Friedemann Schrenk receives the 2006 Communicator Award

Evolutionary biologist wins 50,000 euros for the best communication of science to the public

This press release is also available in German.

This year, the "Communicator Award - Science Award of the Donors' Association" will be awarded to Friedemann Schrenk. The Professor of Evolutionary Biology from Frankfurt University has been awarded this distinction in recognition of his outstanding achievements in communicating his scientific work to the general public. The award, which carries prize money of 50,000 euros, will be presented by the presidents of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the Donors' Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany (Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft) at an award ceremony to be held on 18 July 2006, during this year's 'Summer of Science' in Munich.

The Communicator Award was created in close co-operation between the DFG and the Donors' Association and will be awarded for the seventh time this year. It is awarded to recognise scientists who have made sustained and exceptional efforts to communicate their work to the general public. An award panel consisting of science journalists as well as communications and PR experts evaluates the nominations in terms of their relevance, target group, originality and sustained effort. This year, 44 nominations from various disciplines were received, ten of which were short-listed. From this shortlist the award panel selected Friedemann Schrenk as the winner of the 2006 Communicator Award.

Friedemann Schrenk was born in Stuttgart in 1956 and studied geology, zoology and palaeontology at the Technical University of Darmstadt and at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa. After receiving his doctorate from the Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt/Main in 1987 he joined the Centre for Morphology at Frankfurt University Hospital as a research scientist, before holding a Chair at the Department of Systematic Zoology at the University of Tübingen for a year. From 1988 until 2000 he worked at the Department of Geology and Paleontology at the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Darmstadt, first as a curator and subsequently as Head of the Department. Since April 2000 he has been a professor of vertebrate palaeobiology at the University of Frankfurt/Main, at is head of the department of Paleoanthropology and Quarternary Paleontology at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, one of a total of 84 Leibniz Institutes.

Schrenk's research interests focus on paleoanthropology. The key issues his research addresses are questions such as "What is man?" and "How did homo sapiens come to be?" The main aim of his research is to develop a holistic view of the evolution of mankind under the influence of changes in climate, the environment and diet. Schrenk, who holds the only license to conduct excavations in East Africa, concentrates predominantly on Malawi and Tanzania. One of his most significant finds was a well preserved lower jaw of Homo, with many of its teeth intact, of the early hominid Homo rudolfensis. He is engaged in a long-term field research programme in Africa involving cooperation with several partners in an endeavour to explore new fossil sites.

Schrenk has been an eager communicator ever since the early days of his research career, who has gained increasing public prominence thanks to the wide extent of his efforts to communicate and his dedication to raising public awareness for his discipline. Worthy of particular note is his commitment to establishing the Cultural and Museum Centre Karonga in Malawi (Central Africa), which was founded with the assistance of the Uraha Foundation Germany. This centre is not only used as a research centre, but is, first and foremost, a place where schoolchildren and teachers can find out about prehistoric landscapes, animals as well as early humans and their way of life. In establishing the centre, Schrenk has contributed significantly to promoting the cultural heritage of Malawi. He has accomplished the feat of combining the communication of scientific subject matter with raising public awareness for the subject.

In addition to his work in Africa, Schrenk has also demonstrated his talent for communicating effectively with a large number of articles, books and publications in other media. In his popular science books "Die Frühzeit des Menschen", "Adams Eltern" and "Die Neandertaler" Schrenk explains the history of the development of our ancestors in a way that is both interesting and informative. However, he doesn't restrict himself to the medium of print, but is also adept at captivating his audience whether he is giving a lecture, a tour of his museum, or participating in a podium discussion on the topic of the development of mankind in Africa or the history of evolution.

Through his project "Hominids for Schools" (Hominiden machen Schule), launched in 2003, Schrenk has been able to give both European and African school children the opportunity to get their hands on casts of hominid finds which are available as visual aids. This allows the school children to obtain information about the locations, age and size of Hominids and discuss them as part of a series of lessons. In addition to making use of the educational and visual aids this also boosts contact and interaction between European and African schools.

The award panel recognised Friedemann Schrenk's long-term, uninterrupted and wide-ranging endeavours to communicate his research to the general public. Not only is he enthusiastic about his own subject, he is also an expert at grabbing his audience's attention, whilst simultaneously making an important contribution to Malawi, socially and culturally.

The Communicator Award itself is a hologram created by the Cologne artist Michael Bleyenberg. It underlines the significance of transparency in science and expresses visually the value of viewing things in the right light. Just like the hologram, only then can science truly shine.

The prize money is donated by the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft has a membership of more than 3,000 companies and private individuals. Through its programmes, scientific prizes and projects it aims to encourage the scientific community to embrace social issues and to seek interaction and discussion with broad cross-sections of the general public, business and politics. The Communicator Award embodies this concept of interaction and discussion.


Further information about the award winner can be found at

Information about the Communicator Award can also be obtained from the Donors' Association's Press and Public Relations Department (Tel. +49(0) 201/8401-158).

The award winner can be contacted at the following address:

Prof. Friedemann Schrenk
Johann Wolfgang Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main
Zoological Institute, Paleoanthropology Section
Siesmayerstrasse 70
D-60054 Frankfurt am Main


Senckenberg Research Institute
Department of Paleoanthropology and Quaternary Paleontology
Senckenberganlage 25
D-60325 Frankfurt am Main
Tel. +49(0) 69/7542-260
E-mail: [email protected]

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 30 Apr 2016
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