It was biochemist Professor Ernst Helmreich and his colleague Professor Guido Hartmann – both of whom have since passed away – who first had the idea of setting up a Biocenter at the University of Würzburg, back in the 1970s. At that time, the Faculty of Natural Sciences had split into several small departments. Hartmann and Helmreich could see the dangers of increasing specialization of individual disciplines. They viewed close collaboration between physics, chemistry and medicine in Würzburg as desirable, even essential, and they took the initiative of setting up a center.
In the 1970s, many universities and research institutes were being built in suburban areas. In Würzburg, it was planned to relocate physics and chemistry to the extension site ‘Am Hubland’. It seemed thus appropriate to move several bioscientific institutes based in the historical town center to the same site. The Biocenter’s two founders, Professor Ernst Helmreich und Professor Guido Hartmann, proposed that eight chairs from the Faculties of Biology, Chemistry and Medicine be combined into a new institution, and that a new building be built for this purpose close to the new Physics and Chemistry buildings. The plan was willingly approved by the University Board and the Bavarian Ministry of Culture.
The most important concern of Professors Helmreich and Hartmann was to establish a scientific facility for biology in Würzburg with infrastructure and facilities that could stand up to international comparison. In the natural sciences, one often says that good teaching is only made possible through good research. Conversely, integrating research into teaching provides many useful research opportunities when competing with pure research institutions.
At the time of its dedication in May 1993, the term ‘Biocenter’ referred to the new building with its ten chairs; six from biology, one from chemistry, and three from medicine. These were divided into three institutes. The six biological and two medical-preclinical chairs were merged to form the Theodor Boveri Institute for Biosciences. This also includes the Central Department for Electron Microscopy and a junior research group financed with third-party funds. The Chairs of Biochemistry and Human Genetics operated as their own institutes within the Biocenter. The Institute for Human Genetics also treated patients in addition to its basic research and teaching. Also hosted in the Biocenter is the departmental library for biosciences, which is maintained by various institutions external to the Biocenter and by the University Library.
It soon became clear that the concept of a center for biosciences would prove successful. Scientists and students alike benefit from the new building with its modern laboratories, equipment, lecture theatres and classrooms. The close proximity this provides also facilitates collaboration across faculty boundaries. Publications, awards and grants of third party funding attest to the impressive scientific success of the Biocenter.
From the beginning, the Biocenter has extended its collaboration with the three plant science chairs of the Julius von Sachs Institute for Biosciences, with its botanical garden, although the Institute was unable to relocate to the Hubland site. On 3 March 1997 the time had come. The 13 chairs of the institutes based in the Biocenter and the Julius von Sachs Institute merged to form the “Biocenter Teaching and Research Association”, with the aim of intensifying interdisciplinary and cross-faculty collaboration in the field of biosciences and promoting shared use of special research, teaching and service facilities – in short, in order to collaborate as closely as possible in both research and teaching.
In 2001, the Biocenter achieved its next big success: Funded by the so-called ‘High-Tech-Offensive Bayern’, a new chair was created in the highly topical field of bioinformatics. The new chair comes under the Faculty of Biology and is part of the Theodor Boveri Institute. In 2005, with the reappointment of the Chair of Biochemistry, the latest step so far in the integration was completed. With the closure of the Institute for Biochemistry the chair of the same name, which comes under the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy, also became part of the Theodor Boveri Institute. Thus ten of the eleven chairs based at Hubland are now part of this interdisciplinary and cross-faculty institute.