How research from the laboratory translates to the national innovation system



Fraunhofer IAO and TU Berlin establish “Transfer Science”, a new academic discipline within the BMBF project

In order to make research results visible and exploitable for industry, politics and society, new ways of sharing knowledge and new technologies need to be found. In the joint research project “Transfer Science”, set up in June 2019 with funding from the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and coordinated by the German Aerospace Center (DLR), Fraunhofer IAO and Technische Universität Berlin are looking at ways to organize this transfer.

The work done by universities and non-university research centers forms a central pillar of Germany’s knowledge-based economy. Particularly in the context of global societal challenges such as climate change, research serves as a basis for developing completely new solutions. By creating innovative products and services, it contributes to making Germany a strong business location. Research results can spark social debates or stimulate a reorganization of the general political framework. But for research to fulfil these functions, the latest findings have to be successfully transferred from laboratories and testing facilities to the players and stakeholders of the innovation system as a whole.

With this in mind, the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) founded the joint initiative “Transfer Science” with 3.4 million euros in funding. In this project, the Center for Responsible Research and Innovation (CeRRI) of the Fraunhofer Institute for Industrial Engineering IAO has joined forces with Technische Universität Berlin to design an academic discipline in the field of knowledge and technology transfer. Establishing a separate scientific discipline is intended to help anchor the subject in the research centers and forms a cornerstone for strengthening the role of transfer culture in the German system of innovation.

Project patron Prof. Christine Ahrend, vice president for Research, Appointment Strategy, Knowledge & Technology Transfer at TU Berlin, says: “Questions are currently being raised both nationally and internationally: How can knowledge and technology transfer find its place in the scientific reputation system? How can it become firmly ingrained in teaching? What must we do to ensure that communicating research becomes a basic takeaway for scientists? How does “Transfer Science” contribute to this? These are precisely the questions the BMBF-funded project aims to address. TU Berlin covers all aspects of knowledge and technology transfer and can contribute this expertise to the project. We are excited to see what the outcome will be. Good luck to everyone involved.”

Redefining transfer: Scientific research as a bidirectional driving force

In the first stage of the project, the scientists are addressing the question of how the research topic “knowledge and technology transfer” can be redefined and made fit for the future. Current models of the innovation process act as the starting point. In contrast to older models, they assign research both a giving and a receiving role: On the one hand, research institutions communicate research results, for example to the business community. On the other, they are dependent on input from beyond the field of science, both in advance of and during the research process, to enable them to align projects with societal needs or ensure their political feasibility from the start of the design process. This increasingly important understanding of the role of research is making new demands on the transfer function of non-university and university research institutions.

“The consortium of Fraunhofer and TU Berlin pools wide-ranging expertise that allows us to develop a comprehensive response and new concepts. I am delighted at the opportunity the project offers to continue the excellent partnership between institutions,” says Prof. Martina Schraudner, a member of the management board of the National Academy of Science and Engineering in Germany (acatech) and patron of the project.

Establishing the transfer of research as a separate academic discipline

The project is systematizing and extending existing knowledge about transfer and investigating what conditions are necessary for a successful transfer. It aims to establish transfer science as an academic discipline with a focus on the areas of teaching, research and application. A strong orientation toward the future generation of scientists in the area of teaching is intended to cement the role of transfer culture within the science community.

Dr. Hans-Otto Feldhütter, director of Business Models at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft headquarters and patron of the project, says: “Fraunhofer is the leading organization in Europe for application-oriented research; transferring new research findings to the outside world is therefore traditionally an integral part of our mission. In our view, an active culture of knowledge and technology transfer, which is already emerging in research laboratories, is essential to enhancing Germany’s innovative strength. For Fraunhofer, including transfer as an integral part of the curricula and offering talented young scientists targeted training especially in the STEM subjects can therefore only result in a win-win situation. To this end, developing innovative methods to successfully translate research findings into practical applications can play an important role in making knowledge and technology transfer in Germany even more agile and effective.”

Based on an in-depth analysis of how this transfer can succeed, the project team is developing concrete action plans to underpin a future-proof transfer culture, which also offer conclusions about how to anchor this culture directly, as it were, “in the DNA” of non-university and university research institutions.