Young researchers recognised for scientific achievements

DFG announces the recipients of the 2006 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize

This press release is also available in German.

Six young researchers and scientists have been named as recipients of the 2006 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize, which carries with it prize money of 16,000 euros. This year's winners were selected by the panel for their outstanding achievements in the fields of neuroscience, theoretical physics, classical philology, neuro-oncology, polymer chemistry and biophysics. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) awards the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize, which is financed by the German Ministry of Education and Research, to young researchers and scientists in order to boost their research careers. The prize is named after Professor Heinz Maier-Leibnitz, an atomic physicist and former DFG president, who died in the year 2000. This year's award ceremony for the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize will be held at the Max Liebermann House in Berlin on 13 June 2006.

The prizewinners are:

Laure Bally-Cuif (38), neuroscience, GSF National Research Center for Environment and Health, Munich

Laure Bally-Cuif, a neuroscientist, is investigating the mechanisms and factors that control the development of nerve cells and the central nervous system, as well as the functioning of the brain, in vertebrates. Her research concentrates on the zebrafish midbrain-hindbrain, which contains centres that strongly influence social behaviour. One focal point of her work is the function and regulation of certain genes for the development of this region of the brain. To satisfactorily consider the great complexity of the brain, her work takes an integrated approach to studying the various control functions and their interaction. In addition to this, she is also interested in certain molecular aspects of drug addiction.

Holger Gies (33), theoretical physics, Institute for Theoretical Physics, University of Heidelberg

Holger Gies' research focus is on quantum field theory. He is studying the aspects of this science, which deals with the smallest, most discrete physical units, both analytically and numerically. His particular area of interest is the theory of strong interactions at low energies. He makes use of so-called renormalization flows in order to describe these effects. Another major aspect of his work, which he also carries out in an Emmy Noether independent junior research group, is on the characteristics of quantum vacua. A quantum vacuum is the lowest energetic state in quantum physics. The progress made by Gies in this field is of great relevance to the astrophysics of compact stars, particle physics in strong electromagnetic fields and quantum vacuum effects in micro- and nano-engineering. He has enjoyed particular success in his work on quantum vacua, in which he was the first to measure the Casimir effect in nanostructures.

Jonas Grethlein (27), classical philology, Department of Classical Philology, University of Freiburg

Jonas Grethlein, a classicist and ancient historian, throws new light on ancient texts. His doctoral thesis was entitled "Asylum and Athens. The Construction of a Collective Identity in Greek Tragedy" (Asyl und Athen. Die Konstruktion kollektiver Identität in der griechischen Tragödie) and his habilitation thesis dealt with the topic of "History, Historicity and Narrative in the Illiad" (Geschichte, Geschichtlichkeit und Erzählung in der Ilias). He takes a very classical approach, meticulously dealing with the works, and then applies modern methods and concepts in order to shed an entirely new light on Homer's epic. He is working on the topic of "Concepts of History in Archaic and Classical Greek Literature" (Geschichtsbildern in der griechischen Literatur der Archaik und Klassik) in an Emmy Noether independent junior research group funded by the DFG. In this project, Grethlein is interested in understanding the collective cultural and historical prerequisites for the Greek concept of history and also carrying out a literary comparison of the various genres.

Ana Martin-Villalba (34), neuro-oncology, German Cancer Research Center, Heidelberg

Ana Martin-Villalba, a neurobiologist, is investigating the role of the CD95 signalling system in the physiological and pathophysiological processes of the central nervous system. The CD95 signal path controls programmed cell death (apoptosis) of nerve cells. Martin-Villalaba has discovered that blocking this signal path can reduce damage following spinal cord injuries and stroke, for example, and promote regeneration and functional recovery. These findings are very important for potential future treatment methods. It has been possible, for instance, to prevent permanent paralysis following spinal cord damage in mice. She also investigated the significance of this signal path during development of the central nervous system and discovered that it helps to regulate the formation of nerve cells and nerve fibres. New insights by Martin-Villalba have shown that the CD95 signal path influences the development of malignant brain tumours, gliomas, cell movement and thus tumour growth.

Bernd Smarsly (34), polymer chemistry, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, Potsdam

The material scientist Bernd Smarsly is interested in order; in particular, order in thin films. Because thin films of materials with different properties – in this case ordered, mesoporous materials such as titanium dioxide, hafnium dioxide, alumina and compounds such as ferroelectric perovskites – can have a very profound effect, be it on technical processes such as adsorption or separation techniques, catalytic synthesis of new materials, or through previously unknown optical and electrical effects. Applications of this research may include solar cells and sensors. Smarsly's work combines findings from chemistry, physics and mathematics and optimises the synthesis of the materials he is investigating and the related analytical processes, with which he is also studying disordered and partially disordered inorganic materials, equally effectively.

Fabian Theis (29), biophysics/mathematics/computer science, Faculty of Natural Sciences III, University of Regensburg

Fabian Theis, who holds doctorates in mathematics and computer science, works in the field of statistical data analysis and signal processing. He combines mathematics, computer science, physics and neuroscience. One of his main research interests is Blind Source Separation (BSS). BSS denotes the task of identifying independent signals from a set of mixed signals in which the sources are not known. Theis has developed new and efficient algorithms in order to approach this problem, but is also interested in potential applications such as digital speech recognition and processing, financial market analysis and even data analysis in biomedical applications. Theis is particularly interested in approaching topics such as biomedical data analysis or modelling neural networks in an interdisciplinary way and developing novel theories and algorithms. Another emphasis of his research is machine learning and neural networks for signal and image processing. Here, again, it is algorithms that enable machines to adapt and optimise their structure, programs or data.


Further Information

For further information on the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize from the DFG, please contact Dr. Ina Sauer, Tel. +49 (0)228/885-2724, e-mail:

For additional information on the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize on the DFG website:

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