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RTD info logoMagazine on European Research N° 44 - February 2005   
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POLAND
Title  The renaissance of the Nencki Institute

Founded in 1918 and specialising in biochemistry and neurobiology, the Nencki Institute is Poland’s leading non-university research centre in the life sciences. After a difficult decade, it has made a new start and is today, once again, a flourishing institution.

Jerzy Duszyncki, Director of the Nencki Institute
Jerzy Duszyncki, Director of the Nencki Institute
The history of the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology is inextricably linked to the tormented history of Poland itself. The biologist Marceli Nencki (1847-1901) pursued much of his career in Switzerland before co-founding, with the famous Russian physiologist Jan Pavlov, the St Petersburg Institute of Experimental Medicine. When Poland regained its independence after the First World War, the Institute of Experimental Biology was founded in Warsaw, in 1918, thanks to a donation from a close associate of Nencki, after whom the institute was posthumously named.

The institute flourished in the 1920s and 1930s until disaster struck with World War Two and a fire that destroyed nearly all the 30 000 volumes in its library. Following the defeat of Nazism, a handful of survivors (a dozen researchers lost their lives in the conflict) decided to take up the torch. In 1952, the institute was given a new lease of life when it was incorporated into the brand new Academy of Sciences and moved to new buildings in the south of Warsaw. Under the Communist regime, it established itself as Poland’s leading non-university research centre for biology, awarding 15 postdoctoral degrees annually and publishing two international journals. 

Restructuring and training
By setting its sights on the European Research Area, with centres of excellence, motivated teams and international projects, the Nencki Institute has regained all the dynamism and prestige sought by its founders.
By setting its sights on the European Research Area, with centres of excellence, motivated teams and international projects, the Nencki Institute has regained all the dynamism and prestige sought by its founders.
The institute bore the full brunt of the upheavals of 1989/1990. Facing a severe financial crisis, it went into slow decline, with ageing staff, few international contacts and research that was locked into outmoded subjects. To stop the rot, in the late 1990s, the management decided to set a totally new course. Under its Director, the biochemist Jerzy Duszynski, a policy of restructuring was initiated. Some laboratories closed as their directors retired and the rest were grouped into four departments centred on the institute’s fields of excellence: neurobiology and biochemistry.

To build a secure future, an ambitious training policy was introduced. A postgraduate school offered places for around 100 PhD students, recruited after a demanding entrance exam that required a perfect knowledge of English. Those who passed received a grant of €400 a month, a generous amount for Poland. 

The institute was also innovative in offering postdoctoral students the opportunity to put together their own teams and to receive attractive salaries – a practice that was still rare in Poland. “Despite our careful attention to wage policy, the institute only spends three-fifths of its budget on the wages of its 250 employees – including 140 researchers – while the average for Poland is 80%,” stresses Duszynski.

Opening up to the world
The key to the institute’s success lay in an ambitious policy of seeking international funding. A young manager, Marcin Szumowski, was recruited especially for the task. On completing his thesis on atmospheric chemistry in the United States, he returned to Poland as a consultant on European projects, a role he has filled at the institute since 2002. To date, he can be credited with winning two contracts under the Fifth Framework Programme and a Centre of Excellence in Neurobiology label. He has also secured a number of projects that are at the assessment stage and numerous bilateral projects, with Germany in particular.

Szumowski is already dreaming of the institute, one day, becoming the centre of a “biopole, modelled on the one in Berlin/Brandenburg that combines very high-level research and start-ups, drawing on the expertise of the many key research institutes in the life sciences that are found in this area, such as the Faculty of Biology and Medicine, several university hospitals, and the Institute of Biochemistry and Biophysics of the Academy of Sciences.”

This focus on the European Research Area is now beginning to bear fruit for the Nencki Institute. At the request of Jerzy Duszynski, the Federation of European Biochemistry Societies (FEBS) carried out an audit of the institute in September 2003. “The scientists we spoke to were remarkably well informed, and what we heard is very promising. Their receptiveness, readiness to engage in self-criticism, and their desire always to do better and more are all signs that, if the Nencki Institute receives better financing and increases its links with Western Europe, it has a very brilliant future before it,” concluded the team of ten experts headed by Moshe Yaniv of the Institut Pasteur in Paris.


Printable version

Features 1 2 3 4 5
  Taking a ride from science’s pole position
  The solid state of physics
  Behind the scenes of technological development
  The renaissance of the Nencki Institute
  Moving with the times


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      CONTACTS  
      Jerzy Duszyncki, director

    Marcin Szumowski, international co-operation

     


       
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    Features 1 2 3 4 5

    TO FIND OUT MORE



    CONTACTS

    Jerzy Duszyncki, director

    Marcin Szumowski, international co-operation