No. 20: Volkswagen Foundation

An engineer at the Volkswagen Foundation

GERMANY - £150m

The Volkswagen Foundation (Volkswagen Stiftung) is Germany’s largest private science research funding foundation.

More than 50 years ago, the original funding for the foundation came from the German federal government and the Federal State of Lower Saxony, from proceeds of the privatisation of the car company.

Now, the funds allocated by the foundation are generated from its capital and assets. Apart from the historical link, the car company and the foundation are no longer affiliated.

Since its conception, the foundation has given more than £3.3bn to support over 30,000 projects.

The Volkswagen Foundation supports the humanities and social sciences as well as science and technology in higher education and research. It develops its own funding initiatives with a focus on “pioneering future-oriented” fields of research.

In particular it aims to provide support for junior researchers and seeks to foster cooperation between researchers across the borders of disciplines, cultures and nation states.

It also places a strong emphasis on facilitating structural improvements to education and research in Germany.

A recent project that the Volkswagen Foundation funded is the development of an alternative treatment method that could eliminate the use of biocides and chemicals used to fight lice.

The researchers have developed a special plasma lice comb, in which a high-voltage generator sends electrical pulses to the metal teeth that serve as electrodes.

The air between two electrodes, or teeth, is ionized in the presence of the high-voltage pulses; thus, plasma is generated out of thin air.

The cold plasmas kill both the lice and the nits without harming the hair or scalp and the process is completely harmless to humans.