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Helmholtz invests 23 million in research on AI foundation models

Awards & Grants, Computational Health,

A Synergy Unit, in which Helmholtz Munich is involved, will develop, deploy, and connect foundation models.

In research, huge amounts of data are being generated. However, their full potential can only be realized if scientists can analyze ever-larger amounts of data. A new generation of AI foundation models is now poised to tackle a range of major challenges in science. The Helmholtz Association is pioneering in this field, supporting four pilot projects and the necessary infrastructure with approximately 23 million euros. Twelve Helmholtz Centers, including Helmholtz Munich, are participating in projects aimed at using artificial intelligence to make radiological diagnoses more reliable, improve understanding of the global carbon cycle, elevate climate models to a new level, and accelerate the development of a new generation of photovoltaic modules.

Foundation models are AI applications that, built upon a very broad knowledge base, are capable of solving a range of complex problems. They are significantly more powerful and flexible than traditional AI models, making them suitable for scientific applications. Through targeted training with extensive datasets and the use of generative AI, they can understand complex relationships based on learned patterns, generate new connections, and make predictions. This enables, for example, the stronger integration of global climate data or significant improvements in medical diagnoses. “We are convinced that with foundation models, we can push the boundaries of science. Helmholtz not only brings outstanding talents and comprehensive datasets from various research areas but also brings together a unique computer infrastructure,” says Otmar Wiestler, President of the Helmholtz Association.

The goal of the three-year Helmholtz Foundation Model Initiative (HFMI) is to develop fully functional models. Four pilot projects have been selected for this purpose, involving scientists from twelve Helmholtz Centers. Over a period of three years, the projects will receive funding totaling 11 million euros. An additional 12 million euros will be invested in expanding necessary infrastructure. A Synergy Unit, in which Helmholtz Munich is involved, will also research interdisciplinary questions, promote knowledge exchange between projects, and undertake overarching activities. The funded projects aim to not only provide clear value for science but also make their final results available to society as open source—this includes the code, training data, and trained models.

About the Synergy Unit: Developing, deploying, and connecting foundation models

The Synergy Unit concentrates on overarching questions relevant to all participating projects. For example, it addresses concerns such as model scalability or training with datasets. However, it's not just about exchanging solutions; it's primarily about advancing research on foundation models across disciplines as rapidly as possible. Thus, the Synergy Unit ensures a long-term impact of the Helmholtz Foundation Model Initiative for the benefit of the general public.

Participating Helmholtz Centers: Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum, Helmholtz Munich, Forschungszentrum Jülich, and Max Delbrück Center.

Read press release of the Helmholtz Association and view all projects