions as well as problem-oriented research. It is not so much the question of developing a technology and then looking to see where it will be applied but rather specifically working towards an overall solution in which technology often plays a key role. Let me give you an example: We developed a higly advanced but very simple-to-use arsenic test which will be deployed through humanitary organisations first in Bangladesh where over 20 million people are affected by a vast geogenic arsenic contamination of the shallow groundwater ressources. Of course, a key factor here is having the most reliable technology which is affordable and robust at the same time. Furthermore, it has to be accepted by the authorities as well as by the people otherwise we would not be able to achieve the desired effect of a wide dissemination.
How do you organise the transfer of technology so that your research work can be deployed in a specific way?
Professor Teutsch: We have our support units, incentives programmes and business scouts precisely for this in our research centres. However, we are primarily a scientific organisation and commonly do not start with a product and market perspective. We try to identify ideas from science as early as possible and subsequently check their suitability for marketing. It is important to understand the mentality of the scientist here, provide impetus for entrepreneurial approaches and continually advance these with the inventors and developers so that transfer into practice is enabled.
As a high-tech research association, why are you committed to a competition like the “empowering poeple. Award” which is about identifying simple technologies, appropriate technologies?
Professor Teutsch: On the one hand, we stand for high-tech and fundamental research, whether in physics, medicine or environmental science. On the other hand, we have a mission to serve society. The great majority of the world’s population lives in developing and newly industrialised countries. In these areas, a real advancement of life quality can be achieved with simple measures. Appropriate technologies are needed here and I think that we will be paying increased attention to this at the Helmholtz Association in the future.
This article and many other topics relating to the “empowering people. Award” can be found in our Newsletter. Please download the latest copy here: http://www.empowering-people-award.siemens-stiftung.org/newsletter/may-2013/