Basic science, the cradle of innovation
Korea’s lack of investment in basic science can be seen in a number of ways. Korea is ranked as fifth in the world in terms of the number of patent applications produced, but still falls behind the 27 European Union member states regarding the average value for each patent. This signifies the quality of Korean patents are low.
By illustrating some of Korea’s shortcomings, President Gruss explained that, “this means Korea should be investing more in the field of basic science,” and went on to say, “investments should be made for the advancement of patents with greater values.”
Interestingly, 73 percent of researches cited by US patents over the last decade were financed by government. President Gruss also mentioned that, “the top 1 percent research papers of the citation index are most frequently cited in patent applications." He emphasized, “that is why Korea needs to work on ‘Top Research’ that can generate such value.” It may be challenging to quantify the value of a research paper cited by a patent. But it is clear that without government-funded research, there’s no new patents nor economic growth.
Most research activities in basic science are financed by government funds. But, the question remains, how can basic science benefit the public? President Gruss spoke at length about four key benefits of basic science. First, basic science satisfies human beings’ curiosity of the world. Second, by studying basic science, we can develop the essential skills needed by universities students and industries leaders who will later contribute to the growth of the national economy. Third, only science can solve some of the problems humankind faces, such as population growth, ageing, diseases, energy conservation, and climate change. Fourth, basic science is the major driving force for new technology.
President Gruss explained, “there are two types of innovation: ‘incremental innovation’ and ‘breakthrough innovation.’ In order to lead the global market, as other leaders of technology [have done before], Korea should achieve both types of innovation simultaneously.” While incremental innovation gradually enhances technology in order to deliver immediate benefits to society, breakthrough innovation works to create new fields of innovation.
Gruss also commented that, “investments need to be made in both types of innovation at the same time for proper investment in research.” But, “it is important to strike a balance between the two types.” Here, investment in the two types of innovation refers to the investment in applied science that delivers enhance technology gradually, and investment in basic science that can bring about innovative developments.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft is an independent non-profit association that manages and governs a group of research institutes in Germany under the goal of promoting science. Also known as the ‘Max-Planck Society,’ its formal name is ‘Max-Planck-Gesellschaftzur Forderung der Wissenschaften e. V. (Max Planck Society for the Advancement of Science).’ The institute is named in honor of the German physicist Max Planck. The association is registered in Berlin, with its Administrative Headquarters in Munich. Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft (KWG) was the forerunner of Max-Planck-Gesellschaft. Established in 1911, Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft was unable to fulfill its duties during World War II. After Max Planck passed away in 1947, his successor, a German chemist named Otto Hahn, took office as the new president and changed the name from Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft to Max-Planck-Gesellschaft in 1948.
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft was started with 29 member research institutes, with Kaiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft as its forerunner. Today, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft consists of about 80 research institutions in the fields of natural science, life science, and humanities, and is widely recognized as the best research organization for basic sciences in the world. Roughly 17,000 scientists in the organization are committed to the study of basic science. The federal government and the 16 state governments provide most of the operations budget, with a current yearly budget of more than KRW 2.2 trillion (€1.53 billion).
Max-Planck-Gesellschaft is famous for outstanding research performance and achieving brilliant results. The organization has produced 17 Nobel laureates since its establishment, not including the 32 additional award winners from the aiser-Wilhelm-Gesellschaft era. This is the world record for the highest number of Nobel laureates from a single institute. In 2006, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft was rated first in the field of scientific research, and the third in technological research based on a survey of research institutes (excluding research institutes from universities) conducted by the Times Higher Education Supplement, a weekly magazine based in London. Moreover, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft has produced the second highest number of papers that have been included in the top 1 percent citation bracket in the last 10 years, with only Harvard University beating them.
Investment in IBS to realize macroeconomic values
The Korean government has recently rolled out a new policy to generate jobs by combining science and Information Communication Technology (ICT). Some citizens are concerned that such policy may be pushing for too much commercialization from the basic science field. President Gruss pointed out, “The important question is, where do the new jobs come from? According to a study done by some economists, seven more jobs are created in other fields for every ten new jobs in the scientific field.”
Gruss said, “to realize the maximum return on investment, the macroeconomic and microeconomic values need to be clearly distinguished,” and that the Korean government“should invest in IBS in order to gain macroeconomic value.” A study conducted at Massachusetts nstitute of Technology (MIT) found that the knowledge, expertise, and value generated by human resources at the university are equivalent to the top 17 most prosperous economies in the world. This calculation, established by MIT graduates, is based on the sum of the macroeconomic value generated by the companies. On the other hand, the microeconomic value, such as royalties on research, are limited to USD 60 million per year (approximately KRW 70.0 billion).
How does Korea view the field of basic science, and what value does it place on its related innovations? President Oh explains, “I agree in general with President Gruss. In Korea, however, when discussing the necessity of basic science, two questions are often raised: Why do we need to build a research hub for basic science in Korea? And, why does IBS need to support a league of top scientists?”
So then, why does Korea need to develop itself as a port for basic science? President Oh explained, “When research for basic science is performed in a single location, scientists can easily communicate, share ideas, and spread innovation.” For example, the American conglomerate IBM maintains a research center that boasts a group of Nobel prize-grade researchers in a single location. While these top scientists may not always boost the revenue instantly, their participation allows IBM to be a part of the highest ranks in the science community, where they can share ideas on recent issues starting from the inception stage. Ultimately, this allows IBM to deliver cuttingedge innovat ions. I f Korea cannot collaborate successfully on the research of basic science, President Oh warned, then Korea is at risk for missing opportunities to further national development.
President Oh also stressed the importance of top scientists because, “It is outstanding research performance that is important, not the number of papers or patents issued.” He added, “We can compete globally only when we have a research environment that matches those of [other] institutions that house the top-class scientists of the world.”
Using research findings in applied science and establishing start-ups both require support and verification
In Germany, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft is home to research for basic science, while Fraunhofer Gesellschaft focuses on applied technologies. Then, how do the two institutions collaborate? President Gruss explained, “Max-Planck-Gesellschaft has been generating scientific knowledge, which is very beneficial to humanity in particular. We initiate joint projects with Fraunhofer Gesellschaft only when the research findings can be used for new applications.” Max-Planck-Gesellschaft holds patents on polypropylene and polyethylene products. Recently, it has also patented its MRI signal acceleration technology. Moreover, the globally renowned multi-targeted anticancer drug developed by Pfizer, ‘Sutent,’ is also based on technologies from Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.
With this model in mind, President Oh said IBS, starting from the initial stages of development, should implement its research with consideration for application technologies. “I think that universities and research institutes should be fully engaged in performing their key roles of generating new knowledge and delivering innovation,” he said. “We are working to further differentiate the fields of basic and applied research. He said the current model is not fully benefitting the science community. While Max-Planck-Gesellschaft may collaborate with Fraunhofer Gesellschaft when there are good ideas from their [research], it is not their main objective,” he said. “In particular, when project proposals are offered from companies, the researchers only take onthe jobs when they are interested in the missions.”
President Oh cited the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel as an example of a successful business start-up by researchers. While a third of the income for the Weizmann Institute comes from fees on technology transfers (or royalties), the staff researchers may not set up businesses of their own, and funds from private companies are restricted to 15 percent of the total budget. “Research and business management are two different fields,” President Oh pointed out. “Many researchers in Korea try to set up new businesses when they have good ideas. While patenting such ideas may not be difficult, business management should be left to the professional entrepreneurs.”
President Gruss reiterated President Oh’sideas. “While we need large companies for economic development, we must have business start-ups at the same time,” he said. “In order to promote universities and research institutes to build start-ups, we need to install a ‘validation system’.” He went on to explain that, “validation is the process of determining the commercial feasibility of basic science research findings, and developing them into new formats desired by the market,” and insisted that “validation funds need to be included as a part of the investment in basic sciences, together with funding for the research.”
The need to catch two rabbits:‘autonomy’ and ‘excellence’
President Gruss believes, “it is the researchers who know best about what to study,” and introduced Max-Planck-Gesellschaft’s process for selecting research fields. “The fields of research for the next 20 years are determined via various discussions,” he said. “Each of the member institutes continuously propose new research projects that they deem significant in the future.” The three pillars of research at Max-Planck-Gesellschaft, of which all of its members belong to, are Biology & Medicine; Chemistry, Physics & Technology; and Humanities & Social Sciences.
President Gruss continued to explain that there are several new trends in each of these fields. The ‘Institute for the Biology of Ageing,’ for example, was established a few years ago. This was because while ageing has always been a very critical social issue, the fundamentals of ageing have yet to be identified. In the field of Chemistry, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft is preparing to launch the ‘Institute for Chemical Energy Conversion. Securing energy is a key task for humankind. The use of energy from chemical bonds is extremely efficient, and it would be very useful for humanity if hydrogen could be converted into methanol.
In the field of Humanities, Max-Planck-Gesellschaft recently opened the innovative ‘Institute for Empirical Aesthetics’ in Frankfurt, Germany. “In this institute, art experts, psychologists, and neurologists come together for their research on beauty,” President Gruss said. “While it might look pointless at first glance, the findings from the study can be used as information with high economic value when constructing buildings or designing cars once we discover the fundamental principles of how people perceive beauty.”
During the conversation, there were talks on the need for IBS to work towards resolving social issues, or to answer new fundamental questions. President Oh replied, “Answering such questions is what we do at IBS. For example, the research by Doctor Hee-Sup Shin asks, ‘How do social behaviors arise?’ While the experiment is [currently being] performed on rats, it strives to scientifically prove the reasons why people act differently when they are in groups and when they are alone.”
President Gruss stated, “In order to allow IBS to grow, it is most important that the institute guarantees the autonomy of its researchers,” and that “the government should only intervene when the efficiency of research is no longer assured.” Then, how can we evaluate efficiency while keeping autonomy intact? “There are two options,” Gruss said. “The most important [thing] is to recruit the best researchers, and the other is to hold regular assessments every two years―just like what we do at Max-Planck-Gesellschaft.” About 85 percent of the assessment committee at Max-Planck-Gesellschaft consists of globally renowned researchers, including Nobel Prize winners and professors from Harvard University. The committee reduces funding for the three institutes if their evaluations deemed the institutions are inefficient.
President Oh responded positively to this model. “IBS will bring more than half of its assessment ommittee from abroad, with at least one assessment committee member from a different field to play the role of safeguard who will supervise the fairness of the discussions and the quality of the assessments,” he said. “We have world-class scientists. There is a need for fairness due to the ‘scientific integrity’ of such scientists.” More than 11 years have passed since 2002, when President Gruss was appointed as the leader of ax-Planck-Gesellschaft. Next June he will be handing over the role to the current Vice President. His efforts for the globalization of the institute are regarded as his greatest contribution to the organization. About 60 percent of the visiting researchers, post-doctoral researchers, and students in their Ph.D. courses at Max- Planck-Gesellschaft are not from Germany. There are 13 research centers and partner research institutions around the world as well. In Korea, there are three research centers collaborating as partner organizations, Two research centers at Postech and a partner group at Ulsan National Institute of Science and Technology (UNIST). President Gruss pointed out, “We have collaborated with partners all around the world in order to partner with the brightest talents. While it is good to recruit top talents from abroad, forming an international network with joint research collaborations just like Max-Planck-Gesellschaft can be an option as well.”