Stepping Inside the Life Science Company
While leaving Eindhoven after such a short visit was disappointing, the prospect of returning to Germany had all the students excited, myself included. We took a bus to Dusseldorf, a pit stop before traveling to the Ruhr Area, and stored our luggage in the train station. From there we took a train to Leverkusen to see the Bayer headquarters. Bayer, a major pharmaceutical company, did not originally seem like a visit to be included on a program surrounding smart cities and renewable energy. However, after a walk through the campus and tour of Baykomm, the communication center, there were many ideas to take away from the visit.
First and foremost were the innovative education tools the Bayer communication center is using to promote lessons on the life sciences as well as the projects they are working on. Teachers in the area can bring their elementary school children into classrooms and laboratories here that contain equipment many schools cannot afford. Merle Jackel, our guide for the afternoon, showed us a lab specifically used to teach children about the importance of a healthy bee population. The decline of bee colonies in parts of the world is of major public concern; of the 100 crops providing 90% of the world’s food, 70 benefit from bee and other insect pollination. The lab not only shows young students how they themselves can help bees stay healthy, but introduces them to a world of research and science. Inspiring students at a young age to pursue an education in science is important for the future health of our world’s ecosystems.
Bayer was founded in 1863 as a synthetic dye production company, but in the 1890s they developed their first synthetic insecticide. Dye production turned crop protection company, it is not surprising that bee health is not the only environmental-based project Bayer works on. While Bayer now concentrates in human and animal health, a major focus of theirs remains crop science and researching arable land and nutrition. With a predicted population of 10 billion people by 2050, providing enough healthy food is a goal for this life sciences company. Unfortunately, the presentation did not go into depth on the agricultural research and innovation Bayer is pushing forward. They also glossed over the deal with Monsanto, one of the biggest takeovers of its kind at a value of 60 billion euro, describing it simply as the key to having the “complete solution” to agricultural technology. With Monsanto’s representation for engineering food and pesticides, I am curious to see the affect this has on crop technology worldwide. Additionally, with Monsanto and Bayer owning 30% of the seed market combined, it will be interesting to see how seed prices for farmers are affected.
An intriguing part of the presentation was the stress they put on Bayer’s separation from their chemistry counterparts. Bayer is a purely life sciences company with a separate chemical industrial area is located next door – Chempark Leverkusen. Merle Jackel explained that the separation was necessary in order to stay competitive. Bayer did not have the budget to keep the chemical processes under its company, and the chemical group could be more competitive with other chemical based companies if it separated from Bayer. A tour through the Chempark revealed that the entire operation was still supported by coal, and not much innovation was occurring to make production more efficient and sustainable. The emphasis on cost-benefit production as opposed to innovation and sustainability seems like a theme that may stem from the classic shareholder model. Overall, many students left the visit wondering what role Bayer, Monsanto, and its chemistry counterparts would play in the future of smart and healthy cities.