DFG awards 2005 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize


Six young researchers recognised for their outstanding achievements

Six young researchers will each receive €16,000 as recipients of the 2005 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize awarded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation). This was decided by the DFG's Executive Committee at its meeting on 17 March in Dresden. The prize is presented annually to six young researchers in recognition of outstanding scientific achievements in their field. Of the 94 candidates, this year's prizewinners include a mathematician, a botanist, a dermatologist, a Germanist, an astrophysicist and an Anglicist. The prize represents both recognition of their scientific achievements to date as well as a stimulus to continue to excel in the future.

The prize, which has been awarded since 1977, is named after the former DFG President and nuclear physicist Heinz Maier-Leibnitz. The prize is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research and is awarded by the DFG. After a multi-stage selection process, 41 candidates were shortlisted, including 9 humanists and social scientists, 15 life scientists, 7 physicists, mathematicians and geoscientists, 4 chemists and process engineers, and 6 engineers. Twelve of the 41 shortlisted candidates were women.

The prizewinners are:

Dr. Valentin Blomer (27), Department of Mathematics, University of Göttingen

Valentin Blomer is interested in analytic number theory. He analyses the frequency of whole numbers occurring below a given boundary which fulfil certain characteristics using methods from analysis and functions theory – rather like determining how many keys of a certain size fit a particular lock: the smaller the number of keys which fit, the more unique the lock. Similarly, the more unique a number is, the more useful it is for encrypting information such as sensitive messages. One of the scientist's most impressive achievements has been to disprove one of the conjectures proposed by the famous mathematician, Paul Erdös. This conjecture proposes that when given 2n consecutive natural numbers and a random selection of n+1 numbers is made, then two of these are necessarily relatively prime. Since returning from a research period in Canada in April 2004, Valentin Blomer has held a junior professorship in mathematics at the University of Göttingen.

Dr. Jiri Friml (31), Center for Plant Molecular Biology, University of Tübingen

How does a plant know where it needs roots and where it needs leaves? Researchers have discovered that the hormone auxin regulates which parts of a plant are "upper" and which are "lower". Jiri Friml, who holds two doctoral degrees, has discovered that certain proteins direct the growth hormone to where it is required. The identification of these PIN proteins is a groundbreaking discovery in molecular biology and biochemistry and opens up new perspectives for plant growers and space biologists. Moreover, the Czech-born scientist is using high-resolution microscopes that allow him to analyse PIN proteins, which were previously difficult to locate, in plant embryo cells. As the leader of a junior research group funded by the Volkswagen Foundation and a member of a DFG's Collaborative Research Centre, Jiri Friml and his team of young researchers are analysing the development and growth of plants under the influence of PIN proteins.

Dr. Natalija Novak (33), Department of Dermatology, University of Bonn

Natalija Novak is interested in allergens and ways of improving allergy therapies. In the research laboratory at the Bonn Polyclinic for Dermatology, Novak has managed to identify a certain receptor that sends the decisive signal for the body to exhibit an allergic reaction. If, for example, pollen enters an allergic person's body, it immediately triggers the creation of a large number of antibodies. It is, however, only the so-called IgE receptors that connect the antibodies to the reactive cells and send the signals that cause reactions like itching or sneezing. The work of the Austrian-Croatian researcher is not only a significant contribution to allergy research; it also has real practical applications. Since 2003, Natalija Novak has been the assistant medical director in Professor Thomas Bieber's team. Her current research project on skin diseases is funded by the DFG. Novak also directs the DFG Research Unit's project on "The Genetics of Complex Diseases", studying the genetics of neurodermatitis.

Dr. Sandra Pott (31), Department of German Studies, University of Hamburg

Sandra Pott is fascinated by the study of authors who have been neglected in the history of literature and the gaps in literature history. Her publications on ethics in 18th century France and Germany and on the secularisation of science after the Renaissance have contributed significantly to the key theories in the study of literature. Her research focuses on German, English and French texts, some of them written by unknown authors. Two one-year stays in London and Paris gave her access to a large amount of rare and valuable material. Since 2003, Sandra Pott has headed an Emmy Noether Independent Junior Research Group. Her team is investigating the influence of 18th to 20th century poetry on the development of style and aesthetics. Through this, she hopes to gain new insights into the theory of poetry, which still remains sketchy.

Dr. Sebastian Wolf (31), Department of Astrophysics, Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, Heidelberg

Sebastian Wolf is interested in the question of how planets are formed. He was the first researcher to create a three-dimensional representation of the transmission of radiation in the dust clouds surrounding recently formed stars. This will allow a systematic investigation of planet formation, an area which is still largely unexplored. Using high-performance telescopes, the astrophysicist has continued his pioneering work by measuring and mapping magnetic fields in the areas surrounding newly formed stars resembling the sun. Working with several international research teams, Wolf has analysed debris discs, which play an important role in the final stages of planetary formation. Together with his Emmy Noether Independent Junior Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy, he is now working on the theory and description of the origin and development of planets.

Dr. Anne-Julia Zwierlein (33), Department of English, University of Bamberg

Anne-Julia Zwierlein is investigating the relationship between literature and contemporary history. Using John Milton's literary classic "Paradise Lost", she demonstrated that the 17th century novel reflected the political and economic situation in England at that time. She also demonstrated how Milton's book influenced the imperialism debate in the aspiring empire. Using methods from comparative literature she examines classic works (which she is able to read in five different languages) in their historical context. Her research encompasses the period from Shakespeare's time up to the post-modern era. She is currently focusing on the importance of the natural sciences in the creation of literature and the coming-of-age novel in Victorian England. Her postdoctoral thesis ("habilitation") deals with this genre.

The Heinz Maier-Leibnitz award ceremony will take place on 6 June 2005 in Bonn. Journalists are welcome to attend.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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