Since the start of the Scientific Revolution nearly five centuries ago our understanding of the world and our ability to manipulate it have massively increased. This has led to huge improvements in our capacity to harness energy, produce material goods, fight diseases and feed a rapidly growing population. Life expectancy and quality of life have greatly increased in many places and we have newfound abilities to travel and communicate across the world unimaginable to our ancestors.

But at the same time, this unprecedented growth has resulted in the destruction of ecosystems, resource depletion and pollution, the breakdown of traditional communities, as well as the emergence of existential risks such as global warming and the possibility of nuclear war. The question of how science is related to technology, innovation, practical application and growth is therefore central to addressing the many societal challenges that we face and to creating a sustainable future.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Dr. Sabine Kunst, President of the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin and spokesperson for the Berlin University Alliance (BUA), warmly welcomed Prof. Dr. Maria Leptin, President of the European Research Council (ERC), to Berlin. For Maria Leptin, who took up her post on November 1, 2021, it was her first visit to the German capital in her new role. She provided insight into her ideas for the ERC, explain why basic research is essential for research and how it contributes to the transformation of research and society. ERC grantees from the four network partners presented how their projects have a transformative effect:

Prof. Dr. Matthias Rillig has been researching and teaching as professor for plant ecology at the Free University of Berlin since 2007. He introduces what what happens to soil and its biodiversity under the influence of multiple factors of global change.

Prof. Dr. Susanne Schreiber has headed the Computational Neurophysiology research group at the Institute for Biology at the Humboldt Universität zu Berlin since 2009. Her ERCProject focuses on neuronal action potentials in the brain and whether „homoclinic spike generators“ could revolutionize our understanding of how signal transmission in the brain with its neural networks works.

Prof. Dr. Begüm Demir heads the Remote Sensing Image Analysis (RSiM) and the Big Data Analytics for Earth Observation groups at Technische Universität Berlin. In her ERC Starting Grant, she investigates how the wealth of information provided by countless images from remote sensing satellites can be optimally used to revolutionise the understanding of our earth.

Prof. Dr. med. Surjo Soekadar took up the first German professorship for clinical neurotechnology at the Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin in 2018. It shows the transformative potential that can be found in the combination of highly developed technologies such as human-machine interfaces and transcranial magnetic / electrical stimulation for patients with severe central nervous impairments.

This event was part of Berlin Science 2021 and organised by the Berlin University Alliance and the European Research Council.