unizeit Schriftzug

"The whole is greater than the sum of the parts"

Professor Eckhard Quandt, who has been the Vice-President of Research, Transfer, Scientific Infrastructure and Digitalisation at Kiel University since October 2020, has big plans for his term in office. He takes a look at the current processes in an interview with unizeit.

A conversation with Vice-President Eckhard Quandt.
© Jürgen Haacks

A conversation with Vice-President Eckhard Quandt.

unizeit: Professor Quandt, what were your thoughts when you took up the office of Vice-President?

Eckhard Quandt: Setting joint goals and a coordinated approach with the other members of the University Board was very important to me, especially that everyone was willing to want to work together in a team successfully, and to pull together. Which is something that has definitely been the case. I particularly want to incorporate my strategic experience in research and transfer into the team.

You are the first Vice-President from the Faculty of Engineering. Does this mean you will approach the tasks differently?

No, this is more like a note in the margin, but does not influence me in my day-to-day work, as the focus here is on a university-wide perspective. I have been at Kiel University for nearly 15 years now and have always benefited from interdisciplinary cooperation, especially between the Faculty of Medicine and the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. This is standard practice at the Faculty of Engineering and, in particular, in materials science – these are small departments but the issues are often only resolved through interdisciplinary action.

In the field of research infrastructure, I became accustomed to the way in which equipment, for example, has always been shared between different working groups. And this approach of sharing expensive infrastructures is now standard practice at leading research institutes across the globe. I am trying to recreate this here and now across the whole university by establishing joint research platforms. This is already the case, for example, in genome analysis, in biomedical imaging at MOIN CC and in the Kiel Nanolaboratory, but it would also be possible in many more places. We could avoid expensive duplicate purchases and promote exchange. It is also of interest in terms of integrating groups of young researchers, of which we have too few. What is important here is that research infrastructure does not just relate to technical equipment but also includes collections, museums and information-based infrastructures.

What subject are you currently focusing on?

Many processes are running in parallel at the moment, not everything can be separated. Generally, the subject of digitalisation has been pushed to the forefront by the coronavirus pandemic. Kiel University had and has some catching up to do here, but everything has worked very well over the last year, as far as has been possible under pandemic conditions. We are currently working on founding a Digital Science Center. This is to be a central facility relevant to the areas of research, transfer and teaching in the field of data science. With respect to teaching, initial plans are being put together with my fellow Vice-President Markus Hundt on a dual degree programme that combines data science and its various fields with a matching practical subject and by doing so reflects the wide range of subjects on offer at our comprehensive university. Students will be able to combine components from Mathematics or Computer Science with a specialist field of practical application such as Marine Sciences or Digital Humanities. As data-intensive research is important to nearly all disciplines, we assume that these skills will become increasingly important. This is why this type of interdisciplinary degree programme is especially important for Kiel University as a comprehensive university. Another important aspect is the digitalisation of administrative processes, which we hope to make a lot of progress with over the next few years. All members of the university will benefit from the opportunities resulting from this development.

The major subject of the German Excellence Strategy is also a priority. We have just held the first round of strategy talks on the subjects of research and research infrastructure with all faculties and priority research areas. In the next step, applications for new clusters of excellence will have to be strategically prepared and supervised. We will only be successful with our new applications if we have done our homework in all our fields of activity. For example, we need to establish more collaborative research centres and joint projects. This also involves creating more scope for research.

What is behind the new Transfer division?

The transfer of research results is, of course, very relevant to society because we transfer new scientific findings into innovations that benefit society in many different ways. This not only concerns technological innovations, but also, for instance, social innovations. To achieve this, you have to think along the same lines as the Scientific Outreach division, i.e. knowledge transfer, and our university is very well positioned to do so through its many different activities. Traditional technology transfer is a major area to work on. Here we want to provide our researchers with structural support by founding a Uni GmbH (see the article below). This will create more flexible framework conditions for cooperation with industry in the case of projects funded by third parties and the exploitation of our own achievements, for instance, through start-ups. The private industry-based structure of a GmbH with Kiel University as the sole shareholder makes us more flexible and more attractive, both for research projects, as an employer competing for the best employees as well as in terms of visibility when major federal funding is awarded. Knowledge and technology transfer is also very important in terms of the German Excellence Strategy. This is where the various individual building blocks interlink.

Will you get all this done in the three years of your term in office?

We need to tackle the issues I have mentioned now so that we can benefit from them later, for example, with respect to the German Excellence Strategy. This is a programme that will cover several years in all. I am delighted to be involved and able to make a certain impact on it during my term in office. I can also say that despite my 15 years at Kiel University I have learned a lot about variety and diversity at the CAU through the strategy talks. I have learned to appreciate the value of a comprehensive university a lot more. In this respect, I am very much looking forward to continuing to exchange ideas with members of our university.

This interview was conducted by Christin Beeck.

Short biography of Prof. Dr Eckhard Quandt

Professor Dr.-Ing. Eckhard Quandt has been the Vice-President of Research, Transfer, Scientific Infrastructure and Digitalisation since 8 October 2020. He studied in Kiel and Berlin, and after his doctoral degree in Berlin he completed his Habilitation (post-doctoral lecture qualification) in materials science at Universität Karlsruhe. This was followed by positions at the (Kern)Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe (now the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology) and the Center of Advanced European Studies and Research (caesar) in Bonn. Quandt has been Professor of Inorganic Functional Materials at Kiel University’s Faculty of Engineering since December 2006. Spokesperson roles: 2009 to 2012 priority research area "Nano Science and Surface Research", 2010 to 2014 collaborative research centre (CRC) 855 "Magnetoelectric Composites", since 2016 CRC 1261 "Magnetoelectric Sensors". He was a member of the CAU Senate from 2010 to 2012, and from 2012 to 2014 he was first the Vice Dean, then the Dean at the Faculty of Engineering from 2014 to 2016. (cb)