Cutting-edge research and innovative power: How Hamburg is building the future in Life Science

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Whether with giant particle accelerators or high-precision measuring instruments – the German Electron Synchrotron (Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron (DESY)) in Hamburg-Bahrenfeld (district in the western part of Hamburg) is an international leader when it comes to researching microscopic worlds. At the renowned institute of the Helmholtz Association, 2,700 employees and about 3,000 guest scientists work and provide basic research at Bahrenfeld, a home to innovation and an entire ecosystem of high-tech companies, startups and university spin-offs. The cluster is to become the nucleus for technological applications in life science and innovative materials. A lighthouse project of "basic research, industry and business that is unique in Germany," says Hamburg Mayor Peter Tschentscher.

From particle to innovation accelerator

DESY has been conducting research in Bahrenfeld since 1959. At that time, the city of Hamburg and the federal government built the first particle accelerator on a former military airport ground for nearly 100 million deutsche mark. Several additional large-scale facilities have since been built at the site, including two large-scale accelerators, several ultra-microscopes and the world's best storage ring for generating X-rays. It enables researchers to precisely image molecular structures and even the tiniest particles – an important requirement for the development of new types of nanomaterials and pharmaceuticals.

The area around DESY is constantly and rapidly changing. The Innovation Factory is to become the new center of the Bahrenfeld ecosystem – a technology and startup factory that will be built on around 11,000 square meters starting in 2023. Whether with workshops, laboratories, offices or cooperation projects, in the future, entrepreneurs will find a "marketplace for new, innovative solutions, products and high-tech services" in the Factory, which will strengthen "Germany as an innovation and high-tech location," says Arik Willner, physicist and project manager at DESY.

The Innovation Factory is spread over two different locations close to the DESY site and the Altona Research and Innovation Park. The construction project will cost more than 105 million euros, with 90 percent financial funding by the federal government and the rest by the city of Hamburg. It's a worthwhile investment that "could become a trailblazer for the entire value chain from the scientific to the commercial sector," according to Michael Westhagemann, Hamburg’s Minister for Economy and Innovation. The new site will be complete in 2025.

The Factory will pave the path for technological applications in the field of life sciences. This area of research has been widely expanded at DESY in recent years and now makes up the majority of all experiments at the PETRA III particle accelerator. The 2.3-kilometer-long "collider" is known for its globally unique X-ray tube, which has one of the brightest light sources on the planet and enables researchers to study tiny protein crystals and nanomaterials. Among other things, the large-scale facility is expected to help develop medical imaging processes and innovative materials for sustainably living and working. Two areas that, according to German Minister Anja Karliczek, are of "central importance for the future of the industrial location and our society." As head of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, she sees "huge" demand here.

Science, business, housing – Science City Bahrenfeld

In addition to the Innovation Factory, the Bahrenfeld research site includes numerous other flagships, such as the "Start-up Labs" innovation center and Science City. The Start-up Labs is a joint project of the university, the city and DESY and is expected to become a high technology showcase. Once complete this summer, it will offer entrepreneurs and startups a varied infrastructure with laser and X-ray laboratories, electronics workshops, offices and catering facilities. The majority of the 17.5 million euros in construction costs are being covered by the city of Hamburg with DESY contributing 3.3 million euros. Project Manager Arik Willner said the innovation center is already fully leased.

Science City is one of Hamburg's most ambitious future projects for the coming decades. It integrates science, research and teaching, business and urban development, for example by linking existing and new science facilities, commercial projects and urban development with a residential, urban district. Approximately 2,500 new apartments, cultural sites, sports facilities as well as and social amenities will be created. In addition to DESY, more than 5,000 chemistry, physics and biology students of the University of Hamburg will work, live and conduct research here in the future. Renowned institutes and excellent study and teaching conditions are planned.

The Altona Innovation Park is another key component that directly links science and business. The park is not only geographically connected to DESY and the university (through the Science City Hamburg Bahrenfeld site), but it is also where startups will work together with scientists on new technologies and drive innovation. The TechHHub will be the first visible step into the future at this location.