Max Planck to take over institute

Bonn?s Caesar will become a neuroscience center in what some staff see as a hostile takeover

By | June 8, 2006

Germany?s Max Planck Society has been authorized to take over a publicly-financed research institute in Bonn and totally revamp it, with the goal of turning it into a leading international neurosciences institute. The move, approved Friday (June 2) by the board of trustees of the Center for Advanced European Studies and Research (Caesar), comes two years after a negative 2004 report on the progress of the institute. Caesar spokeswoman Francis Hugenroth told The Scientist that ?as you can imagine, we would have hoped for another solution,? such as remaining independent and maintaining its focus on nanotechnology, biotechnology, and medical devices. Some of the center?s 90 scientists, Hugenroth said, have the feeling this was a hostile takeover ? a characterization Planck president Peter Gruss disagreed with. Most of the scientists are on 5-year contracts, and they and their 50 postdocs have a sense that their contracts will not be extended and that Max Planck will hire new scientists. Gruss said that all current temporary contracts would be honored until they expired, but that Planck would need to recruit neuroscience researchers, and most current Caesar staff would not meet that job description. Caesar was financed in the late 1990s with approximately ?380 million, most from a federal compensation fund created to help Bonn recover from the 1999 transfer of the federal government to Berlin. Caesar?s home state of North Rhine-Westphalia contributed about 10% of the cost. Caesar?s mission was to create a stimulating environment or scientists in multiple disciplines in which they could eventually find commercial outlets for their research. In 2003, Caesar moved into a modern ?97-million building designed to house up to 350 scientists and supporting staff. Hugenroth said that even after that huge expense, the foundation?s investment trust currently holds about ?330 million euros. But just a year after the move in to the new building, Germany?s Science Council, which advises federal and state governments, said in a report that Caesar had thus far failed to perform to expectations. One of the main criticisms was that Caesar?s research was unfocused. The Caesar Foundation enlisted the help of Max Planck, which came up with the takeover plan. Hugenroth said staff members feel the negative evaluation by the Science Council did not take into account that Caesar basically was still in a start-up phase. But Science Council chairman Peter Strohschneider said the government-requested 2004 evaluation did take that into account. It was clear that Caesar was not moving in the right direction and that changes had to be made, he said. "Two or three more years of non-decision making would be even worse for Caesar," he said Gruss said Max Planck?s executive committee would discuss the takeover in October, and will not give final approval unless Max Planck is given majority control of Caesar?s board, something both Gruss and Strohschneider said they believe is likely given Friday?s decision by Caesar?s board. Gruss said that the new neurosciences center -- focusing on neurodegeneration, neuroregeneration, and neuroprosthetics -- would add to a region already rich in neuroscience. With the addition of the new institute, the region will have five centers focusing on similar research and will become a global neuroscience powerhouse, Gruss said. "Max Planck wants internationally visible lighthouses," he said. "If you want that, you have to have critical mass and that is what we are going to have in neurosciences in this region." Ned Stafford N. Stafford, ?Max Planck to open aging center,? The Scientist, April 15, 2004. Center for Advanced European Studies and Research (Caesar) Max Planck Society Peter Gruss Caesar building German Science Council

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