Wolfgang Pauli Institute (WPI) Vienna

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Message from the director

The following message was written in 2001, and expresses the motivation for founding the WPI at that time.

In the last years Vienna has seen an accumulation of START and WITTGENSTEIN-awards, the highest Austrian scientific awards (comparable to the German HESS - and LEIBNIZ -awards) and of coordinators of EU funded "Research Training Networks" as well as the creation of "doctoral schools" ("Wissenschaftskolleg") in the field of applied mathematics, informatics, physics and related scientific areas. This has created a special situation in Vienna which necessitates and triggers the creation of a new kind of research center fitting the needs of university scientists running such big grant projects.

The Wolfgang Pauli Institute (WPI) is a "Center of Excellence" in mathematics, computer science, physics and areas of their application, from chemistry to biology and finance. Its aim is to join these high level projects in synergetic activity with a long-term perspective and to provide a platform and effective resources for research and postgraduate education.

Such an infrastructure is urgently needed because of the following paradoxical situation: while substantial "soft money" funding (to be used for hiring scientific personnel and equipment) for excellent research is provided by programs of the "Austrian Science Foundation FWF" (Wissenschaftskollegs, START and Wittgenstein awards, etc.) the basic resources and infrastructure (mostly office space, computer and managerial/secreterial support) are badly lacking -- in fact, further diminishing -- at Austrian universities. The situation with respect to research projects funded by the EU framework programs (e.g. Research Training Networks, Marie-Curie training sites,...) is similar.

The WPI is intended to solve this structural problem by providing a "home" for such research projects. These will be mostly funded through the already mentioned high-end FWF-programs and European programs, however, suitable projects with other forms of external funding are welcome. Full membership in the WPI is only temporary (although renewable). Admission of research groups and projects will be supervised by an international scientific board of world-class scientists who judge what is a "international relevant evaluation".

In Austria strong inter- and extra-universitary research infrastructures (for basic research), like the German "Max Planck Institutes (MPI)" or the French CNRS, are lacking in most fields. Even worse, there is no effective and transparent decision procedure based on the most excellent and productive scientists themselves in order to channel public money dedicated to fund basic research infrastructures in the scientific most fruitful and cost optimized way.
Here the WPI positions itself as an open and flexible structure for top-level and inter-university research which ultimately might lead to a new form of Austrian basic research centers, structurally similar to the French system of UMRs ("Unit'e Mixte de la Recherche") or the German MPIs.

An important mission of the Institute is post-graduate education. In particular, the "Wissenschaftskollegs" (doctoral schools) "Differential Equations and Applications in Science and Enginering" and "Computational Material Science", both run jointly by the University and Technical University of Vienna, should get adequate infracstucture and a "home" via the WPI. A close contact of these 2 independent doctoral schools (only 3 exist in Austria in all fields of science !) is a perfect example of the synergy that the WPI enhances.

We are open also to similar research groups in other Austrian cities: one goal of the WPI Vienna is to be a center wherein any of our excellent colleagues visiting Vienna can have a desk and the benefit of a basic infrastructure (like a computer account).

At the present stage the WPI is located at several places in Vienna (it is a truly nonlocal quantum object that might have amused Wolfgang Pauli himself). The creation of a home, i.e., one building for the WPI is a key issue where we might need help from government or private investors. To bring together in one location the critical scientific mass now scattered will catalyze a "scientific chain reaction."
Indeed, a key to the success of places like the Courant Institute in NYC is the continous contact of different groups and the many foreign visting members under one roof. There seems to be a critical distance farther than which scientists will not travel to attend interesting seminars of other groups. No "modern telecommunication" can replace the crucial role of personal meetings, be it for a common lunch, be it for a night spent jointly in front of a blackboard or just finding in a neighbouring office the most competent scientists for questions outside the own expertize.

The Wolfgang Pauli Institute was initiated by a handful of START and Wittgenstein award winners out of practical questions, like :
.) how to create infrastructure for such projects ?
.) how can we use the money as efficiently as possible ?
as well as for long term questions, like :
.) can we create a "project sustainability" after the award grant is finished ?
.) can we use the personal awards to create a structure that benefits also other and future scientists ?
and most of all for scientific questions, like :
.) how can "interdisciplinarity" be created without losing the excellence in each field ? ...

The WPI is a perfect "bottom-up" approach, created spontaneously by the scientists themselves without any political or central planning. We make public and transparent our structure and decision procedures, by open and complete information on the internet.
Our force is scientific excellence and independence -- and the conviction that the responsability of a scientist goes far beyond his or her personal career.
Let's see what can be built up on such a basis in a country like Austria which chases many of it's best scientists abroad and where a chancellor once put forward : "Who has visions, needs physicians"....

Norbert J Mauser

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