Minerva Stiftung

logo of the Minerva Foundation

The Minerva Stiftung is a subsidiary of the Max Planck Society. It has supported German-Israeli cooperation for more than 50 years. Over the decades, several programme lines have emerged, comprising individual and institutional funding activities.

A meeting between scientists of the Max-Planck Society (MPG) and the Weizman Institute (WIS) already led to a scientific exchange between Germany and Israel in 1959. Subsequent to this meeting, chancellor Konrad Adenauer, after a talk with the Israeli premier David Ben-Gurion in New York, donated DM 3 million (EUR 1.53 million) to the WIS on 14 March 1960. This marked the beginning of extensive support for science in Israel.

Minerva-Weizmann Programme
A further agreement in 1963 provided support for scientific projects, initially through the Volkswagen Foundation’s contribution of DM 2 million (EUR 1.02 million). In 1964, within the framework of the first Minerva agreement with the WIS, the then federal research ministry took over the financing of 19 projects and a total of fifty-two scientists and researchers amounting to DM 3 million annually. Currently, within the Minerva-Weizmann Programme approximately 80 projects are supported with a total of roughly EUR 3.5 million annually (about 25 new projects each year). Since 1964, the agreement has been renewed every year and secured funding for roughly 2,000 projects in chemistry, physics, mathematics, and the biosciences.

The Minerva-Weizmann committee (currently chaired by Professor Marina Rodnina from the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry), which is equally composed of scientists from Germany and the WIS, meets once a year for selecting the projects to be funded. Its specific programme objectives include cooperation with German research partners and the promotion of junior scientists. Junior scientists from Germany have been able to directly apply for a short stay to work on ongoing projects since 2008.

Minerva Centers
Since 1975, Minerva Centers, which conduct top level research in cooperation with German scientists, have been funded at Israeli universities and WIS. These centres have become an important part of the Israeli researchscape and cover bio- and geosciences, chemistry, information technology, computer science, environmental studies, law, literature, as well as religious and historical studies. In February 2015, on her travel to Israel on the occasion of the celebrations to mark the 50th anniversary of German-Israeli diplomatic relations the then research minister Johanna Wanka opened the two latest Minerva Centers. Currently (2022), 24 Minerva Centers exist (7 with Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 6 with WIS, 4 with Tel Aviv University, 2 with Technion, Bar-Ilan University, University of Haifa, and the Minerva Center for Human Rights with the involvement of Hebrew University and Tel Aviv University).

The Minerva Centers are equally financed by revenue from the long-term endowment that the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research provided and applies in Israel, and an own contribution by the recipient Israeli research institution amounting to the annual investment capital (matching funds).

The Minerva Foundation has appointed a central committee for the coordination and overall supervision of the centers (Currently (2022) the chair is Jürgen Renn, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science). This committee comprises internationally renowned scientists of all subject areas, as well as with external experts responsible for the selection and evaluation of potentially new centers and for the regular evaluation of existing ones. Since a 2011 reform, the center programmes are geared even stronger towards competitive processes.

Minerva Fellowships
The Minerva Fellowship Programme (funded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research) enables Israeli and German scientists to complete a research residency at institutions in the respective other country. Minerva Fellowships are not only intended to promote research but also to strengthen the cultural and scientific exchange between Germany and Israel.

Up to 2019, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has supported 1,700 Minerva Fellowships. The Fellowship Programme currently provides roughly EUR 1.65 million annually for 50 junior scientist fellowships from both countries. Minerva Fellowships are open to all subject areas and address graduates and post docs. The duration of the funding is normally six months to two years. Short-term Minerva fellowships (about 30 each year) of one week up to eight weeks provide junior German and Israeli scientists with an opportunity to make their first contact with partners in the host country. They also allow for participation in seminars and workshops.

Minerva Schools
1997 saw the introduction of Minerva Schools. The Schools aim at enabling advanced students in all science areas to make their first contact with the partner country while still studying. Promising students are brought together with outstanding Israeli and German representatives of their disciplines for meetings lasting several days. Since 2006 more than 30 Minerva Schools in Germany and Israel have been funded with up to EUR 25,500 each.

Minerva Gentner Symposia
The Gentner symposia, supported since 1972, are named after Wolfgang Gentner, a German initiator of scientific cooperation with Israel. These symposia (about 25 to 50 participants) in Germany and Israel are held in all areas of research and are financed with up to EUR 30,000 from the Minerva Fellowship Programme funds. Between 1995 and 2022 almost 50 symposia have taken place.

From 2008 to 2019 the BMBF funded the Award for Research Cooperation and Highest Excellence in Science (ARCHES). The award was administered by Minerva. The prize of EUR 400,000 was awarded annually to two German-Israeli teams of junior scientists (no older than 40). The prize was alternately awarded for research in the areas of natural science, engineering, life sciences, and the humanities.