Leibniz Prize winners 2006

12/09/05

Germany's most prestigious research prize awarded to 11 researchers

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has announced the winners of its 2006 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize. At its meeting on 2 December 2005, the DFG Grants Committee named eleven scientists and academics, ten men and one woman, as recipients of the most valuable research prize in Germany. The award, of up to €1.55 million, funds research work over a five-year period and can be used flexibly by the prizewinners.

The Leibniz Programme, established in 1985, aims to improve the working conditions of outstanding scientists and academics, expand their research opportunities, relieve them of administrative duties and make it easier for them to employ particularly qualified young researchers.

Scientists and academics from any research area can be nominated for the prize. The DFG's Nominations Committee considers the slate of candidates and selects researchers who can be expected to particularly advance their scientific achievements through this award. This year's prizewinners once again include several young researchers.

Today's announcement brings the total number of prizes awarded under the Leibniz Programme to 239. Of these, 52 recipients have been from the humanities, 67 from the life sciences, 85 from the natural sciences and 35 from engineering. Of 148 nominations received for the 2006 prize, the following eleven researchers were selected:

Prof. Matthias Beller (43), Homogeneous Catalysis, Leibniz Institute for Organic Catalysis, Rostock (€775,000) and Prof. Peter Wasserscheid (35), Chemical Reaction Engineering, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg (€775,000)

Professor Matthias Beller, a chemist, conducts research on one of the key technologies of the new millennium: catalysis. He is exploring new ways of synthesising a variety of compounds, such as active agents for drugs, dye additives and intermediates for food production. The aim of his work is to develop catalytic processes that avoid the production of environmentally harmful waste and, at the same time, are cost efficient. His research is based, in particular, on the use of naturally occurring substances, such as air and oxygen. Beller's work is of particular interest for the chemical industry.

After completing his doctorate, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the USA, Beller worked for Hoechst AG. In 1996 he became a professor of inorganic chemistry at the Technical University of Munich. Since 1998 he has been a professor of catalysis at the University of Rostock, where he has been the director of the Leibniz Institute for Organic Catalysis (IfOK). He has also been a member of the board of the German Catalysis Competence Network "ConNeCat" since 2004.

Peter Wasserscheid is a pioneer in the study and development of ionic liquids. Just like common salt, ionic liquids conduct electricity. However, unlike salt, they are liquid at room temperature. They can be used as a reaction medium for chemical reactions and are considered to be especially environmentally friendly. Wasserscheid has been able to develop non-halogenated ionic liquids, which pose far less of an ecological or occupational health problem than halogenated systems. Through Solvent Innovation GmbH, he has made ionic liquids available commercially, and the systems he has developed are already in large-scale industrial use.

Peter Wasserscheid studied and obtained his doctorate from the RWTH Aachen, after which he spent a period as a postdoc with BP Chemicals in the United Kingdom. After his habilitation in Aachen, in 2003 he became chair of the Institute for Chemical Reaction Engineering at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg. Together with his colleague, he founded Solvent Innovation GmbH in 1999. Among the numerous prizes he has received is the DECHEMA prize awarded by the Max Buchner Foundation and the German Business Innovation Prize.

Prof. Patrick Cramer (36), Structural Biology, University of Munich (€1.55 million)

Patrick Cramer achieved a scientific sensation by determining the three-dimensional structure of RNA polymerase II, one of the largest enzymes found in cell nuclei. This enzyme plays a key role in transcription, the transfer of genetic information from DNA into messenger RNA (mRNA), the 'instructions' for the production of proteins. Cramer's findings have been groundbreaking for studies in this field. In the long term he aims to solve the entire puzzle of how transcription and translation are regulated.

Patrick Cramer studied chemistry in Stuttgart, Heidelberg and Bristol, and obtained his doctorate at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Grenoble, France, before spending two years as a postdoctoral researcher at Stanford University in California, where he worked in the renowned research group of Roger Kornberg. At the age of 32 he was appointed to a professorship at the Gene Center of the University of Munich, where he became director three years later.

Prof. Peter Jonas (44), Neurophysiology, University of Freiburg (€1.55 million)

Peter Jonas' research deals with the mechanisms of communication between individual nerve cells in the brain. He has made a significant contribution towards explaining the interactions between the various membrane channels and neurotransmitters involved in these communication processes and to representing the sequence in which this communication takes place. His work is related to the research conducted by Nobel Prize laureate Erwin Neher, and it has advanced progress in this field, in which Germany is a global leader. The long term goal of his research is to provide detailed information on the higher brain functions, such as thought.

After studying human medicine and obtaining his doctorate from the University of Giessen, Peter Jonas went to the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg in 1990, where he obtained his habilitation in 1992. In 1994 he was appointed to the Technical University of Munich, before being appointed to the Physiological Institute at the University of Freiburg in 1995. Amongst the many prizes he has received are the DFG's Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize and the Max Planck Research Award.

Prof. Ferenc Krausz (43), Quantum Optics, University of Munich and Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, Garching (€1.55 million)

Ferenc Krausz is considered to be the founder of "atto-science", a field which has made it possible to observe the ultrasonic motion of electrons in real time. In cooperation with his German and Austrian colleagues, the native Hungarian was the first to develop a device for the measurement of atomic processes with hitherto unattainable precision. These measurements are in the hundred attosecond range, one attosecond being just 0.000000000000000001 (1x10-18) seconds. His research has formed the basis for new areas of research, including high-precision material processing and high-definition microscopy of living organisms. Lasers developed by Krausz are already in clinical use for early diagnosis of eye diseases and cancer.

Ferenc Krausz completed his academic training in Budapest and Vienna, before being appointed director of the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching in 2003. In 2004 he was also appointed as chair of experimental physics at the University of Munich.

Prof. Klaus Mezger (47), Geochemistry, University of Münster (€1.55 million)

Klaus Mezger and his research group have developed new methods which make it possible to determine the age of rock, and thus of Earth and other planets, with far greater precision than was previously possible. Using isotope geochemistry and high accuracy measurements, Mezger has been able to demonstrate for the first time that the cores of Earth and Mars were formed within 30 million years after the solar system was born. The methods developed at Mezger's institute are the most precise in the world and have application in numerous fundamental and current topics concerning the development of Earth and other planetary bodies.

Klaus Mezger studied mineralogy and geology at the University of Würzburg and at the State University of New York at Albany and obtained his doctorate at the State University of New York at Stony Brook in 1989. After two years of postdoctorate research at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, he moved to the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz, where he obtained his habilitation in 1995, before being appointed to the University of Münster in 1997, where he has since headed the Central Laboratory for Geochronology.

Prof. Thomas Mussweiler (36), Social Psychology, University of Cologne (€1.55 million)

Thomas Mussweiler's research is concerned with the role of comparison processes in human judgement and decision-making. Together with other social psychologists, he has developed a cognitive model for explaining comparison processes and tested it experimentally. This model assumes that the consequences of comparison depend, firstly, on what pieces of knowledge are employed when making a comparison and secondly on how this knowledge is then used for making a decision. Thomas Mussweiler's work is not only of fundamental interest for psychological research into decision making, but is also economically relevant. It is also connected to the research conducted by the social psychologist Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel Prize laureate in Economics.

Thomas Mussweiler obtained his doctorate from the University of Trier and his habilitation in Würzburg in 2002. While in Würzburg he also led an Emmy Noether independent junior research group. Mussweiler is a member of the 'Young Academy of Sciences' at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and of the 'German Academy of Natural Scientists Leopoldina'. He received the DFG's Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize in 2001 and the European Young Investigator (EURYI) Award in 2004. He was appointed as a professor at the University of Cologne in 2005.

Prof. Felix Otto (39), Analysis of Partial Differential Equations, University of Bonn (€1.55 million)

The research conducted by mathematician Felix Otto focuses on the analysis of pattern-forming processes which occur frequently in models used to describe a variety of physical phenomena and often have a multiscale nature. The mathematical tools he uses for his work include advanced analytical methods and numerical simulation. He is particularly interested in micromagnetism, which is especially important for the development of new data storage technology, as well as coarsening and growth processes, which are of particular importance in material science.

After obtaining his doctorate from the University of Bonn Otto first went to the USA, where he was a visiting scholar at the Courant Institute, New York and then went to the University of California at Santa Barbara. He returned to Bonn in 1999 to take up a chair at the Institute for Applied Mathematics. Amongst the national and international prizes he has received are a Sloan Research Fellowship and the Max Planck Research Award.

Prof. Dominik Perler (40), History of Philosophy/Theoretical Philosophy, Humboldt University, Berlin (€1.55 million)

Dominik Perler's research focuses on both the philosophy in the middle ages and the early modern era as well as intellectual philosophy and epistemology. In his publications about authors, philosophical systems and the issues in the history of philosophy he has, amongst other things, demonstrated a reciprocal effect of the interaction between the ideologies of the Christian and the Arab/Islamic regions. He is currently working on animal cognition and studying the relationship between emotion and cognition from a philosophical point of view.

Dominik Perler has been a professor for theoretical philosophy at the Humboldt University in Berlin since 2003. After obtaining his doctorate in Fribourg, Switzerland, he first went to the USA before returning to Göttingen, where he obtained his habilitation in 1996, after which he was a professor of philosophy at the University of Basel between 1997 and 2003. From 2004 until 2005 he was a Fellow of the Wissenschaftskolleg (Institute for Advanced Study) in Berlin.

HD Dr. Gyburg Radke (30), Classics and Classical Philosophy, University of Marburg (€1.55 million)

The German classics scholar Gyburg Radke is interested in almost every area of Greek Classics. Her research encompasses both ancient philosophy as well as classical literature, two areas which have usually only been studied entirely separately in the past. A particular feature of her work is the fact that she puts her research in the broader cultural and hermeneutic context. With her approach of crossing the normal subject boundaries she has made a major contribution to the history of reception of classics.

Gyburg Radke studied at the universities of Marburg and Heidelberg, where she qualified as a university lecturer, obtaining her Habilitation in 2003. Since returning from a research fellowship at Harvard University in 2004 she has been a lecturer at the University of Marburg. She has also acted as replacement chair in Münster and Heidelberg and is currently replacing the chair of Latin Studies at the University of Marburg.

Prof. Marino Zerial (47), Cell Biology, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics, Dresden (€1.55 million)

Marino Zerial is one of the leading scientists working in the field of molecular cell biology. His research interest focuses primarily on the molecular mechanisms underlying transport processes in cells. With his work he has not only made a significant contribution to the understanding of basic cellular processes, but has also contributed to a better understanding of a wide variety of illnesses, ranging from viral infections to degenerative diseases affecting the nervous system.

Marino Zerial studied at the University of Triest, where he completed his doctorate in 1982. After two years of postdoctoral work at the Jacques Monod Institute in Paris, he joined the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg. He was appointed director of the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics in Dresden in 1998.

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