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Leibniz Prizes 2013: DFG honors 11 outstanding researchers

This press release is available in German.

The new recipients of Germany's most prestigious research funding prize have been announced: On Thursday, 6 December 2012 the Joint Committee of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) named eleven researchers two women and nine men as winners of the 2013 Leibniz Prize. The recipients of the prize were selected by the Nominations Committee from 135 nominees. Four of the eleven prizewinners are from the life sciences, three from the humanities and social sciences, another three from the natural sciences, and one from engineering sciences. Nine of the prizewinners will receive 2.5 million euros each, while two will share one prize of 1.25 million euros each. The award ceremony will be held on 19 March 2013 in Berlin.

The 2013 Leibniz Prizes will go to:

  • Prof. Dr. Thomas Bauer, Islamic Studies, Mnster University
  • Prof. Dr. Ivan Dikic, Biochemistry/Cellular Biology, University of Frankfurt
  • Prof. Dr. Frank Glorius, Molecular Chemistry, Mnster University
  • Prof. Dr. Onur Gntrkn, Biological Psychology, University of Bochum
  • Prof. Dr. Peter Hegemann, Biophysics, Humboldt University of Berlin
  • Prof. Dr.-Ing. Marion Merklein, Forming/Manufacturing Technology, University of Erlangen-Nrnberg
  • Prof. Dr. Roderich Moessner, Theoretical Solid-Body Physics, Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Dresden and
  • Prof. Dr. Achim Rosch, Theoretical Solid-Body Physics, University of Cologne
  • Prof. Dr. Erika von Mutius, Paediatrics, Allergology, Epidemiology, University of Munich Hospital
  • Prof. Dr. Vasilis Ntziachristos, Biomedical Imaging with Optical Methods, Technical University of Munich
  • Prof. Dr. Lutz Raphael, Modern and Contemporary History, University of Trier

The DFG received an especially large number of outstanding nominations for this year's ten prizes. "We would have had no problem awarding several more prizes," according to DFG President Matthias Kleiner following the announcement of the Joint Committee's decision. Ten of the eleven recipients perform research and teach at universities. "This is an indication of the central role played by universities as centres of research as well as their connection to academic training in Germany's scientific community. It is essential that they continue to play this role," commented Kleiner.

Portraits of the 2013 Leibniz prizewinners:

Prof. Dr. Thomas Bauer (51), Islamic Studies, Mnster University

Thomas Bauer is an Islamic studies scholar who has combined the philological interpretation and editing of texts with an approach that is as broad as it is innovative, taking in historical considerations relating to culture and mentality, making his work potentially unique in the world. Bauer is known for his research into Arabic poetry, including the Onager Episode and the Abbasid Period. His work has already brought forth fundamentally new knowledge of the culture and mentality of the pre-modern Arab-Islamic world. His studies of the once neglected literature of the Mamluk and Ottoman periods have also produced groundbreaking results. Bauer's name is also associated with the (re-)discovery of Islam as a "culture of ambiguity". In a pioneering monograph, Bauer demonstrated that for many centuries Islam exhibited a marked openness for diversity and for a plurality of cultural discourses and actions, differing from the West's ancient and medieval traditions, and in contrast to the current reality in Islamic countries. These observations were met with enthusiasm among experts and journalists and are considered to be an important contribution to intercultural understanding beyond the academic context.

Thomas Bauer was born in 1961. He studied Islamic Studies and Semitic Philology in Erlangen-Nrnberg. Following his doctorate and habilitation, he conducted research in Regensburg, Heidelberg, and Erlangen-Nrnberg before becoming a professor of Arab and Islamic Studies at the University of Mnster in 2000. In Mnster Bauer also made a name for himself as a popular teacher and successful research organiser. He is the founder of the Centre of Religious Studies and board member of the Cluster of Excellence "Religion and Politics."

Prof. Dr. Ivan Dikic (46), Biochemistry/Cellular Biology, University of Frankfurt

Ivan Dikic has been among the world's leading researchers in the fields of molecular oncology and cellular signalling for many years. His research deals primarily with the ubiquitin signal molecule, which plays a critical role in the destruction of unneeded cell proteins. Dikic's research led him to the discovery of a new type of ubiquitin receptor, RPn13, the structure and functionality of which he subsequently described in detail. With this and other work, particularly on ubiquitin-binding domains of cell proteins, Dikic made essential contributions to the understanding of fundamental cellular processes such as DNA repair, congenital immunity, and "selective autophagocytosis", the latter of which he was the first to describe. His contributions are also of tremendous importance for medicine, since defects during proteolysis are a factor in a wide variety of illnesses.

Ivan Dikic is a Croatian citizen. He studied medicine in Zagreb and did postdoctoral work at New York University and in Uppsala, Sweden. In 2002 he became a professor of biochemistry at the University of Frankfurt. Since 2009 he has been director of its Buchmann Institute for Molecular Life Sciences and the Institute for Biochemistry II. Dikic is a member of Germany's National Academy of Sciences (Leopoldina) and has received numerous awards for his research, including the German Cancer Prize and an Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC).

Prof. Dr. Frank Glorius (40), Molecular Chemistry, Mnster University

At just 40 years of age, Frank Glorius is one of the world's leading experts in the highly contested field of organic catalysis. He is particularly knowledgeable in the activation of C-H bonds, one of the most difficult areas in this field. C-H bonds enable targeted bonds between carbon atoms, which is essential when building complex organic molecules for pharmaceuticals or pesticides, but also for components of new materials and even nutrition. Glorius has pioneered the use of C-H activation for the synthesis of heterocyclic compounds. He is also credited with a primary role in developing the field of oxidative cross couplings catalysed with bivalent rhodium. Similarly, his research into the use of N-heterocyclic carbene ligands in organocatalysis makes Frank Glorius an exceptional figure in his field, one who has already achieved groundbreaking research but at the same time has probably not yet reached the peak of his productivity.

Frank Glorius studied chemistry in Hanover and at the Max Planck Institute fr Kohlenforschung in Mlheim, Germany. After completing his doctorate in Basel, he initially conducted research at Harvard University before returning to the MPI in Mlheim. At only 32 years of age he was named professor of organic chemistry at the University of Marburg. In 2007 he accepted his position in Mnster. Before receiving the Leibniz Prize, Glorius had already received numerous awards, including the prestigious Alfried Krupp Prize for Young Professors and a Starting Grant from the ERC.

Prof. Dr. Onur Gntrkn (54), Biological Psychology, University of Bochum

Onur Gntrkn is receiving the Leibniz Prize as one of the pioneers of biological psychology and one of the most important representatives of his field. His fundamental objective is to understand how perception, thought, and action arise in the brain. In pursuit of this goal, he has examined a variety of topics and objects, such as motor learning, fear, decision-making processes, risk-taking, and kissing. Gntrkn's work is characterized by the joining of psychological, biological, and neuroanatomical questions, concepts, and findings from comparative behavioural and neurosciences. For example, he worked with magpies to demonstrate that, although birds lack a cerebral cortex, they have the same ability as primates to recognise themselves in a mirror and can therefore develop something resembling a self-concept. Working from this finding, Gntrkn demonstrated that the forebrain structures in birds and primates have become more similar to each other in an evolutionary process and, despite their differing structures, converge in their neurobiological foundations and in performance, as observed in their behaviour. Gntrkn also exhibits extraordinary creativity in his methods, such as in his research into functional brain asymmetries in pigeons.

Born in Izmir in Turkey, Onur Gntrkn attended school in Baden-Baden and Izmir, returning to Germany to study psychology in Bochum and earn his doctorate. Following research stays in Paris and San Diego, he obtained his habilitation in Konstanz. Since 1997 he has been a professor for biological psychology in Bochum. Beyond his distinguished work, Gntrkn has also earned an excellent reputation as a teacher and research facilitator whose own enthusiasm is known to captivate his audience and the public.

Prof. Dr. Peter Hegemann (57), Biophysics, Humboldt University of Berlin

Peter Hegemann is universally recognized as the founder of one of the most dynamic fields of research in life sciences and neuroscience: optogenetics or neurophotonics. Working from his own earlier research into chlamydomonas (a species of single-cell green algae), Hegemann was the first to prove that a wide variety of cell types can be "switched" using light once they are equipped with a specific light receptor protein, the channelrhodopsin-2 protein. This discovery opened up the long-desired ability to investigate the effects of changes to ion composition or the pH value in cells, for example, without requiring invasive procedures. As a result, Hegemann was then able to use channel rhodopsins to stimulate individual nerve cells or complex neuronal networks, including even a mouse brain, using precise spacial-temporal light patterns. In more recent work, Hegemann even induced behavioural changes in the mouse using light. His work often in collaboration with Karl Deisseroth of Stanford is fundamental for basic research and as a tool for life sciences. However, it can also contribute to the treatment of neuronal illnesses, which are based on impaired sensory cells, or of autism and schizophrenia.

After earning his degree in chemistry at Mnster and Munich, Peter Hegemann completed his doctorate under the supervision of Dieter Oesterhelt at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried. He then did postdoctoral work at Syracuse University in New York. He returned to Germany for stations in Munich and Regensburg before becoming a professor for experimental biophysics at the Humboldt University of Berlin in 2005.

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Marion Merklein (39), Forming/Manufacturing Technology, University of Erlangen-Nrnberg

Marion Merklein is the youngest of the new Leibniz prizewinners. At 39 years of age, she is recognized as an outstanding engineer at the interface between materials science and manufacturing technology. Her more than 300 research works cover a broad spectrum of topics, although primary interests include: design and optimisation of lightweight sheet metal structures, hot sheet metal forming (press hardening), and sheet metal massive forming. In many cases, Merklein succeeds in bridging the gap between materials science and manufacturing technology, commonly addressing important questions relevant for industrial applications. In doing so, she has already contributed greatly to the ever-increasing importance of forming as a resource- and energy-saving technology for manufacturing applications. This is especially true for high-value products that can be formed very close to their final contours.

Marion Merklein's research career is tied closely to the University of Erlangen-Nrnberg (FAU), where she studied materials science, earned her doctorate, worked as chief engineer and research group director, and also completed her habilitation. At only 34 years of age, she received three offers for professorships from within Germany and abroad, but selected FAU once more. Her chair for Manufacturing Engineering is considered to be one of the internationally leading centres in its field with outstanding contacts in science and industry. Merklein also pursues her research in her role as spokesperson for major cooperative research networks, including a DFG Research Unit and a Collaborative Research Centre/Transregio. As early as 2004 Merklein received the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize from the DFG and BMBF, the most important award for early career researchers in Germany. Additional prizes followed. Merklein is also deeply involved with academic instruction and self-administration.

Prof. Dr. Roderich Moessner (41), Theoretical Solid-Body Physics, Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, Dresden and Prof. Dr. Achim Rosch (43), Theoretical Solid-Body Physics, University of Cologne

Roderich Moessner and Achim Rosch are receiving the Leibniz Prize for their outstanding contributions to research into interactive quantum systems. This field of research is one of the most exciting fields of modern solid-body physics both in terms of basic research and future applications. It is also an enormous challenge, particularly for theoretical physics.

Roderich Moessner has accepted this challenge with a focus on frustrated quantum spin systems and is considered one of the world's leading researchers in this field. He was the first person to operationalise the more than 70-year-old hypothesis of the existence of magnetic monopoles. Moessner predicted that in spin ice magnetic dipoles will decay into magnetic monopoles and simultaneously identified a system in which this effect would be observable. Approximately one year later other researchers succeeded in proving this experimentally. Moessner's work in the resonating valence bond phase in the quantum dimer model in magnetically frustrated systems was also pioneering. Roderich Moessner laid the groundwork for these later successes during his studies and doctorate at Oxford. At this time and during subsequent postdoc work in Princeton and at CNRS in Paris, he oriented himself on the international luminaries of his field. After a period as a lecturer at Oxford, in 2007 at the age of just 36 Moessner became director at the Max Planck Institute of Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden.

Achim Rosch has had tremendous success researching a broad spectrum of physical questions related to the theory of condensed materials. In addition to fundamental theoretical work, he regularly collaborates with experimental working groups. His work has led, for example, to the high-profile theory of quantum-critical points of anti-ferromagnetic metals. The experimental identification of a skyrmion lattice in helimagnets based on Rosch's theoretical analysis is likewise very significant. His work also focuses on ultracold atoms. Together with Leibniz prize recipient Immanuel Bloch, it was the first time that the fermionic Hubbard model with ultracold gases in optical lattices could be realised experimentally. Finally, Rosch received a great deal of attention for his prediction of states with negative absolute temperature. Achim Rosch studied physics in Karlsruhe where in 1997 he received his doctorate. He spent his postdoc time at Rutgers University in New Jersey before returning to Karlsruhe as the head of a DFG-funded Emmy Noether independent junior research group. In 2004 he became a professor at the University of Cologne. Since 2006 he has also been the spokesperson of a Collaborative Research Centre in Cologne.

Prof. Dr. Erika von Mutius (55), Paediatrics, Allergology, Epidemiology, University of Munich Hospital

Medical doctor Erika von Mutius has made fundamental discoveries related to the formation and treatment of lung disease in children, for which she is being awarded the Leibniz Prize. Starting with clinical observations, she performed large-scale epidemiological studies that revealed clear connections between environmental factors and pathogenesis. Perhaps her most important experiments involved allergic asthma in children, the frequency of which has risen continuously for approximately 30 years. A large number of studies point to genetic factors and environmental influences. In a large-scale comparative study, Erika von Mutius was able to prove that, for example, high levels of environmental pollution in the area of Leipzig, Germany did not lead to an elevated appearance of asthma in children compared to the city of Munich. Instead, a major finding of studies like these is that children who grow up in rural settings, and particularly in proximity to animals, have a lower allergic disposition. Mutius investigated the underlying causes for this and discovered that these are highly significant for the role that hygienic conditions for newborns and small children play in the formation of allergies.

Erika von Mutius' scientific and medical home is the University of Munich (LMU) and its Dr. von Haunersche Children's Hospital. With the exception of a research fellowship at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, she completed every major station of her career at the LMU, including paediatric medical training, the role of senior physician and director of outpatients, and ultimately her habilitation. Mutius has been a professor for paediatrics at LMU as well as at the Dr. von Haunersche Children's Hospital since 2004, specializing in paediatric pneumology and allergology. Her work has received consistently high regard internationally and has been recognised with numerous awards.

Prof. Dr. Vasilis Ntziachristos (42), Biomedical Imaging with Optical Methods, Technical University of Munich

Vasilis Ntziachristos is being honoured for his internationally recognised contributions to optical imaging. His work has been a significant influence both to basic research and methods for treating patients. In basic research, his interest lies particularly in non-invasive applications of optical procedures, such as fluorescence in larger structures or complete mammalian bodies, including full-body imaging in a three-dimensional context. In this field. Ntziachristos focused on developing new tomographic processes and "multi-projection illumination", which also enabled quantitative theoretical modelling in tissue. The ability to more gently and safely treat cancer patients, in particular, originated from Ntziachristos' molecular imaging of the dispersion and effects of medicine in tissue. The resulting ability to trace the paths of fluorescing proteins and other molecules enables real-time description of molecular processes in complete tumours and surrounding tissue. Consequently, doctors can use photon imaging to uncover tumour boundaries in endoscopic and open interventions and selectively remove malignant tissue.

Born in Greece, Vasilis Ntziachristos studied in Thessalonica and received his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. He was then an assistant professor at Harvard. Since 2007 he has been a professor for biological imaging at the Technical University of Munich and is also the director of the Institute for Biological and Medical Imaging at Helmholtz Zentrum Munich. Ntziachristos has received multiple awards for his work. He has received funding from the DFG, for example in the Reinhart Koselleck Programme, which enabled him to pursue an innovative, higher-risk research project.

Prof. Dr. Lutz Raphael (57), Modern and Contemporary History, University of Trier

Lutz Raphael is a historian whose work and insights into the sociology of scientific knowledge has significantly altered perspectives on the contemporary history of Europe and its various interpretations. Since the earliest phases of his research, Raphael has taken a European view of history as opposed to a national view. His collaboration with the French school of history for the journal "Annles" and his utilisation of the philosophical, sociological, and anthropological methods of his teacher Pierre Bourdieu have been particularly fruitful. Raphael developed these methods further with his own studies dedicated to the concept of "longue dure". Initially working from a micro-historical perspective, Raphael's more recent studies increasingly reflect a transnational and global historical approach. His analyses of modern expert culture, particularly those of historians and sociologists, have also been influential outside of Germany. Finally, as a historiographer, Raphael has also become a recognised expert in modern historiography, most recently with his monograph "Geschichtswissenschaft im Zeitalter der Extreme". He is one of the leading representatives of a new generation of historians who are driving forward a critical and methodical self-reflection of their field.

Born in 1955, Lutz Raphael studied history in Mnster and Paris. After earning his doctorate in Mnster, he was an assistant in Darmstadt. In 1996 he assumed his current professorship for modern and contemporary history in Trier, frequently acting as a visiting professor in Paris. Raphael has been or remains a member and occasional spokesperson for two historical DFG Collaborative Research Centres as well as a fellow at respected humanities centres in Germany and abroad. As a member in the German Council of Science and Humanities and numerous commissions, including the working group for Modern Social History and the Historical Commission of the Bavarian Academies of Sciences and Humanities, Raphael is committed to critical self-examination and rejuvenation of academic discourse.


Contact: Marco Finetti
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

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