Leibniz prizewinners 2005

12/15/04

The most valuable prize in German research goes to ten scientists and academics

This release is also available in German.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) Grants Committee today named the prizewinners of the DFG's Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme for 2005. The most valuable research prize in Germany will go to ten scientists and academics, two women and eight men. The prize of 1.55 million euros funds research work over a five-year period and can be used flexibly by the prizewinners, depending on their specific requirements.

The programme, established in 1985, aims to improve the working conditions of outstanding researchers, to extend their research opportunities, to relieve them of administrative work and make it easier for them to employ especially highly qualified young researchers. Scientists and academics from all research areas can be nominated for the award. The DFG Nominations Committee considers the nominations it receives for the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize and selects researchers who, above all, can be expected to particularly advance their scientific achievement with this additional boost in funding. This year's prizewinners again include a number of younger scientists.

Today's decision brings the total number of prizes awarded under the Leibniz Programme to 228. Of these, 49 winners have been from the humanities, 64 from the life sciences, 81 from the natural sciences and 34 from engineering. Of 130 nominations received for 2005, the following ten Leibniz Prizewinners were selected:

Prof. Dr. Peter B. Becker (46), Cell Biology/Biochemistry, University of Munich (1.55 million euros)

The biochemist Peter Becker studies chromatin dynamics, in other words, the packaging of DNA. The human genetic code is contained in long DNA sequences. In order to fit inside a cell, these sequences have to be "packed". The degree of packing is also determined by the degree to which a DNA sequence is utilised. This complex organisational structure of DNA is called chromatin. Peter Becker is looking into the question of how the packaging of the DNA relates to the control of gene activity. Through his research, he has been able to discover a new principle of chromatin dynamics. Amongst other things, he has shown that the histones – proteins which act as a kind of spool for the DNA – are pushed along the DNA sequence if they get "in the way" of the activation of certain sections of the DNA. These findings are of great importance for understanding gene activity relating to the development of cancer and embryo growth.

Peter Becker studied biology in Heidelberg and obtained his doctorate in biochemistry. After spending three years as a post-doc at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the USA he led a group at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg from 1991 until 1999. Since 1999 he has held the chair for molecular biology at the Adolf Butenandt Institute at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich.

Prof. Dr. Immanuel F. Bloch (32), Experimental Physics, University of Mainz (1.55 million euros)

Immanuel Bloch achieved his first scientific breakthrough in 1999 with his development of the "Munich Atom Laser" together with other researchers. This experiment was the first to produce a continuous matter wave beam from Bose-Einstein condensates. These waves are similar to the beam of light emitted by a laser, but unlike a laser beam, consist of ultracold atoms. By superposing two such matter waves it is possible to obtain an interference pattern of alternating constructive and destructive interference of the matter waves in the same way as with conventional lasers. Another area which Immanuel Bloch's research focuses on is the manipulation of ultracold Bose gases using an optical lattice. Using laser beams he was, for the first time, able to alter a Bose-Einstein condensate to bring about a phase transition to a state called the Mott isolator. This state of matter has fundamental new properties, which can be utilised for applications such as the development of quantum computers.

Immanuel Bloch studied physics at the University of Bonn from 1991 until 1996. Following a one year research visit to Stanford University in the USA from 1997-98 he obtained his doctorate in Munich in 2000. In 2003, at just 31 years of age, he was appointed to a professorship at the University of Mainz.

Prof. Dr. Stefanie Dimmeler (37), Molecular Cardiology, University of Frankfurt/Main (1.55 million euros)

Stefanie Dimmeler's field of research is the biology of the blood vessels. She hopes to create the foundation for new methods of treatment for cardiovascular diseases through improved understanding of the biological and pathological processes in the vessel wall. The main topic of her research is programmed cell death (apoptosis) in the blood vessel wall, called the endothelium. Every cell carries in its DNA a kind of self-destruct mechanism, which is set off in response to certain signals and which is necessary for the regeneration of tissue and for growth. This stop code is usually set off by chemical messengers, but can also be triggered by damage caused to the cells. Stefanie Dimmeler has studied the fundamental processes of vascular cell damage and regeneration, thus contributing significantly to the understanding of arteriosclerosis (thickening and hardening of the arterial walls). Furthermore, her work on the bone marrow-derived precursor cells (progenitor cells) of blood vessels formed the basis for the first clinical studies of stem cell therapy of heart attack patients.

Stefanie Dimmeler studied biology in Constance and obtained her doctorate in 1993. She went to the University of Frankfurt in 1995, where she has been the director of molecular cardiology since 1997. She qualified as a professor in 1998 and was appointed as professor of molecular cardiology at the University of Frankfurt in 2000.

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gauß (44), Physical Chemistry/Theoretical Chemistry, University of Munich (1.55 million euros)

Jürgen Gauß is working on theoretical quantum chemistry. This is an area of increasing importance in chemical research. Experimental studies are increasingly being combined with quantum chemical calculations in order to confirm experimental data, to simplify the evaluation of the data or indeed enable evaluation, or to gain new insights. Jürgen Gauß has made fundamental contributions to the methodology in this area as well as putting the theory into practice in high-performance computer programmes that are already being used by a large number of research groups around the world. His work has been recognised with many national and international prizes, including the famous prize of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science medal.

Jürgen Gauß studied chemistry in Cologne and obtained his doctorate there in 1988 with his thesis on theoretical chemistry. As a postdoctorate researcher he first went to the University of Washington in Seattle, USA, and was subsequently involved in the Quantum Theory Project at the University of Florida in Gainesville. In 1993 he qualified as a professor at the University of Karlsruhe and was appointed as a professor at the University of Mainz in 1995. He has held the newly established chair for theoretical chemistry there since 2001.

Prof. Dr. Günther G. Hasinger (50), Astrophysics, Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching (1.55 million euros)

Günther Hasinger is one of the world's leading researchers in the field of X-ray astronomy. In 2002 he and his team became the first to prove the impending merger of two supermassive black holes in a distant galaxy. For the past few years Günther Hasinger has been working on studying the X-ray background. His research has helped to prove that this diffuse faint glow of X-rays comes essentially from many individual celestial objects. His research on the formation of galaxies has contributed decisively to massive black holes in the centre of galaxies being regarded as the seeds for their formation, rather than the product of their development. Günther Hasinger is currently involved in studying the cores of active galaxies as well as being involved in the hunt for dark matter. As part of this work he is actively involved in the development of X-ray telescope satellites, which it is hoped will provide answers to various questions on the distribution of matter and the early development of stars and galaxies.

Günther Hasinger studied physics at the Ludwig Maximilians University of Munich and completed his doctorate in astronomy there in 1984. Following his qualification as a professor in 1995 he was first appointed as a professor at the University of Potsdam, where he was also director of the Astrophysical Institute. Since 2001 he has been the director of the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics in Garching.

Prof. Dr. Christian Jung (48), Molecular Plant Breeding, University of Kiel (1.55 million euros)

Christian Jung has been researching the breeding of agriculturally cultivated crop plants for many years. For his work he uses molecular plant genetics, which enables the breeding of plants that are resistant to pathogens through carefully directed genetic manipulation. He successfully determined a resistance gene to protect sugar beet from threadworms (nematodes). The gene, which was originally isolated from a wild form of sugar beet, makes cultivated varieties fully resistant to the nematodes, one of the major pests in sugar beet. Christian Jung has also had great success in isolating genes which determine the sexual differentiation of plants. This work is of great importance, not only for basic molecular research, but also for plant breeding as a whole. Through his many years of involvement in the Central Commission for Biosafety (Zentrale Kommission für die Biologische Sicherheit) and public statements on the amendment of the Genetic Engineering Law Christian Jung has also made an important scientific contribution to the objectification of the debate on environmentally friendly genetic engineering.

Christian Jung studied agricultural sciences in Göttingen and worked at the University of Munich after obtaining his doctorate, where he qualified as a professor in 1992 with his thesis on the molecular genome analysis of crops. In 1993 he became the director of the Institute of Crop Science and Plant Breeding at the University of Kiel.

Prof. Dr. Axel Ockenfels (35), Experimental Economics, University of Cologne (1.55 million euros)

Axel Ockenfels' research deals with peoples' behaviour when making economic decisions, or, to be more precise, what strategic and rational factors affect these decisions. Using game theory Axel Ockenfels has developed a behavioural model that can be used to both explain and predict apparently contradictory economic decision-making patterns. Online auction sites and markets are a focal point of his research. He uses novel experimental techniques to analyse the strategic bidding behaviour and the auction rules of Internet platforms and has in this way made highly complex real-life markets accessible to scientifically sound investigation. His most recent work has dealt with market architecture, promising not only great potential for basic research but also for the organisation of modern markets. Axel Ockenfels has published several groundbreaking papers in leading international economic journals and is currently one of the most frequently cited authors of his field of research.

Axel Ockenfels obtained his doctorate in economics from the University of Magdeburg in 1998 and qualified as a professor three years thereafter. In 2001 he became the leader of an independent junior research group in the DFG's Emmy Noether Programme. From 2002 until 2003 he led a research group at the Max Planck Institute for Research into Economic Systems in Jena. He has been a professor of economics and director of the Institute of Energy Economics and the Bonn Laboratory for Experimental Economics since 2003.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Wolfgang Peukert (46), Mechanical Process Engineering, University of Erlangen-Nuremberg (1.55 million euros)

The success of research in engineering is partly measured by its potential for practical application. Researchers attempt to understand the basic physical and chemical concepts of the interactions between particles and to use these with the aim of obtaining particular product characteristics. Wolfgang Peukert has shown considerable success at this interface between basic research and application. One of the focal points of his work is particle properties in the sub-micron size range. The behaviour of and interaction between particles are decisive for the characteristics of a product. Whereas in the past the particles of interest were larger than a micron, an increasing number of modern applications demand much smaller particles. With his research into the properties of particles in the sub-micron and nanometre size range Wolfgang Peukert has shed light on the scientific relationships and created the basis for the tailor-made design of product properties, and thus for application.

After studying chemical engineering at the University of Karlsruhe and subsequently obtaining his doctorate in mechanical process engineering, Wolfgang Peukert joined the R&D department of Hosokawa Micron and worked in Germany and Japan. In 1998 he accepted an appointment to the chair for Particle Technology at the Technical University of Munich and in early 2003 moved to the Institute of Particle Technology at the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg.

Prof. Dr. Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger (49), Early Modern History, University of Münster (1.55 million euros)

Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger's particular interest lies in the political and cultural movements in Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. Besides the major philosophical and constitutional developments, such as the renaissance, she is also interested in the developments in social and communication history, including religious revival movements and new forms of social and family interaction. Her research is currently concentrated on the question of how the social order of ranks and classes in the early modern era were constituted through symbolic acts, for instance rituals and ceremonies. Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger always establishes links to the modern era in her work, and attempts to identify the relationship between developments in the early modern era and issues pertaining to modernity. Many of her historical interests and methodological approaches also contribute to the Collaborative Research Centre "Symbolic Communication and Social Value Systems from the Middle Ages to the French Revolution" in Münster, of which she is the spokesperson.

Barbara Stollberg-Rilinger studied early modern and modern European history in Cologne and completed her doctorate in 1985 with her thesis on political metaphor in the absolute sovereign state. She qualified as a professor in 1994 and was appointed as a university lecturer at the University of Cologne in 1996. She has held the chair for modern history with a particular emphasis on early modern history at the university of Münster since 1997.

Prof. Dr. Andreas Tünnermann (41), Micro System Technology, University of Jena, Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering, Jena (1.55 million euros)

Andreas Tünnermann has published groundbreaking research on the development of high power fibre lasers, thus laying the foundation for the production of simple, compact and robust lasers with high beam quality. The low efficiency of conventional fibre lasers in the past restricted them to use for amplification in communications networks. It was not until the work done by Andreas Tünnermann that it became possible to build fibre lasers with both a consistently high power emission signal as well as ultra short pulses with high beam quality. He also accomplished decisive pioneering work on the improvement of the optical properties of optical fibres for light emission and thus of their usefulness for lasers. For the first time this makes high efficiency laser sources that can be used as components in integrated optics available. The work of Andreas Tünnermann has opened up new possibilities for the use of modern laser fibres, ranging from basic research and the development of new materials through to biophotonics.

After completing his doctorate in laser physics at the University of Hannover Andreas Tünnermann became head of the department of development at the Laser Zentrum Hannover in 1992. He qualified as a professor of experimental physics in 1997 and was appointed as a professor of applied physics at the University of Jena in 1998, at the age of 34, where he has since been the director of the Institute of Applied Physics. Simultaneously he is also the director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Optics and Precision Engineering.

The award ceremony for the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme 2005 will take place on 2 March 2005 at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science in Berlin. The prizes will be awarded by the President of the DFG, Professor Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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