Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, Carl Friedrich Gauss revolutionized mathematics, and Carl Benz developed the first automobile. Wilhelm Röntgen developed the X-ray (in German: 'Roentgen rays') and Albert Einstein developed the theory of general relativity, which generalised special relativity and Newton's law of gravitation. Justus von Liebig discovered the pivotal role of nitrogen in fertilisers (manure) and Robert Koch identified the tuberculosis pathogen. Emmy Noether, one of the few women in her discipline, made substantial contributions to abstract algebra, Konrad Zuse invented the computer, while Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner discovered nuclear fission. The Nobel laureate Christiane Nüsslein-Vollhard discovered the genes which determine the majority of animals’ body structure. The lesser known Karlheinz Brandenburg developed the mp3 format.
German scientists have been awarded about 10 percent of all Nobel Prizes. Last in 2014, Stefan Hell received the Nobel Prize for chemistry. Since 1998, German scientists have been awarded five Nobel Prizes for physics, three for chemistry, and two for medicine.
Germany has a highly developed scientific system, containing more than 800 publicly funded research institutions. Outstanding scientific work is conducted at more than 400 universities and colleges. Currently, more than two and a half million students, eleven percent of whom are from abroad, are registered at institutions of higher learning in Germany. Most universities and colleges are organised within the German Rectors' Conference. On the pages of Higher Education Compass, information on the many partnerships between German and Israeli universities can be found.
Besides universites and colleges, especially the research institutes of the four great science organisations (see German Research Organisations) play an active role in research. In addition to that, there are a variety of independent research centers, and the Federal Republic’s and the federal states’ research institutes. The page Research in Germany provides a useful overview of the German research landscape.The Federal Ministry’s web pages provide further information particularly concerning the Federal Republic’s and the federal states’ departmental research institutes. Besides publicly funded research institutes, also a great number of privately funded institutions is located in Germany.
While engineering, chemistry, medicine, physics, and mathematics have always been the strong sectors of German science, German researchers are also actively involved in future disciplines, such as ecological research, information and communication technologies, neuroscience and biotechnology, optical technologies, and micro-system technologies. The humanities and social sciences are traditionally also well represented in Germany.
The hallmark of the science infrastructure in Germany are federalism and the division of labor between institutions financed by the government and by private sector businesses. Despite this division, there are many overlaps and interrelations. The federal government is responsible for the funding of scientific research and controls the fundamentals of science policy in keeping with the Framework Act for Higher Education. The federal states are principally responsible for the running of institutions of higher education.
In addition, the federal government is mainly involved by providing temporary third-party funding. The German Research Foundation is the central control mechanism for the distribution of third-party funds. Among others, it bundles research potential by establishing collaborative research centers. Another support program is the Excellence Initiative, which the federal government and the federal states introduced in 2005. In 2006, the federal government established an inter-agency high-tech strategy, which is continuously adapted to meet new challenges. The programme is mainly aimed at strengthening innovative power and ensuring growth and prosperity in Germany. Over and above these support measures, a 2014 change in legislation allows the federal government to promote also open-ended research projects of national importance at higher education institutions.
The federal government departmental research institutes in the areas of health, agriculture, environment, transport, and defense are independent of the research done at tertiary institutions.