Special exhibition celebrates 200th anniversary of Helmholtz’s birth

Hermann von Helmholtz is considered one of the most influential natural scientists of his time. To mark the Potsdam-born physicist’s 200th birthday on August 31, a joint exhibition has been organized by the proWissen Potsdam association, the University of Potsdam, and the Helmholtz Association in honor of the “Genius from the Havel.” The MDC is participating with an exhibition panel.

The two-part exhibition is on view to the public along the red construction fence next to the Bildungsforum Potsdam and in the Wissenschaftsetage from July 23, 2021. At the exhibition opening, a panel of high-profile guests answered questions about Hermann von Helmholtz, his inventions, and his legacy as the namesake of Germany’s largest scientific organization. The participants reflected on present and future research at the Helmholtz Centers in Berlin and Brandenburg, as well as on Hermann von Helmholtz’s influence on our lives today.

“Hermann von Helmholtz was a gifted inventor and scientist who was well ahead of his time,” said Dr. Manja Schüle, Minister of Science, Research and Culture of the State of Brandenburg. “He was a pioneer of science communication and gave fantastic lectures that everyone was able to follow. This counts as one of his great merits – in addition to his various inventions. Hermann von Helmholtz had his sights set on the ‘propagation of the sciences,’ which he believed would serve the progress of humankind.”

Thomas Sommer, Scientific Director of the MDC (interim); Otmar Dieter Wiestler, President of the Helmholtz Association; Manja Schüle, Minister of Science, Research and Culture of the State of Brandenburg and Oliver Günther, President of the University of Potsdam (left to right).


“This is what defines the mission of the Helmholtz Centers and Institutes in the state of Brandenburg,” she added. “The focus is on producing benefits for society. Our Helmholtz members support and advise policymakers in an effort to find answers to societal questions – which is a great challenge, as the well-being of millions of people depends on it. Potsdam’s Helmholtz facilities, like the entire Helmholtz Association, represent progress and efficiency, world-class international research and attractiveness. It all just goes to show once again that the future is being written in Brandenburg. See for yourselves – at the Potsdam exhibitions that mark Helmholtz’s 200th birthday!”

Helmholtz was well ahead of his time

The research landscape at the Helmholtz Centers in the region of Brandenburg and throughout Germany is organized on the basis of Helmholtz’s ideas and ways of working. “Hermann von Helmholtz’s approach to research was completely revolutionary and is more relevant today than ever, in view of pressing issues like the coronavirus pandemic and climate change,” said Professor Otmar Wiestler, President of the Helmholtz Association, at the exhibition’s opening. “Even 150 years ago, he knew that we would only be able to solve complex problems by going beyond the boundaries of the individual disciplines. He was a polymath who blurred the lines between the sciences and showed that it is at these crossover points that scientific progress is made. Hermann von Helmholtz was well ahead of his time. Even back then, he consistently pushed for findings from basic research to be transferred into application – today, the Helmholtz Association has made this its mission.”

“I am delighted that we are getting the opportunity to pique Potsdam’s curiosity about our biomedical research.
Thomas Sommer
Thomas Sommer Scientific Director of the MDC (interim)

Professor Thomas Sommer, interim Scientific Director of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine in the Helmholtz Association (MDC), added: “I am delighted that we are getting the opportunity to pique Potsdam’s curiosity about our biomedical research. Hermann von Helmholtz is a role model and inspiration for us researchers. What impresses me, more than any single invention, is his enthusiasm for the various sciences that he brought together. I am fascinated by how deeply he delved into matter, medicine, physics – even philosophy.” He too emphasized the natural scientist’s interdisciplinary approach: “Helmholtz was truly interdisciplinary – a polymath whose inventions are still in use today. The age of the polymath has passed, so we now rely on building bridges between disciplines, and on harnessing swarm intelligence. Here at the MDC, for example, biologists, computer scientists, physicists and physicians, mathematicians and chemists work closely together on projects.”

Hermann von Helmholtz’s vision of an interdisciplinary approach to research is still being practiced in his home city of Potsdam today. “Helmholtz is far more than just an outstanding scientist and a deserving namesake for numerous research institutions and natural science phenomena,” said Professor Oliver Günther, President of the University of Potsdam and Vice Chairman of proWissen Potsdam, in tribute to the multifaceted genius. “He embodied many of the University of Potsdam’s important ideals and visions – particularly with his pioneering interdisciplinary approach to research.”

Two exhibitions mark Helmholtz’s 200th birthday

The exhibition “Helmholtz-PhänoMINTa” takes its guests on a sightseeing tour through the scientist’s many inventions, while also providing a glimpse into the life stations and important contemporaries of the multifaceted genius. This part of the exhibition is on view through September 2 in the corridors of the Wissenschaftsetage (WIS) at the Bildungsforum Potsdam.

The exhibition “Hermann von Helmholtz – The Genius from the Havel,” on display along the red construction fence next to the Bildungsforum Potsdam, explores the life and times of Hermann von Helmholtz, who lived during the 19th century, an era marked by scientific, technical, and industrial progress but also by various crises. The timeline shows Helmholtz’s milestones as well as those of his contemporaries. Adjacent to this timeline, eight Helmholtz Centers located in Brandenburg and Berlin are presenting their main research areas. Through the end of the year, each of the Center’s exhibition panels will also feature a “Helmholtz Challenge” on major issues facing humanity.


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