Gå til indhold
You are here: Home The Ministry The Minister Speeches 2021 Being curious is a pretty tough discipline

Being curious is a pretty tough discipline

Minister for Higher Education and Science Ane Halsboe-Jørgensen's speech at the Villum Investigator-ceremony, 27 april 2021.

Check against delivery.

A laboratory in Aalborg

A few months ago, I visited a laboratory in Aalborg in the northern part of Denmark. When I entered the room, I’m not sure anyone noticed at first. Everyone was completely concentrated. Busy working behind their desks.

As an outsider looking in, you would have no clue what these researchers were doing. But actually. And that is the reason why I dropped by. The data coming out of this specific room has become an essential factor in our handling of the COVID pandemic. At this lab, they sequence positive COVID tests. By doing this, we’re able to track the spread of mutations very, very closely – and make political decisions based on that.

This team – one of the best teams in the world at doing this exact thing – wasn’t supposed to have anything to do with COVID. Actually, they were busy doing DNA sequencing of bacteria. But when COVID began to spread, they knew that their skills – in handling thousands of samples at a time – could be of benefit to our COVID handling. They offered their support and reconfigured the lab in days.

Free curiosity-driven research is important to society

This story speaks for itself. It may be the most current example that shows us, how advanced research in natural science makes us able to face some of society’s great and complex challenges.

I’m telling you this story because, to me, it is a part of my job description to spread the word: Why do we fund and support research? Why is it important to do genome analysis?

Why is it important to do what you are doing? Dig into nanomaterials, 2D-materials, the chemical language of plants, cyber-physical systems, our food system, optical fibers, wireless architectures, smart batteries, black holes, and string theory?

Why is this important? Why do we celebrate 10 “newborn” Villum Investigators today? The answer is that it moves us forward. If we are going to respond to major societal challenges. In 1 or 100 years. It's of great importance to have environments where some of our best researchers are able to pursue their own, original ideas.

That is why I am very grateful for The Villum Foundation’s contribution to Danish science and research. Science and research is crucial. That’s why the Danish government invests more than 24 billion kroner in research every year. But collaboration and support from private foundations – as The Villum Foundation – is critical. You have an expertise in supporting world-class researchers, doing high-risk research. With a high potential. Supporting cross border collaboration.

Pioneer Centre for Artificial Intelligence

It’s when we join forces. Across sectors and borders. We can really make a difference. Like the new pioneer center, we are working on together – for artificial intelligence research. When it comes to AI-research, this is the most ambitious investment ever on Danish soil. Thanks to a unique collaboration among foundations, universities, and the Danish state. I have no doubt that groundbreaking ideas will grow from this.

The willingness to take chances

It almost sounds too easy, right? You bring the right people together. Provide funding. And then scientists will automatically come up with something brilliant … But I know: It’s not that easy.

Being curious is a pretty tough discipline. It’s about the willingness to take chances. Go all the way to the deep end. Out where your feet can’t touch the ground. Whenever I have a chance to speak to students, I tell them, they need to be curios. If we’re to come up with something new, it takes curiosity. It takes critical thinking and an ability to challenge what we hear. But it’s not easy. It takes time and space to be inquisitive and ask unexpected questions.

New solutions in 1 or 100 years

One good thing to come out of the COVID pandemic is: It has become clear what science – and curiosity – means to society.

Back at the lab in Aalborg, it just so happens that the head of the team, Mads Albertsen, received a grant from Villum Fonden 4 years ago. He is a Villum Young Investigator. And it just so happens that Per Halkjær – the head of Center for Microbial Communities, where Mads works – is a Villum Investigator. I don’t think, I need to elaborate on that. It says it all.

And hopefully – in somewhere between 1 and 100 years – the knowledge and breakthroughs you come up with will have been transformed to new technology, new solutions, new ways of doing things.

I wish you luck in taking a deep dig into unknown territory. Now is the time to immerse yourselves in the research you are most passionate about.

Congratulations on the grants!

last modified Apr 28, 2021