The biennial meeting of the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows (AAvHF) will be held on 23 November 2019 at Macquarie University, during the forthcoming symposium of the Australian and New Zealand Associations of von Humboldt Fellows. This report to the biennial meeting summaries significant matters for the AAvHF since its last meeting in November 2017 in Wellington.
It has been a privilege to serve as President of the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows in 2018-2019. I see this service to our Association as an opportunity to acknowledge the support that Australian Fellows have had from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and as a small contribution to promoting academic cooperation between Australia and Germany.
This report highlights the following key matters for the Australian Association:
- Celebrating Humboldt’s 250th Birthday
- Conclusion of the RAMP Mentoring Project
- Death of Arija Schwerdtfeger
- Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows Activities
- Significant Achievements of Fellows
- Awards Committee
- 2019 Conference at Macquarie University
- Gratitude to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
- Service of AAvHF Executive
Celebrating Humboldt’s 250th Birthday
On the 250th anniversary of Alexander von Humboldt’s birth, 14 September 2019, the National Library of Australia hosted a forum, entitled Alexander von Humboldt: The Shakespeare of the Sciences. It considered his impact upon “the world of science and how his work still affects leading scientists and experts”. As President of the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows, I was invited to introduce the life and work of Humboldt. This was followed by a panel discussion, facilitated by Lish Fejer of ABC Radio Canberra, and featuring Humboldtians Dr Judith Reinhard, Head of Science and Innovation at the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany and Emeritus Professor Hans Bachor from theResearch School of Physics at the Australian National University, and Professor Tim Entwistle, Director and Chief Executive of the Royal Botanic Gardens Victoria. It was an excellent occasion, which attracted a packed lecture theatre at the National Library ― a fitting celebration of Humboldt’s legacy!
Conclusion of the RAMP Mentoring Program
From 2011-2019 young Australian researchers in all scholarly disciplines had access to independent mentoring through the national Research Ambassador and Mentoring Program (RAMP), which was initiated and managed by Humboldtian Associate Professor Kay Double of the University of Sydney and Sydney-based Directors of the Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (German Academic Exchange Service, DAAD). In 2013 Associate Professor Double was awarded a Humboldt Alumni Prize for Innovative Initiatives for the program. Valued at 25,000 Euros, the prize enhanced and extended the mentoring scheme. Over the past nine years RAMP provided practical and independent advice to many young researchers and supported them in their career development. During 2019, Associate Professor Double advised that the program was concluding as the funding had come to an end. RAMP was truly an ‘innovative initiative’ and the AAvHF thanks Associate Professor Double and the DAAD for their dedication to early career researchers through RAMP. Several others contributed to the success of the RAMP initiative and I also record the Association’s gratitude to them: Kerry Thornton and then Dr Anna Firsova as the part-time RAMP Coordinators, Dr Darren Kelly for design and maintenance of the RAMP database and website, and AAvHF Honorary Treasurer Professor Gary Bryant as RAMP financial administrator. Finally, the Association expresses its appreciation to those who acted as mentors and wishes the mentees well for their future careers.
Death of Arija Schwerdtfeger
Just after the previous biennial colloquium in New Zealand, Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger, former President of the New Zealand Association of von Humboldt Fellows, advised the Australian Association of the sad news of Arija Schwerdtfeger’s death. As many of you will know, Arija’s husband, also Professor Peter Schwerdtfeger, was founding President of the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows (but not related to his New Zealand namesake). Arija regularly attended the activities of the Australian Association and many of us knew her well from the biennial meetings. She endeared herself to our members and we hold her in fond memory.
Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows Activities
Publication from 2017 Colloquium
In September 2018, AAvHF Honorary Secretary Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson published a handsome e-book with papers from the 2017 joint colloquium of the Australian and New Zealand Associations of von Humboldt Fellows. The details for the volume are: Trevor Finlayson (editor) The Changing World in the South Pacific: Australasian and German Perspectives (September 2018) available at www.humboldtaustralia.org.au under the menu item “Publications”.
Associate Professor Finlayson spent weeks dialoguing with colloquium speakers and referees to gather together the papers for publication and then meticulously edited the manuscript for publication. The Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows is indebted to him for this valued scholarly contribution building on a successful colloquium.
Humboldt’s Birthday Dinners
It has been a custom in our Association, at the State and Territory level, to celebrate the birthday of Alexander von Humboldt, normally with a dinner ― I have heard of a range of such initiatives in 2018-2019 which our members have enjoyed. Such occasions have often been honoured by significant German guests like the German Ambassador to Australia or the local Consul General. I was pleased to be able to join the Melbourne gatherings in 2018 at the German Club Tivoli in Windsor and in 2019 at the Hofbräuhaus in the city.
In association with the above-mentioned event at the National Library of Australia, I was delighted also to attend the 2019 Canberra Humboldtians’ dinner. It was held at University House at the Australian National University on the actual day of Humboldt’s 250th birthday, 14 September 2019. It was a festive and most enjoyable occasion graced by the presence of the new Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, H. E. Dr Thomas Fitschen, and his wife Dr Ilona Stölken. During dinner, Dr Fitschen gave an engaging address on Alexander von Humboldt.
Gratitude is expressed to the State and Territory representatives on the AAvHF Committee who arrange these gatherings which Fellows value.
Visit of German Federal Ministry of Education and Research Delegation
On 29 October 2018 a delegation from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research visited Canberra to discuss scientific and technological cooperation with its Australian counterparts. At the request of the Foundation in Bonn, the Alexander von Humboldt network was represented by Professor Hans Bachor, who is the Canberra representative on the AAvHF Committee. On the occasion, he highlighted the ongoing links between Germany and Australia, catalysed through the Humboldt Foundation. Afterwards, he reported that the representatives of the German and Australian Ministries acknowledged the positive effects of the work of the Foundation and our Australian Association.
On 2-4 November 2018 in Melbourne, the DAAD held an alumni meeting entitled The Responsibility of Science and Technology for Innovation. On the Saturday evening, then Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany Dr Anna Prinz, together with DAAD Secretary General Dr Dorothea Rueland, hosted a dinner cruise for delegates. I was delighted to be able to represent the AAvHF. The previous day, the conference was opened with a number of welcome addresses, including from Vice-President Professor Jeff Malpas on behalf of the AAvHF.
AAvHF members, through research partnerships and other collaborations, support German-Australian cooperation. Locally, there is also active participation in key activities such as the Falling Walls Lab, organised by the Australian Academy of Science in association with the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany in Australia, and the Australian-German Science and Innovation Day during Brisbane German Week. The former initiative, with reference to the fall of the Berlin Wall, has at “its heart … the question ‘Which are the next walls to fall?’ as a result of scientific, technological, economic and sociological breakthroughs”.
Annually mid-year in Melbourne the Honorargeneralkonsul in Victoria Michael Pearce SC hosts a Runden Tisch. This afternoon brings together some two dozen German groups based in Victoria and encompassing aged care, cultural, educational, industrial, media, professional and religious bodies. The Honorary Secretary or I represent the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows on these occasions.
Such contributions to German-Australian cooperation are valued and build on the philosophy that underpins the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and its awards.
Significant Achievements of Fellows
The achievements of many Australian Fellows to their own field, academia or the wider community continue to be significant. Particular attainments during the last two years include the following:
- Professor Ingrid Piller from Macquarie University was one of eight international researchers to receive a 2018 Anneliese Maier Research Award from the Humboldt Foundation for life-time achievements in the humanities and social sciences to promote internationalisation of these disciplines in Germany. Awardees are nominated by German collaborators and the award valued at €250,000 is designed to support research collaboration over a period of up to five years. Professor Piller and her University of Hamburg partners research language education in linguistically diverse migrant-receiving and globalising societies, enabling a comparative perspective through the combination of Australian and German research in multilingual education.
- Professor Xiao-Lin (Joshua) Zhao was appointed as the new Associate Dean (International) for University of New South Wales Engineering. He was previously at Monash University and moved to his new appointment in April 2019.
- Professor Andrew Blakers from the Australian National University (ANU) Research School of Engineering, with colleagues Dr Matthew Stocks and Bin Lu, won the 2018 Eureka Prize for Environmental Research. Their research, which is challenging the barriers to renewable energy, shows Australia could transition smoothly to 100 per cent renewable electricity while retaining reliability of supply.
- In 2019 ANU’s Associate Professor Alex Maier created one of the International Research Training Groups awarded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. Entitled “Crossing Boundaries: Molecular Interactions in Malaria”, it will foster a unique research partnership between the ANU and the Humboldt University in Berlin, based on the universities’ complementary malaria expertise. Over the next nine years, research projects involving work carried out in both Berlin and Canberra will enable 75 PhD students to graduate with a dual PhD from both universities.
- Dr Daniel Priebbenow from the University of Melbourne was successful in gaining a Discovery Early Career Research Award in the most recent ARC grants announced, for a project entitled “Metal-free Strategies for Sustainable Light-driven Synthesis”.
The Association has two biennial award categories ― the Peter Schwerdtfeger Award and up to two Distinguished Fellow Awards. These recognise, respectively, the academic or professional achievement of early career AAvHF members and of long-standing members who have excelled in their professional field and/or provided sustained service to the Association. I acknowledge with gratitude the work of the 2019 AAvHF awards committee with membership of Professor Kathy Andrews (Griffith University, chair) and Professors David Black and Roger Read (University of New South Wales). The committee considered the nominations for this year’s awards which will be announced at the forthcoming symposium dinner.
2019 Conference at Macquarie University
Firstly, on behalf of the Australian Association, I acknowledge the highly successful meeting, Our Changing World in the South Pacific, held in Wellington in November 2017 and organised by Professor Eamonn O’Brien and his fellow committee members. The Australian delegation very much appreciated the stimulating program and warm hospitality arranged by our New Zealand colleagues.
In Wellington Macquarie University’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research), Humboldtian Professor Sakkie Pretorius, kindly offered an invitation to the Australian and New Zealand Associations to hold their 2019 meeting at Macquarie University. The joint 2019 symposium, titled Sharing Knowledge in the Spirit of Humboldt, will be held shortly (22-24 November 2019). Conference convenor Professor Ingrid Piller, who has arranged an outstanding program for the occasion, was assisted by an Academic Advisory Board with membership of Professors David Black and Roger Read (University of New South Wales), Professors Michael Gillings, Bronwen Neil and Lucy Taksa (Macquarie University) and Professor Eamonn O’Brien (University of Auckland) and the Organising Committee comprising Dr Jinhyun Cho, Dr Loy Lising, Dr Shiva Motaghi-Tabari, Pia Tenedero, Dr Vera Williams Tetteh and Dr Hanna Torsh (Macquarie University), Dr Alexandra Grey (University of Sydney), Katharina McGrath (DAAD/Macquarie University) and Dr Laura Smith-Khan (University of Technology Sydney). The AAvHF expresses its immense gratitude to Professor Piller and her team for organising the 2019 symposium and providing a program in the spirit of Alexander von Humboldt to mark his significant anniversary.
The AAvHF President, Secretary and Treasurer met several times by tele-/videoconference with Professor Piller to advance planning for the symposium and Professor Eamonn O’Brien, President of the New Zealand Association, joined these meetings on behalf of the New Zealand Fellows.
It is pleasing that Professor Piller and her collaborators have successfully applied for an Alexander von Humboldt Foundation Kolleg grant, which will defray some of the costs of the meeting and Fellows’ attendance as well as support the attendance of the German invited speakers.
Gratitude to the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
Members of the Association value the academic and cultural opportunities that have been offered to them by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. In turn, many Fellows become ‘ambassadors’ for Australian-German collaboration, furthering the bridge-building spirit underpinning the Stiftung.
In the period 1953-2018, Australia was the beneficiary of 608 Humboldt research fellowships, 93 Humboldt research prizes and 125 Feodor Lynen scholars. Regrettably, not all the Fellows join the Australian Association and I would strongly encourage AAVHF members to recruit other Humboldtians to join the Association and take part in our activities. This is an important way of fostering the spirit of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation ‘down-under’. Significantly, the Stiftung continues its interest in us, as indicated by the Kolleg grant provided for the Sydney meeting.
The AAvHF is delighted that Dr Katrin Amian from the Foundation will again attend our biennial meeting to update us on the Foundation’s work. Her long-standing contribution and dedication to her Foundation portfolio, encompassing North America, Australia, New Zealand and Oceania, has fostered the AAvHF’s relationship with Bonn andour sense of belonging to the international Humboldt family. After the symposium Dr Amian will visit Canberra and Melbourne.
Service of AAvHF Executive
Our Association is fortunate to have members in each State and the Australian Capital Territory willing to serve on the national committee. These State/Territory representatives play a key role in organising and supporting events locally and I express my gratitude to them. Regrettably, we do not have a representative in the Northern Territory and would welcome any relevant contacts that members may have in the Northern Territory.
The Association and especially the President have received outstanding support through the dedicated and professional contributions of Honorary Secretary Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson, Treasurer Professor Gary Byrant, Vice-President Professor Jeff Malpas and Webmaster Dr Nathan Kilah. I thank them all most sincerely for their commitment of time and expertise to the AAvHF. In particular, as members will be aware, Associate Professor Finlayson regularly distributes to members, on behalf of the Association, the wide range of updates and requests received from national and international contacts. Professor Bryant continues to play a key role in maintaining and growing the Association’s membership.
Let me conclude by expressing my gratitude to all members of the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows for their efforts to promote the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and its ideals in the Australian context. I also thank them for their support of our activities over the past two years and look forward to seeing many Australian Humboldtians at Macquarie University.
I wish both the Australian and New Zealand Associations well for the future and trust that they will flourish and continue their efforts to grow the Humboldt family.