The History of Copernicus Gesellschaft e.V.

The "Copernicus Society for the Promotion of International Collaboration in the Geo- and Space Sciences" was founded on 5 February 1988 in the former Max Planck Institute for Aeronomy (MPAE, now the Max Planck Institute for Solar System Research) in Katlenburg-Lindau.

The founding members were:

  • Prof. Dr. W. Ian Axford (since 1996 Sir Ian), Executive Director of MPAE
  • Horstmar Hale, Director of Administration of MPAE
  • Dr. Erhardt Keppler, Technical Director of MPAE
  • Prof. Dr. Luke O'Connor Drury, Dublin Institute, Ireland
  • Dr. Arne Richter, Research Assistant at MPAE
  • Dr. Helmut Rosenbauer, Director at MPAE
  • Prof. Dr. Vytenis M. Vasyliunas, Director at MPAE

They selected Prof. Dr. Axford as president, Dr. Richter as secretary, and Mr. Hale as treasurer. On February 26th, the society was registered at the county court of Northeim as "Copernicus Gesellschaft e.V." (hereinafter called Copernicus e.V.). They chose to name the society after the polymath Nicolaus Copernicus (1473 – 1543), who created a new, post-medieval worldview for the sciences.


The reason for the establishment was ultimately the concern for the survival of the European Geophysical Society (EGS), which was close to the hearts of the people mentioned above. This society was founded in Switzerland in 1971 and had organized a scientific conference every year since 1973 at different places in Europe. The organization of the EGS under Swiss law, however, proved impractical. Subsequently, the EGS was not able to maintain a permanent office or pay employees. At the same time, no member of the management commission was willing to take personal responsibility for the society.

In addition came the disadvantage that the annual conference had been organized every year by another institution in Europe. Accordingly, the EGS suffered a less than convincing existence in the first years of its establishment and received little attention in the professional world. After employees of the MPAE successfully organized the scientific conference committee for the 1987 (Strasbourg) and 1988 (Bologna) annual conferences (especially Dr. Arne Richter), the former directors of the MPAE (see above) proposed supporting the EGS on the long term with a permanent office. Copernicus e.V., as established by German law, was to take over this task as a permanent headquarters for the EGS and in the future always organize the annual conference.

Copernicus Group

From 1989 to 2001, Copernicus e.V. organized all EGS annual conferences, as well as conferences for other organizations such as URSI and COSPAR. In addition to professional congress organization, classic peer-reviewed scientific publications were and continue to be offered. In 1994 our first journal was published. From 1991 to 2001, Copernicus e.V. was the official European office of the American Geophysical Union..

Over the years, it became clear for Copernicus e.V. that the legal form of a non-profit registered society was not an adequate basis for business as activities kept expanding, also partially associated with large revenues. Therefore, Copernicus Gesellschaft mbH (hereinafter referred to as Copernicus GmbH) was founded on 15 August 2001 as a limited liability corporation. It is operated by Copernicus e.V. as the sole shareholder and is responsible for all activities associated with financial transactions; they took over the aforementioned activities and offers of Copernicus e.V. Today, the business has two areas of operation: Copernicus Meetings and Copernicus Publications, whose operations have been continuously expanding ever since.

In 2003, the Copernicus Foundation was established to serve the community. Copernicus GmbH sponsored book, music, school, and other community service projects, including a kindergarten in Katlenburg, through the foundation. These projects were suspended in 2011.

Recent Changes

Since several of the founding members of Copernicus could not come to meetings in recent years, more members were admitted at the Annual General Meeting 2006:

  • Prof . Dr. Ulrich Christensen
  • Thies Martin Rasmussen
  • Prof. Dr. Kristian Schlegel

In 2009, Copernicus GmbH moved their offices to Göttingen, and the formal registered office of Copernicus e.V. was moved from Northeim to Göttingen. After the passing of three founding members (Sir Ian Axford, Dr. Keppler, Mr Hale) in 2010, Prof. Dr. Hermann Lühr was also accepted as a member.

In a revision of the statutes of Copernicus e.V. in 2010, the office of president was abandoned and Sir Ian Axford was posthumously awarded the title honorary president. The executive board consists of the secretary and the treasurer. These offices are held currently (2021) by Prof. Dr. Hermann Lühr and Martin Rasmussen.

In 2013, the year of the 25th anniversary of the Copernicus Gesellschaft e.V., the society presented for the first time the Copernicus Medal. Since then, a number of scientists were awarded to recognize ingenious, innovative work in the geosciences and in the planetary and space sciences and in their exceptional promotion and international cooperation, in particular of colleagues being still in the midst of their scientific career.

In summer 2015, the co-founder and secretary Dr. Arne Richter deceased (obituaries of Copernicus and EGU). Prof. Dr. Hermann Lühr was elected as successor.

The Copernicus Gesellschaft e.V. welcomed as further members Dr. Hans Pfeiffenberger in 2016 and Prof. Dr. Alexander Knohl in 2019.