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Press Release No. 1 | 9 January 2015
Announcing the death of Hubert Markl

Former DFG President has died at the age of 76

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is sad to announce the death of former president Professor Dr. Hubert Markl. The behavioural biologist and zoologist, who presided over the DFG from 1986 until 1991, died on 8 January 2015 at the age of 76.

"Hubert Markl led the DFG, and with it the German research community, with intelligence and adroitness through times of great change. His presidency was mainly associated with the integration of research and research funding in the former West and East Germany. Nevertheless, he never lost sight of the international dimension of research and the importance of international cooperation. With the same vision, he understood the limits and consequences of scientific possibilities while remaining passionate about the advancement of scientific knowledge," said current DFG President Professor Dr. Peter Strohschneider. "The DFG remembers Hubert Markl with deep gratitude and will hold his memory in the highest esteem."

Markl was the sixth – and youngest – person to serve as president of the DFG after the organisation was re-established following the Second World War in 1951. As a researcher he had already acquired an international reputation in earlier years through his work on the social behaviour and sensory physiology of animals. Born in Regensburg on 17 August 1938, Markl studied biology, chemistry and geography at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, where he obtained his doctorate in zoology in 1962. After research visits to Harvard and Rockefeller University, he obtained his habilitation in zoology from Goethe University Frankfurt am Main in 1967 with a thesis on the communication behaviour of social insects. Between 1968 and 1973 Markl was a professor and director of the Zoological Institute at the Technical University of Darmstadt, before being appointed professor of biology at the University of Konstanz in 1974.

Markl served as a member of the DFG Senate from 1974, later joining the Joint Committee. He served as Vice-President between 1977 and 1983 before being elected as the successor to geologist Professor Dr. Eugen Seibold in 1985, at the age of just 46. His first term of office between 1986 and 1988 was affected by the diminishing availability of funds, which, combined with a marked rise in the number of research proposals, led to lower funding rates. Against this background, Markl saw it as his primary objective to uphold the role and significance of the DFG as the most important guarantor of basic research in all fields of science and the humanities, as he underlined when he took up office. "Freedom, diversity and the highest standards of quality" were for him the key criteria for the success of research and research funding.

Markl's second term of office from 1989 until 1991 was significantly affected by the process of German unification. In April 1990 the DFG declared its willingness to "expand the responsibility of the DFG to the whole of Germany" and when the country was reunified on 3 October 1990, it offered all researchers in the former East and former West access to the same funding opportunities. At the same time Markl was promoting European integration in research funding and an opening-up to the countries of central and eastern Europe while reinforcing global collaborations with researchers and research organisations, for example in India, China, South Korea, Argentina and Mexico.

During Markl's presidency the DFG also systematically introduced a range of new funding instruments. In 1986 he took on responsibility for the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme, initiated by his predecessor Eugen Seibold for the support of particularly outstanding researchers. It was at the first award ceremony for the Leibniz Prizes that he coined the concept of the 'idyllic freedom' offered by the prize. In 1987 he launched the Gerhard Hess Programme, designed to encourage highly qualified young researchers to set up their own working groups. The special importance of early career researchers to Markl and the DFG as a whole during his presidency was emphasised again in 1990 with the introduction of Research Training Groups, which have provided far in excess of 20000 doctoral researchers with a structured research and qualification programme in which to obtain their doctorates.

In 1991, having served for two terms, Markl declined to be re-elected again and returned at his own request to the University of Konstanz. On his departure, academics, politicians and other leading figures lauded Markl as a "stroke of luck for science" and a "gifted researcher and teacher, an astute thinker and rhetorician, and an unpretentious and modest man". After two years spent researching at the University of Konstanz, Markl then served as the first President of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities between 1993 and 1995. From 1996 until 2002 he was also the President of the Max Planck Society. He spent his final years quietly in Konstanz.

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