Jena, Germany is known as The City of Light, and is home to the project called “Light Walk”. It is not without reason that Jena is called the “city of light.” As I looked from the roof-top restaurant of Jen Tower, the scene was spectacular. Jena was all lit up for the evening. But that’s actually not how the city got its title.
Jena’s history, and present, for that matter, have been shaped by light and light technologies for more than 150 years. Today the city has a cluster of approximately 4,500 scientists mainly in the fields of optics and photonics, in addition to 175 enterprises and 15,200 employees in the optical industry, providing an ideal environment for industry-research collaborations.
Financing plays a major role in encouraging such collaborations. “The ministry of education and research in Germany issues calls for research projects which mostly need a university partner and an industry partner. This forces the two parties to work together,” said Dr. Christian Helgert, chief executive officer of the Abbe Center of Photonics and Abbe School of Photonics.
In Germany, industry provides more than two thirds of research and development funding, according to the German Center for Research and Innovation.
“Industry needs the university to educate and prepare new staff. It also helps bring forward the basic fundamental research for new ideas which universities could not afford to do otherwise,” Helgert said. “This creates a permanent exchange between us and the industry to meet our demands.”
Industry-research connections are not new for Jena. They go back to the year 1846, when Carl Zeiss and Ernst Abbe went into business together.
Carl Zeiss, a mechanic who owned a small workshop for production of scientific tools and instruments, persuaded a physicist at the University of Jena, Ernst Abbe, to develop the mathematical foundation for the microscope lens. Together with glass chemist Otto Schott, the collaboration of the trio enabled the large-scale production of high-powered microscopes of consistent quality.