The Magic of the Collective

Autobiography of MPI-CBG founding director Kai Simons

Kai Simons © MPI-CBG/Katrin Boes

One of the founding directors of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI-CBG), Kai Simons, published his autobiography “The Magic of the Collective.” First it was published in Swedish in 2021 with the title “Forskningens olidliga lätthet.” His memoir is a reflection on many aspects of modern scientific research, including the current dominance of competition over collaboration, scientific fraud and whistleblowing, and the dichotomy between science and the arts. Also, it touches on the influence of modern biology on science and society, from social Darwinism to the response to COVID-19 vaccines.

Kai Simons says, “The book is about my scientific journey, especially about my experience of building research environments, how I first helped to build up the new Haartman Institute in Helsinki, then the “Cell Biology Program” at the European Molecular Biology Laboratories (EMBL) in Heidelberg, and finally, of course, the foundation of the MPI-CBG here in Dresden. I wanted to describe how we managed to establish multidisciplinary environments where it was easier to solve research problems through cooperation and to do that without too much unnecessary pressure - Happy MPI-CBG”. 

It was the COVID-19 pandemic that gave Kai Simons the push to write about his life as a scientist. Over the past years, he had filled many notebooks with the events of his life. During the lockdown, Kai read the notebooks again and was able to focus on his book. It took him three months to write the Swedish version of the book.

“I have written the book for young researchers to give them inspiration not only for doing research in general but also to give them ideas on how to improve their own research environments. Maybe one day someone will make use of the book as a guide for founding a new research institute. That would make me more than happy,” says Kai Simons.

Kai Simons was born in 1938 in Helsinki, Finland. In 1964, he graduated from the University of Helsinki as a medical doctor, followed by postdoctoral work at Rockefeller University in New York, USA. Back at the University of Helsinki, he was a professor in the area of biochemistry between 1971 and 1979, next to a position as investigator at the Finnish Medical Research Council from 1967 to 1975. Kai Simons joined the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg, Germany, in 1975 as a research group leader, where he then built up the Cell Biology Programme from 1982–1998. He was the managing director in the team of founding directors of the MPI-CBG. In 2006, he became Director Emeritus. Now he  is the CEO of Lipotype GmbH.

The Magic of the Collective” book is available as e-book or as paperback.