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Falling Walls Grand Finale: The Breakthroughs of the Year

Falling Walls Foundation | Anja Karliczek, Helge Braun, Emmanuelle Charpentier, Helga Nowotny, Jürgen Mlynek, Sebastian Turner, Astrid Frohloff, Adam Levy, Hermann Hauser, Laura Helmuth, Marja Makarow, Shalini Randeria, Daniel Zajfman, Horst Bredekamp, Joël Mesot, Deborah Quazzo, Melanie Smallman, Stefan von Holtzbrinck, Kumsal Bayazit, Claudie Haigneré


Over the past months, nearly 1000 nominees from 111 countries have made the journey to become the Science Breakthrough of the Year. On this historic date, the anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, we come together for the grand finale to reveal the 10 BREAKTHROUGHS OF THE YEAR in each category: Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Engineering & Technology, Social Sciences and Humanities, Science in the Arts, Digital Education, Science and Innovation Management, Emerging Talents, Science Start-Ups, Science Engagement Initiatives.

Join us in this final celebration of top-class scientists, thought-leaders, emerging talents and trailblazers from all around the world whose work is shaping our future. A must-see for all curious minds who strive to answer one core question: Which are the next walls to fall in science and society?


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Anja Karliczek

Federal Ministry of Education and Research

Anja Karliczek has been serving as Federal Minister of Education and Research since March 2018. Karliczek has been member of the German Parliament from 2013, and has served as member of the Finance Comittee, as deputy to Michael Grosse-Brömer as First Secretary of the parliamentary group. As Minister of Education and Research, she is a member of the Joint Science Conference (GWK), a body which deals with all questions of research funding, science and research policy strategies and the science system. Her focus as Federal Minister is aimed at supporting corporate research and development and boosting investments in cutting-edge technologies.

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Fri | Nov 06, 2020 | 12.00 - 13.00 Europe/Berlin Time

Political Talk: Paving the Quantum Way

Helge Braun


Helge Braun is a German medical doctor and politician of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). He is serving Head of the Chancellery and Federal Minister of Special Affairs since March 2018. As Parliamentary Secretary of State for Bureaucracy Reduction and Federal-State Relations since 2013, he was one of the officials co-ordinating Germany’s response to the European migrant crisis in 2015. He has been member of the German Parliament from 2002 to 2005, and from 2009 onwards. Braun has served on the Committee on Education and Research, the Committee on Environment, Nuclear Safety and Nature Conservation and on the Parliamentary Advisory Board for Sustainable Development. He was Parliamentary Secretary of State for Education and Research from 2009 – 2013.

Emmanuelle Charpentier

Max Planck Institute of Infection Biology

Emmanuelle Charpentier is a French scientist and Nobel Laureate. Along with American biochemist Jennifer Doudna, they discovered a molecular tool known as clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR)-Cas9, Charpentier shared the 2020 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 2013 Charpentier co-founded CRISPR Therapeutics, a company that employed CRISPR methodology for gene therapy in humans, with operations in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and headquarters in Zug, Switzerland. In 2015, after a two-year stint at Hannover Medical School in Germany, Charpentier moved her laboratory to the Max Planck Institute. Charpentier was recognized with numerous honours and awards, including the Canada Gairdner International Award (2016) and the Kavli Prize in Nanoscience (2018). She was an elected member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences (2015) and the European Academy of Sciences and Arts (2018).

Helga Nowotny


Helga Nowotny is former President and founding member of the European Research Council. Her work as a researcher includes more than 300 articles published in scientific journals on topics such as social studies of science and technology, macrosociology and the impact of the life sciences on society, and several prizes like the J.D. Bernal Prize. Her teaching career has included, among other, positions at the Institute of Advanced Study in Vienna, King’s College, Cambridge, École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales in Paris and the University of Vienna.

Jürgen Mlynek

Falling Walls Foundation

Jürgen Mlynek studied physics in Germany and France before he moved into research management. Main fields at research are experimental quantum optics, atomic physics, surface physics. He served as Vice-President of the German Research Foundation and later as President of the Humboldt-Universität in Berlin. From 2005 until 2015, he has been President of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres, the largest association of research centres in Germany. For his own research, Mlynek was awarded the prestigious Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize.

Sebastian Turner


Sebastian Turner is a political scientist by training (Duke) and a honorary professor at the Berlin University for the Arts. Since the 80’s he has founded several companies, like the trade journal “Medium”, the first independent communication agency in East Germany then merged into the group Scholz & Friends, the start-up incubator Econa (now an internet holding) and the web service company Aperto. He is also involved in several non profit initiatives like the Max-Planck-Foundation, the Art Directors Club, the Berlin School of Creative Leadership and the “science for children” project “Haus der kleinen Forscher”. He initiated the Falling Walls Conference in 2009 and established the Falling Walls Foundation in 2010.

Astrid Frohloff

Journalist and TV host

Astrid Frohloff is a wellknown German television presenter, a political journalist, business coach and event consultant. She contributes her journalistic expertise regularly as a moderator of international top-level conferences. As a communications consultant she also curates and conceives high level events and works as a business coach for executives.
Astrid is a member of the Advisory Board of the M100 Sanssouci Colloquium, Member of the Jury of the German Economic Film Prize and of the Marion Dönhoff Prize. She holds a Master Degree in political science and a Diploma in journalism at the University of Hannover/Germany and Austin, Texas/USA.

Adam Levy


Dr Adam Levy is a science journalist and climate change communicator.  They have produced award winning scientific films and podcasts for publications such as Nature, Scientific American and PBS.  They have a doctorate in atmospheric physics, and created ClimateAdam, a YouTube channel that makes climate change engaging and accessible.  Adam has hosted interviews for Falling Walls since 2016, but this is the first year they have had the opportunity to speak with each and every winner.

Hermann Hauser

Amadeus Capital

Hermann Hauser is an Austrian science-based innovator and serial entrepreneur, who has successfully developed and financed over 100 high-tech companies whilst offering inspiration and mentorship to the next generation of entrepreneurs. Hermann is a Fellow of the Institute of Physics and of the Royal Academy of Engineering and an Honorary Fellow of King’s College, Cambridge. In 2004 he was made a member of the Government’s Council for Science and Technology and in 2013 a Distinguished Fellow of BCS, the Chartered Institute for IT. In 2001, Hermann received an honorary CBE for his innovative service to the UK enterprise sector and an honorary KBE in 2015. As the author of a 2010 influential report, he called for the UK government’s investment in a network of technology and innovation centres. As a result, ‘Catapult’ centres were created, which are helping small firms and university spin-outs to commercialise their prototypes.

Laura Helmuth

Scientific American

Laura Helmuth is the Editor-in-Chief of Scientific American and a journalist with more than 20 years of experience covering all fields of health, science, technology, and the environment. Prior to joining Scientific American, she was the Science and Health Editor for The Washington Post and has held positions at National Geographic, Slate, Smithsonian, and Science. Helmuth was the President of the National Association of Science Writers from 2016 to 2018 and board member from 2012 to 2016. She has a Ph.D. in Cognitive Neuroscience from University of California at Berkeley.

Marja Makarow

Biocenter Finland

Marja Makarow is Director of Biocenter Finland since 2016 and former Vice-President of the Finnish Research Council – Academy of Finland, Chief Executive of the European Science Foundation ESF and Vice-Rector and Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of the University of Helsinki. She is member of the Advisory Board of the European Innovation Council, and former member of the Governing Board of the European Institute for Innovation and Technology EIT and panel chair of the ERC Starting Grants programme.

She chairs Technology Academy Finland awarding the global million euro Millennium Technology Prize for ground-breaking innovations. She advised the EC in the European Research Area Board and the Finnish Government in the Prime Minister’s Research and Innovation Council. She has evaluated research and innovation outputs from individual to national systems levels. She is member of Academia Europaea, Commander of the Order of the White Lion Finland and Chevalier de l’Ordre de Legion d’Honneur France.

Shalini Randeria

Institute for Human Sciences

Shalini Randeria is the Rector of the Institute for Human Sciences (IWM) in Vienna, Professor of Social Anthropology and Sociology at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies (IHEID) in Geneva, as well as the Director of the Albert Hirschman Centre on Democracy at the IHEID. Furthermore, she holds the Excellence Chair at the University of Bremen, where she leads a research group on Soft Authoritarianism and is a Distinguished Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.

She is currently a member of the Editorial Boards of Public Anthropologist and of The Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Anthropology. She serves on the Board of European Forum Alpbach and the Board of Trustees of the Central European University (CEU). She has published widely on the anthropology of globalization, law, the state and social movements. Her empirical research on India addresses issues of post-coloniality and multiple modernities.

Her recent publications include the volume Social Science at the Crossroads, Brill, 2019 (co-edited with Björn Wittrock); JPS special forum on seed activism: an overview of the issuesThe Journal of Peasant Studies 47(4), 2020 (co-edited with Karine Peschard). “Locations and Locutions: Unravelling the concept of ‘World Anthropology’”, in Laurence Roulleau-Berger and Pellin Li, eds., Post-Western Sociology. From China to Europe. Ocxon/New York: Routledge, 2018, 88-105 (with Andrew Brandel and Veena Das).

Daniel Zajfman

Israel Science Foundation

Professor of Physics at the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel. BSc (1983) and a PhD in atomic physics (1989) from the Technion – Israel Institute of Technology. Post-Doctoral fellow at Argonne National Laboratory, near Chicago. Joined the staff of the Weizmann Institute’s Department of Particle Physics (now the Department of Particle Physics and Astrophysics) in 1991. Member Max-Planck Society Senate. Member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Past-President of the Weizmann Institute of Science (2006-2019), and since 2020, Chair of the academic board of the Israel Science Foundation. Chair of the Davidson Institute of Science Education and of the Schwartz/Reisman Science Education Centers.

Barbara Herrenkind

Horst Bredekamp

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Horst Bredekamp received his PhD in art history at the University of Marburg (1974). After working at the Liebieghaus in Frankfurt am Main as a curator (1974-1976) he became Assistant Professor at the University of Hamburg, where he tenured as Professor of Art History in 1982. Since 1993 he is Professor of Art History at the Humboldt University of Berlin. In addition he has been a permanent fellow of the Institute for Advanced Study/Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin (2003-2012). From 2012-2018 he was co-director of the Cluster of Excellence Image Knowledge Gestaltung, Humboldt University of Berlin (with Wolfgang Schäffner), and since 2019 he is co-director of the Cluster of Excellence Matters of Activity. He was a member of the steering committee of the Humboldt Forum, Berlin from 2015-2018. He is member of several academies, among them the German National Academy of Science Leopoldina, Halle (since 2004) and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (since 2016). He has received numerous awards, among them the Sigmund Freud Award (2001) and the Max Planck Award (2006) and became a member of the Ordre pour le mérite in 2014. He published 29 books and more than 600 articles. His research foci are Iconoclasm, sculpture of the Romanesque, art of the Renaissance and Mannerism, political iconology, art and technology with Galileo, Hobbes and Leibniz, history of collecting, history of gardening, history of soccer and new media.

Joël Mesot

ETH Zurich

Joël Mesot studied physics at ETH Zurich and obtained a doctorate in solid-state physics in 1992. In 1995, he was awarded the SPS (Swiss Physical Society) IBM Prize and in 2002 the ETH Zurich Latsis Prize. After residing in France (Institut Laue-Langevin, Grenoble) and the USA (Argonne National Laboratory, Chicago), he returned to ETH and joined PSI, where he became Head of the Laboratory for Neutron Scattering in 2004 and was appointed Director by the Federal Council in 2007 until he took over the Presidency of ETH Zurich.

He has been a member of the ETH Board since 2010 and Second Vice-President of the Marcel Benoist Foundation, as well as a member of the Board of Switzerland Innovation. Internationally, Joël Mesot is a member of the Senate of the Helm­holtz Association of German Research Centers and member of various non-European expert committees, such as the Governing Board of the CREATE center in Singapore.

Deborah Quazzo

GSV Ventures

Deborah is the Managing Partner of GSV Ventures, a venture fund investing in education and workforce skills technologies that are disrupting the $7 Trillion sector. In addition, she is Co-founder of the ASU+GSV Summit. Now in its 11th year, the ASU+GSV Summit celebrates innovations and innovators across the global “preK to Gray” learning and talent landscape and attracts over 5,500 attendees.

Deborah currently serves on the boards of Aakash Educational Services Ltd (a leading tutoring and test preparation company in India), Ascend Learning (a portfolio company of Blackstone and CCCP), Create and Learn, Degreed, The Educational Testing Service (ETS), Intellispark, Mighty, PhotoMath, QuillBot, Remind, Stride, and Turnitin (an Advance Communications company). She is a board observer at ARTful, CreativeLive, Fairygodboss, Lightneer, Outlier.org, RaiseMe, and Toucan. She is a member of the boards of The Common Ground Foundation, Oriental Education Institute (OEI), Steppenwolf Theatre Company, The Board of Dean’s Advisors at Harvard Business School, The Khan Academy Thought Leadership Council, The New Profit Prophets Education Advisory Group and The Strada Institute for the Future of Work Advisory Committee.  She is a member of the Steering Committee of the Illinois Business Immigration Coalition. She previously served on the board of a number of education organizations including The Chicago Board of Education (CPS) and KIPP: Chicago.

Deborah received the 2014 Arnold M. Berlin ’46 Distinguished Service to Princeton Award from the Princeton University Club of Chicago, the 2014 Visionary of the Year Award from CFY PowerMyLearning, the 2016 LEAP Innovator in Education „Champion“ Award from LEAP Innovations, the 2016 Inaugural Impact Award from Golden Apple Foundation, and the 2017 Visionary Award from the Association of American Publishers (AAP).

Deborah graduated cum laude with a BA in history from Princeton University in 1982 and an MBA from Harvard University in 1987.

Melanie Smallman


Melanie Smallman is a Lecturer in Science and Technology Studies and Co-Director of the new Centre for Science Communication at UCL. Her research looks at how the public form views around new and emerging science and technology and how these views influence public policy.

Prior to joining UCL, Melanie Smallman was founder and Director of the Science Communications Consultancy Think-Lab, providing policy and communications advice and support to a range of organisations including London’s Science Museum, The Wellcome Trust and the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA). Melanie continues to combine practice with research and teaching, is a member of UCL’s Climate Change Communications Commission and has recently advised the UK Parliament on science communication.

Stefan von Holtzbrinck


Stefan von Holtzbrinck is CEO of Holtzbrinck Publishing Group, a family-owned German holding company with broad interests in research publishing (Springer Nature), educational content (Macmillan Learning), consumer books (Macmillan Publishers) and technology business (Digital Science, HV Holtzbrinck Ventures).

Since the late 90ies, pioneering the internet has been a stronghold. Apart vom Holtzbrinck Ventures and other fund activities, there are numerous startups alongside companies with long tradition under the umbrella of e.g. Digital Science (Dimensions, Overleaf, figshare, Altmetric), Macmillan Learning (iClicker, intellus Learning), and the ZEIT Group.

Stefan started his career in publishing (Bloomsbury), TV (Kirch Group) and New Media (Systhema). His prime focus at the helm of Nature Publishing Group and the Holtzbrinck Publishing Group (since 2001) was science and education media which eventually led to the formation of Springer Nature. He is Founder and Supervisory Board Speaker of the Max Planck Foundation, member of the Max Planck Society, Vice Chairman of the American Academy in Berlin, Vice Chairman of the Business and Industry advisory board of the Goethe Institute as well as Chairman of the Stuttgart Children’s Foundation.

Kumsal Bayazit


Kumsal Bayazit was appointed Chief Executive Officer of Elsevier in February 2019. She has held multiple positions with RELX Group since 2004, most recently as Regional President Europe, Middle East and Africa at Reed Exhibitions. Before joining Reed Exhibitions in 2016, Kumsal was RELX Group’s Chief Strategy Officer, responsible for driving strategic initiatives, technology strategy and portfolio management. Prior to that she served in several operational and strategic roles with LexisNexis. Kumsal also chairs the Technology Forum at RELX Group and is a non-executive director at LSL Property Services plc. Prior to joining RELX Group in 2004, Kumsal spent several years at Bain & Company in their New York, Los Angeles, Johannesburg and Sydney offices. Kumsal earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and is a graduate of University of California at Berkeley where she received a Bachelor’s degree in Economics with honors.

Claudie Haigneré


Claudie Haigneré has been a senior advisor to the ESA Director General since April 2015. Doctor of medicine in rheumatology (Hospital Cochin Paris, 1984-90) and PhD in neurosciences (CNRS, 1986-90), Claudie Haigneré became the first European woman astronaut candidate in 1985 when she got selected by CNES (French space agency). She started her training in Star City (Russia) in 1992. Four years later, in 1996, she spent 16 days as a research cosmonaut on board the Mir Space Station during her Cassiopée mission. She became a member of the European Astronaut corps in 1999 and the same year she became the first woman to qualify as a Soyuz Return Commander. She performed her second space mission on board the ISS in 2001, which lasted 10 days.

Claudie Haigneré served as Minister for Research and New Technologies in the French government under the presidency of Jacques Chirac from June 2002 to April 2004. She then served as Minister for European Affairs from April 2004 to June 2005. From 2005 to 2009 she was Senior Adviser to ESA’s Director General in European space strategy, and ESA’s strategic adaptation. From 2009 to 2015 she was CEO of Universcience, a French science museum combining the Cité des Sciences et de l’Industrie and the Palais de la Découverte in Paris.

Dr. Haigneré is also Grand Officier de la Légion d’Honneur and Docteur Honoris Causa from multiple universities (EPFL, Université de Mons, Beihang University Beijing), as well as a Member of the French Académie des Technologies, Académie des Sports, Académie des Sciences de l’Outre-Mer, and a Member of the Belgian Académie des Sciences.

“We have been impressed and inspiredby the participant’s strength of conviction to push for breakthroughs, they gave us hope this afternoon for the future with the diversity of their proposals”.

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