Scientific highlights

Digitalization of Research

Tackling Big Data – new graduate school for Data Science in Munich

As a result of digitalization, research is producing ever larger and more complex data sets. While these hold great potential for example for biomedicine, energy research, geo-research or robotics, they also need to be managed and interpreted. To address this need, the Munich School for Data Science @ Helmholtz, TUM & LMU (MuDS) has been established to train the next generation of researchers, who will tackle ‘big data’ problems. Over the next six years, the new graduate school will receive a total of twelve million euros in funding.

The school was founded by the Helmholtz Zentrum München, the Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP), the German Aerospace Center (DLR), the Technical University of Munich (TUM) and the Ludwig Maximilian Universität München (LMU Munich). The Leibniz Supercomputing Center (LRZ) and the Max Planck Computing & Data Facility (MPCDF), two major computing and data centers in the Munich region, are also associated to MuDS.

“Big challenges call for big solutions. We are delighted that we have managed to bring together these key players of the Munich metropolitan region for this project,” explains Professor Fabian Theis, who will be the responsible coordinator of MuDS. As director of the Institute of Computational Biology at the Helmholtz Zentrum München and chair of Mathematical Modeling of Biological Systems at TUM, he is working in interdisciplinary fashion across organizational boundaries on a daily basis.

The aim of MuDS is to combine training in methodological aspects with training in application domain areas, namely biomedicine, plasma physics, robotics and earth observation, to educate the next generation of data scientists. Data is increasing in volume and complexity, yet there is a shortage of experts to analyze it using the best methods possible, as the following sample illustrates: every single cell in our body contains about three billion DNA base pairs. That is equivalent to a library of 3,000 books, each with 1,000 pages, on each of which 1,000 letters are printed – and this is genetic information of only one cell.

Examples from other areas also show how great the demand for experts will be in the future. Take the latest generation of earth observation satellites, which generates petabytes of images and measuring data that is needed to research global change. One of the main areas of interest at IPP is modeling future fusion power plants. For this purpose, model-based computer simulations are just as necessary as the evaluation of large data sets.

The Munich School for Data Science will offer joint projects for PhD students, each designed by two partners – a domain-specific application partner and a methodological partner. This will ensure that candidates receive methodological as well as application-specific training. In addition, participants will have the option of taking a course tailored to their needs, with a detailed onboarding phase followed up by advanced-level training. The training program will be integrated into existing courses provided by the universities as well as by the associated partners (LRZ and MPCDF), thus guaranteeing up-to-date, high-level training. MuDS will operate under the umbrella of the partner institutes’ highly successful graduate schools HELENA, HEPP, TUM-GS and Munich Aerospace.

“The Munich School for Data Science addresses one of the core challenges facing science today,” explains Professor Matthias Tschöp, CEO of the Helmholtz Zentrum München. “We need young talents with exceptionally skills in handling large data sets, who also possess an understanding of how scientific data is collected. With our approach, we aim to train them to become experts in artificial intelligence and machine learning, qualified to look beyond their own specialist discipline. By integrating the Munich Helmholtz Centers and both universities, we have succeeded in building a unique consortium, which in the long term will produce plentiful supply of top talents.”

Funding over a six-year period will total twelve million euros. Half of this amount will be provided by the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers while the same amount is contributed by the participating institutes. The new Munich School for Data Science will be embedded in the Association’s strategy for digitalizing research (see Background).


Further Information

The first call for PhD students will be opened in December 2018 on

The Helmholtz Association is creating four new innovative platforms to digitalize research and to this end will invest a total of 35 million euros a year. Each platform is located at one or at several Helmholtz Centers and will create an active network with other researchers. Specific funding lines will be established for this purpose. One such platform is the Helmholtz Information and Data Science Academy (HIDA) for up-and-coming scientists and graduate schools in this field. Within HIDA, five graduate schools will be set up at existing locations in Karlsruhe/Heidelberg, Jülich/Aachen/Cologne, Hamburg, Berlin and, of course, Munich. For more information, please see the Helmholtz Association’s corresponding press release “Helmholtz to invest an additional 35 million euros annually in digitalizing research”.

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus, allergies and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,500 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 19 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members. 

The German Aerospace Center (DLR) is the national aeronautics and space research center of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its extensive research and development work in aeronautics, space, energy, transport, security and digitalization is integrated into national and international cooperative ventures. In addition to conducting its own research projects, DLR operates as a space agency on behalf of the German government, and is thus responsible for planning and implementing Germany’s space activities. DLR also acts as the umbrella organization for one of Germany’s largest project management agencies. 

The Max Planck Institute for Plasma Physics (IPP) in Garching and Greifswald pursues basic research with a view to developing an innovative power plant that is climate friendly and environmentally benign. The aim is to create a fusion power plant which – like the sun – will generate energy from the fusion of atomic nuclei. With a workforce of about 1,100, IPP is one of the largest centers for fusion research in Europe. 

As one of Europe's leading research universities, LMU Munich is committed to the highest international standards of excellence in research and teaching. Building on its 500-year-tradition of scholarship, LMU covers a broad spectrum of disciplines, ranging from the humanities and cultural studies through law, economics and social studies to medicine and the sciences. 15 percent of LMU‘s 50,000 students come from abroad, originating from 130 countries worldwide. The know-how and creativity of LMU's academics form the foundation of the University's outstanding research record. This is also reflected in LMU‘s designation of as a "university of excellence" in the context of the Excellence Initiative, a nationwide competition to promote top-level university research. 

The Technical University of Munich (TUM) is one of Europe’s leading research universities, with around 550 professors, 41,000 students, and 10,000 academic and non-academic staff. Its focus areas are the engineering sciences, natural sciences, life sciences and medicine, combined with economic and social sciences. TUM acts as an entrepreneurial university that promotes talents and creates value for society. In that it profits from having strong partners in science and industry. It is represented worldwide with the TUM Asia campus in Singapore as well as offices in Beijing, Brussels, Cairo, Mumbai, San Francisco, and São Paulo. Nobel Prize winners and inventors such as Rudolf Diesel, Carl von Linde, and Rudolf Mößbauer have done research at TUM. In 2006 and 2012 it won recognition as a German "Excellence University." In international rankings, TUM regularly places among the best universities in Germany.