DFG establishes 14 new research units


Creation of new areas of research at the universities

The Grants Committee on General Research Funding of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has resolved to establish 14 new Research Units. In these Research Units scientists and academics work on special scientific questions in an interdisciplinary and interregional manner. With the funding in this programme, which is designed to last for six years, the DFG is pursuing the objective of promoting the collaboration of outstanding scientists and academics and, thereby, also creating new areas of research at the universities. The DFG will provide more than 20 million euros for funding the Research Units during the next three years. The Research Units in detail:

Life Sciences

A Research Unit at the University of Freiburg for "Statistical Modelling and Data Analysis in Clinical Epidemiology" will focus on the development of new methods of statistical analysis to improve the evaluation of clinical studies using existing patient data. This should result in new insights concerning the practical benefit of basic research in clinical medicine and help to achieve better prognoses in the future.

In Mainz a Research Unit is concentrating on the topic "Susceptibility Factors of Tumourigenesis", which will examine the susceptibility of organisms to develop tumours. The objective of the unit is to research the factors affecting susceptibility.

The transplantation of pig organs into humans is a realistic option for overcoming the worldwide shortage of organ donors. The DFG is now establishing an interregional Research Unit for "Xenotransplantation" at the following locations: University of Munich, Medical University of Hannover, Federal Research Institute for Agriculture in Mariensee, the Paul Ehrlich Institute in Langen and the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin. The Research Unit is researching new methods in genetic engineering and immunology to further the development of this technology, while also considering the infectious risks.

Chromatin – the structure in the nucleus composed of DNA and nuclear proteins – plays a central role in important processes such as gene activity and cell division. During the past few years, the surprising observation was made that proteins – which regulate the activity of the chromatin – possess both activating and inhibiting functions, depending on the biological context. The Research Unit for "Chromatin-mediated Biological Decisions" at the University of Giessen is focussing its efforts on clarifying the mechanisms of such a dual function in the regulation of chromatin activity.

Together with Chinese researchers a group of scientists concentrated at the University of Kiel and within the scope of the Research Unit for "Matter Fluxes in Grasslands of Inner Mongolia as Influenced by Stocking Rate" are examining the effect of the grazing intensity and grassland management on the balance of substances and stability of the green land ecosystem of the Inner Mongolian steppe. Since the increasing devastation of the Inner Mongolian grassland leads to serious ecological problems, the results should provide options for the ecologically sustainable use of the examined region.

A new Research Unit at the University of Regensburg will study blue light receptors in plants and bacteria. Similar to the "green" photosynthetic process, plants and bacteria have receptors that respond to blue light and transform the light signals into chemical processes. How this signal processing functions has not yet been adequately clarified and is now to be examined by the Research Unit entitled "Blue Light-sensitive Photoreceptors".

Humanities and Social Sciences

A new perspective in the study of so-called "self-reports" (such as diaries, letters or travel reports) will be provided by the Research Unit headed by Professor Claudia Ulbrich at the Free University in Berlin. For a long time self-reports have been considered to be a typically European form of writing. The Research Unit for "Self-reports in Transcultural Perspective" takes a different approach. Its objective is to examine self-reports from different – also non-European – cultures, countries and times as forms of cultural and social practice and in the comparison to determine differences and similarities.

An interdisciplinary Research Unit at the University of Halle-Wittenberg is examining "The Enlightenment in the Perspective of Modern Esotericism". Its objective is to contrast the historical concept of the Enlightenment movement in the 18th century with a historical concept of its resistances and alternatives and, through an analysis of its interactions, to arrive at a differentiated image of the Enlightenment by using central figures and texts.

Natural Sciences

The Sahara is the largest desert in the world and its dust can be found everywhere in the northern hemisphere. To determine how the dust enters the atmosphere and how it is then distributed scientists of the newly organized Research Unit for "Saharan Mineral Dust Experiment (SAMUM)" are using satellites and measurement airplanes. Furthermore, the researchers are examining how the Saharan dust affects the climate.

The so-called sauropod dinosaurs were one of the largest life forms on earth. At the University of Bonn the DFG is establishing a Research Unit to pursue the question of why the bodies of these dinosaurs that have been extinct for more than 65 million years could have assumed such gigantic dimensions and how these bodies functioned. The project sections of the Research Unit entitled "Biology of the Sauropod Dinosaurs: The Evolution of Gigantism" are located at seven different universities and unite researchers in paleontology, zoology and biomechanics.

Superconductors are one of the most interesting phenomena of modern solid state physics. The Research Unit for "Doping Dependence of Phase Transitions and Ordering Phenomena in Cuprate Super Conductors" at the Walther Meissner Institue of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences is experimentally evaluating existing theories that explain why materials become superconductors at extremely low temperatures.

Modern message transmission is based on optical data networks in which light pulses are transmitted along glass fibres. Diverse problems are associated with this process. For example, the light pulses change their modal structure and fan out to the side. The newly established Research Unit at the University of Jena takes up these problems from the perspective of basic research under the title "Non-linear Space-Time Dynamics in Dissipative and Discrete Optical Systems". A special role is played by so-called solitons in non-linear optical media whose propagation occurs with virtually no deviation. What is special in this instance is that the surrounding medium is affected by the light beam only to such an extent that this light beam itself experiences optimal propagation conditions.

Engineering Sciences

Today light-weight materials are being used in many areas and will play an increasingly important role in weight reduction measures, such as in vehicle or airplane construction. A central role is played by economic and reliable bonding methods for hybrid construction. This is the focus of the Research Unit at the University of Kaiserslautern "Production, Property Analysis and Simulation of Welded Light-weight Structures Made of Metal/Fibre-plastic Composites".

Damaged reinforced concrete is visible in many locations in our built-up environment. Restoration and repair is usually carried out empirically, often removing too much concrete that is still intact. The ability to scientifically calculate the life expectancy of reinforced concrete when the so-called reinforcement – the steel rebar in the concrete – has become corroded is still a distant objective. The new Research Unit entitled "Modelling the Progress of Damage in the Corrosion of Steel in Concrete and Rating of Reinforced Concrete Components for Their Durability" located in Aachen, Berlin, Munich and Stuttgart is pursuing this task.

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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