Curiosity leads to success

Exciting science: inquisitive young people compete against each other in the Jugend forscht contest. For some it marks the beginning of a great career. 

Jugend forscht

They investigate sustainable sources of energy, nanotechnology applications and complex questions in finance mathematics: for more than 50 years curious students have been demonstrating their abilities in the Jugend forscht competition. In 1965 the then editor-in-chief of Stern magazine, Henri Nannen, founded the competition. It started off with around 250 participants, but today there are more than 12,000 contestants. The youngest are in the fourth grade at school and the oldest are 21 years old. The winners from past decades include many who later embarked on an impressive career, not necessarily in the natural sciences. Here are three fascinating examples.

Dream job: chemist – President of the Bundesbank Jens Weidmann 

Jens Weidmann
Jens Weidmann dpa

Low interest rates, trick economic situations, Eurozone crisis: these are the topics that Jens Weidmann is working on today as President of the German Bundesbank. Potassium permanganate, ammonia: those were the things that fascinated him as a school student thirty years ago in Backnang, Baden Württemberg. The town lies on the River Murr, and in those days Jens Weidmann and a school friend investigated the condition of the river water. This resulted in third place for them in the 1984 Jugend forscht competition in chemistry. At the time Weidmann said he wanted to study chemistry when he graduated from school, and maybe carry on for a doctorate. Things turned out differently: Jens Weidmann became an economist, Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel’s most important economic advisor, and finally Germany’s leading monetary watchdog.

From a young people’s award to physics professor – researcher Gisela Anton 

Gisela Anton
Gisela Anton Universität Erlangen

When she was 20 she went for a walk. That’s how Gisela Anton came across her topic for the 1975 Jugend forscht competition. The young woman asked herself: why is that huge wooden beam floating in a slating position rather than horizontally? “There was only one edge peering out of the water,” she says as she describes her surprise at the time. She looked into the matter more carefully, carried out experiments and made calculations, and she found out – in simple terms – that certain rotating movements caused the wooden beam to shift from its stable horizontal floating position in the water. Gisela Anton won first place with her entry. Today she is Chair of Experimental Physics at the University of Erlangen.

“Better than school” – entrepreneur Andreas von Bechtolsheim

Andreas von Bechtolsheim
Andreas von Bechtolsheim Norbert Stuhrmann, Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

CC 3.0 Unported license

Andreas von Bechtolsheim is the most successful German entrepreneur in the USA with assets estimated at four billion dollars. He was one of the first investors to back Google. In 1974 Andreas von Bechtolsheim won the Jugend forscht competition in physics. He had invented an appliance that made it possible to take very accurate measurements of waves and currents. He later said that the contest helped him more than school. After graduating from school he continued his studies in the USA and began focusing on the Internet. That marked the beginning of a fabulous career.