Creating innovative knowledge spaces

The Ralf Dahrendorf Prize for the European Research Area (ERA) honours excellence in research. It supports the communication of scientific achievements to the general public and illustrates the fascination of research.

Overcoming the limits of national thinking in the development of science and creating a genuinely united European knowledge space in which cooperation and competition meaningfully co-exist: with this idea, the then German EU Commissioner for Research Ralf Dahrendorf laid the foundation for the future European Research Area (EFR) in the 1970s.

Communication is king

The Ralf Dahrendorf Prize for the European Research Area (, first awarded in 2019, bears the name of this esteemed founding father. Every two years, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) honours German scientists who participate in the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation and achieve exceptional success – not purely in terms of their scientific findings, but also with regard to their communication. How do researchers succeed in communicating their findings in such a way that the wider public, and especially schoolchildren, can understand what is at stake? Beyond pure scientific expertise, then, prizewinners are also expected to show imagination and creativity.

Unconventional knowledge transfer

One of the laureates of 2019 is the HemoSpec team at the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology and its European partnerships. It developed a compact device that can diagnose blood poisoning (sepsis) faster and more accurately. The research team literally followed in Dahrendorf’s footsteps and created new knowledge spaces for the general public in Jena city centre. Their research is helping to save lives, as sepsis requires rapid treatment with the right therapy. The group of researchers engaged in discussions with people of all ages, for example in a temporary “science pop-up shop,” in which unconventional “lunch lectures” and experimentation areas were on offer. They also created a science cartoon that can be shown in hospitals, surgeries, and on commuter trains to lastingly raise awareness of the risks of this illness. 
The Ralf Dahrendorf Prize is awarded to a maximum of six projects and is accompanied by funding of up to 50,000 euros for science communication.

A prize for Europe’s brightest minds

The award aims to convey a sense of fascination in the world of science and innovation, particularly among the younger generation. Basic research will one day make new medicines or vaccines possible. In the world of work, key concerns include technical revolutions and job security, for example in Industry 4.0. At the same time, new energy generation solutions are helping to achieve climate targets. Only if our brightest minds work together across borders can Europe address the challenges society faces, such as pandemics, endemic diseases, or climate change, while at the same time remaining internationally competitive. A key instrument in this cooperation is the European Framework Programme for Research and Innovation. It supports European researchers in acquiring scientific knowledge and freely sharing technology – exactly as envisaged by Ralf Dahrendorf. 

Biography: Lord Ralf Dahrendorf

Born in Hamburg in 1929, Ralf Dahrendorf († 2009) was the German Commissioner for Research, Science and Education at the European Commission in Brussels from 1972 to 1974. Ralf Dahrendorf is the founding father of the European Research Area and the European research framework programmes, within which German scientists are currently collaborating with European and international partners on over 5,500 projects.

Ralf Dahrendorf was also a scientist himself: he conducted research and lectured on sociology and democracy at various national and international universities, for example as a Professor at Konstanz University and at the Berlin Social Science Research Center. He served as Director of the London School of Economics and was Warden of St Antony’s College at the University of Oxford. He became a British citizen in 1988 and, having been created a life peer, was made a Member of the British House of Lords in 1993.

Ralf Dahrendorf received numerous awards and prizes, among them the Grand Cross of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1989), the Theodor Heuss Prize for his lifetime contribution to politics and the humanities (1997), and the internationally coveted Prince of Asturias Award in the social sciences (2007).

A politician, scientist, European, and committed democrat, Ralf Dahrendorf gives his name to the Ralf Dahrendorf Prize for the European Research Area.
Creating a space for research in a Europe without borders to achieve better results in science – it was with this idea that Ralf Dahrendorf laid the foundation stone for the future European Research Area (ERA) in the 1970s.

More information:

The Ralf Dahrendorf Prize was first awarded on 14 May 2019 at the European Research Area conference ( in Berlin