I write as this extraordinary COVID-19 year draws to a close. It has presented us with many personal and professional challenges but also opportunities for creative interaction across campuses and cities, as well as interstate and international borders. I hope that my correspondence finds all the members of the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows (AAvHF) well and able to look back on 2020 with a sense of achievement, even if the goals realised were different to those set at the beginning of the year.
How fortunate we were to have our most successful biennial meeting of the Australian and New Zealand Associations of von Humboldt Fellows at Macquarie University in late 2019! It was pleasing to see papers from that meeting published by the Royal Society of NSW in a special online edition of its Proceedings.
This year saw the passing of the fourth President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation (1989-1999), Professor Reimar Lüst, whom some of you would have met during a stay in Germany. He died on 31 March 2020 at the age of 97 years.The Stiftung described him as a “statesman in the field of scientific and scholarly relations”. An astrophysicist and a pioneer of European space research, he ledthe Foundation during the challenging period of German reunification. Significantly, he “created possibilities for recruiting large numbers of fellows from Central and Eastern Europe to conduct research in Germany and, in the process, enabled the establishment of lasting ties through the Foundation’s network”. Professor Lüst’s work in strengthening development policy objectives “led to the establishment of the Georg Forster Research Fellowship which was created in 1996 specifically to meet needs in developing countries”.
The thirtieth anniversary of German reunification was celebrated on 3 October 2020. To mark the occasion the Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany, H.E. Dr Thomas Fitschen, invited 30 Australians to deliver a 30 second message. The COVID-safe ‘event’, entitled “30 for 30”, was described by the embassy as follows:
Under the heading “30 for 30”, thirty Australians from politics, academia, journalism, arts and culture share their thoughts about German reunification 30 years on with us on our twitter and facebook accounts.
Tasmanian AAvHF member Dr Peter Jarvis, Reader in the School of Physical Sciences at the University of Tasmania, and I were invited to record messages. Mine was as follows:
As an Alexander von Humboldt Fellow, I experienced a divided Berlin in 1978, noting and regretting the contrast of East and West. I have visited Germany many times since. One of the most memorable times was in 1989, just as the Berlin Wall was coming down. Thirty years on, the reunited Germany is critical for a strong Europe in our global context.
Humboldt Fellows continue to demonstrate their excellence in research and scholarship. By way of example, The Sunday Age of 23 February 2020 (p. 14) carried a story about research undertaken by AAvHF member, Associate Professor Adrian Dyer of RMIT University. Entitled ‘Bees’ skills add up to hard-wired maths’, the article looked at his work determining: “bees are smart. Really smart. His team built them a tiny bee school and they proved excellent students. They understand numbers. They can add them or subtract them. They understand the concept of zero – an idea that escaped the Romans. All this with a brain the size of a pin”. Associate Professor Dyer noted: “No-one had thought it could be possible that a brain of less than a million neurons could do this”. Many of us have been fascinated to hear Adrian speak of these studies at AAvHF biennial meetings.
This year, in response to the corona pandemic and related restrictions, the Humboldt Foundation held a rather different Annual Meeting held from 24 to 26 June. In other years, the annual gathering at Schloss Bellevue in Berlin, when Fellows and their families are hosted by the Federal President, is a major highlight of their sojourn in Germany. In 2020, the congress was held digitally, allowing antipodean Humboldtians, like me, to participate from home. The time difference was challenging but I was delighted to be ‘present’ for addresses by Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Humboldt Foundation President Hans-Christian Pape, as well as by representatives of the Federal Foreign Office and Ministry of Education and Research. There were entertaining science slams and a ceremony awarding initiatives developed by Humboldt alumni to promote science communication in Latin America, foster networks for female researchers in Cameroon, and support civic involvement in Romania.
One of the opportunities that this year opened up was an AAvHF ‘dinner’ on 14 September which went virtual, interstate and international. With the long period of lockdown in Melbourne and not being able to have our annual dinner to mark Humboldt’s birthday, we decided to host a virtual celebration to which Honorary Secretary Associate Professor Trevor Finlayson invited interstate Humboldtians and colleagues from the Foundation in Bonn. Given this global perspective, I decided that we should also invite Alexander von Humboldt himself. The insights which he offered us on his 251st birthday have been published on the web.
In November I was invited by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation to provides some insights into research communication during the COVID-19 pandemic. Secretary General Dr Enno Aufderheide had been invited to discuss developments in research communication in an event on 23 November and sought to communicate an international perspective by seeking wider input from Humboldtians. I was delighted to provide my insights in relation to the following questions:
- Do the media provide substantial coverage on research findings on COVID 19?
- Are there specific scientists, who have become well known and possibly “omnipresent” as influential experts on this matter?
- Do you feel that there is a special competition between individual scientists on being present in the media – or is there a common effort to provide the optimal information?
- Do institutions (universities, research institutes) strive to sharpen their public profile as sources of competence in the COVID context?
Planning is underway for the 2021 biennial conference of the Australian and New Zealand Associations of von Humboldt Fellows. Titled Striving for Global Sustainability in a Post-COVID-19 World, the occasion will be hosted by Deakin University at its Geelong campus and is scheduled for 19-21 November 2021. I commend Professor Jean du Plessis of Deakin University and his colleagues for the progress that they have made towards hosting the conference. They are currently calling for expressions of interest in attending the 2021 conference, in order to prepare a Kolleg grant application to the Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung in Bonn, on the assumption that such an application will become possible in early 2021. The application requires the conference committee to provide a list of potential attendees in the categories of Alexander von Humboldt or Lynen Fellows, Early Career Researchers (i.e. PhD graduates who are six-years post-graduation or PhD students nearing completion) and “other researchers”. In addition, a successful Humboldt Kolleg application would normally also support up to four German researchers to attend so your suggestions for German presenters would be most welcome. To record your expression of interest and to assist planning for the conference (including speaker suggestions), please complete this very short planning survey (2-5 minutes), if you have not already done so. Thank you in anticipation.
The Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows is fortunate to have the following committee with designated roles to support its endeavours:
|AAvHF Executive 2020-2021|
|Australian Capital Territory representative||Hans Bachor|
|New South Wales representative||Glen Wheeler|
|Northern Territory representative||vacant|
|Queensland representative||Thomas Haselhorst|
|South Australia representative||Stephen Hultgren|
|Tasmania representative and Webmaster||Nathan Kilah|
|Victoria representative||Sarah Turpin-Nolan|
|West Australia representative||Walter Bloom|
|Member of the executive (immediate Past President)||Rob Robson|
|Member of the executive||Peter Jarvis|
I express my appreciation to them for their generosity in promoting the work of the Association. In particular, I pay tribute to Honorary Secretary Associate Professor Finlayson, Honorary Treasurer Professor Bryant and Vice-President Professor Malpas for their dedication to the Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows.
Please encourage former Alexander von Humboldt and Feodor Lynen Fellows to join our Association by applying to our Honorary Treasurer Professor Bryant for membership. His contact details are:
Professor Gary Bryant
Associate Dean, Physics
School of Science Cluster
RMIT University, GPO Box 2476, Melbourne, 3001
The biennial membership fee is only $40 and Professor Bryant sends a reminder every two years.
I trust that 2021 will be a good year for you personally and professionally and that the spirit of international cooperation in research and scholarship promoted by the Humboldt Foundation will continue to flourish in the Australian Association. We hope that one particular manifestation of this will be the 2021 biennial meeting with our New Zealand colleagues planned for November 2021 in Geelong.
Please contact me (Gabrielle.McMullen@acu.edu.au) or the Honorary Secretary Associate Professor Finlayson (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you have suggestions for the development of the Australian Association. Thank you in anticipation.
Frohe Weihnachten und alles Gute zum Neuen Jahr! With very best wishes and kind regards,
Gabrielle McMullen AM
President, Australian Association of von Humboldt Fellows
 The Proceedings can be accessed at https://royalsoc.org.au/council-members-section/470-v152-3.
 Statesman in the field of scientific and scholarly relations: Humboldt Foundation mourns the loss of Reimar Lüst – Alexander von Humboldt-Stiftung (humboldt-foundation.de).The Max-Planck-Gesellschaft obituary can be accessed at https://www.mpg.de/8241473/reimar-luest.
 See ‘Alexander von Humboldt visits Australia’ accessible here.
 If international travel restrictions are still in place, the German invitees might present by Zoom or pre-record their lectures.