Paleontology is a small subject at universities. In Germany, there are only 44 professorships scattered across different locations. The fragmentation makes it difficult to develop common visions and research priorities. The initiative of the Volkswagen Foundation for the structural strengthening of “small subjects” focuses on this issue and promotes innovative ideas. The paleontology of the FAU has prevailed with its concept against numerous applicants in the competition.
Since October 2019, the Volkswagen Foundation is funding paleontology until Sept. 2026 with almost € 1.000.000,-.
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kießling, Department of Paleoenvironment FAU, and Prof. Dr. Manuel Steinbauer, University of Bayreuth, head the project. They want to support paleontology in German-speaking countries in building networks, identifying common research priorities, and promoting young academies. They are supported by the Scientific Advisory Board, which is involved in all important decisions and provides advice and decisive support. Much of the scientific planning will be done by the Project PostDoc.
The main task is the construction of synthesis workshops. These are working meetings of experts to be held at the FAU. In terms of content, they are jointly designed by all practicing paleontologists. As a result, research groups from all over the world come together to do research. A core aspect of the synthesis workshops is also to develop visions and strategies together. As an example, ‘what are the most important questions of paleontology currently and how can we answer them collectively?’ With the project “What is your Big Question in Paleontology?” (BIG Q’s), which is supervised and organized by J.A. Smith we already started to work on this as an individual workshop and online cooperation across the globe and have extended it to the Big Questions Germany now.
A mobile app is developed, which can automatically determine fossils, eventually. These can also be used by ordinary persons, i.e., amatuer paleontologists which then can contribute with their knowledge and experience. In addition, training and innovation workshops (science schools) will be further developed to further educate students and teachers and promote networking internationally.