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Press Release No. 53 | 9. November 2015
DFG to Fund Sixteen New Research Training Groups

Topics range from key mechanisms of ageing to cultures of critique / 72 million euros in funding for 4.5-year period / 25-year anniversary of programme promoting structured doctoral research and training

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is establishing 16 new Research Training Groups (RTGs) to further support early career researchers in Germany. They include four International Research Training Groups (IRTG) with partners in Australia, Canada, Japan and the USA. This was decided by the responsible Grants Committee during its autumn session in Bonn. Most of the Research Training Groups will commence work in April 2016; they will receive funding of approximately 72 million euros for an initial period of four and a half years. In addition to the 16 new RTGs, the Grants Committee approved the extension of two RTGs for another four and a half years.

The autumn session of the Grants Committee coincided with the 25th anniversary of the Research Training Group programme, which was celebrated in a ceremony at the Museum Koenig in Bonn. The DFG set up the funding programme in 1990 following a recommendation by the German Council for Science and Humanities. It represented a breakthrough for the idea of structured support for early career researchers in Germany. The Research Training Groups offer doctoral researchers the opportunity to complete their theses in a research and training programme at a high academic level. They have significantly improved and enhanced the nature and the quality of the academic and personal supervision of doctoral researchers and the structural and financial conditions for early career researchers.

At the same time, Research Training Groups have had a strong structural impact. Many of their elements have been absorbed by other organisational forms of training for early career researchers. They were a model for graduate schools, research schools, graduate academies and graduate centres. Furthermore, they have encouraged the provision of funding for early career researchers in the form of positions rather than fellowships, the use of supervision agreements, the introduction of standards for equal opportunities and the internationalisation of early career grant programmes in Germany.

The DFG is currently funding 189 Research Training Groups. A total of 30.7% of them are in the humanities and social sciences, 23.8% are in the life sciences, 30.2% are in the natural sciences and 15.3% in engineering sciences. They will be joined by the 16 Research Training Groups that have just been approved as soon as their work commences.

The DFG has also been funding International Research Training Groups since 1999. They are based at a German university and usually at a university abroad, and work is carried out jointly on the research programme. The DFG currently funds 38 International Research Training Groups, around a fifth of all Research Training Groups. Overall, 20 countries participate in International Research Training Groups. The existing IRTGs will now be joined by the four new ones.

The new Research Training Groups in detail
(in alphabetical order by host university)

Impulsivity and aggression in patients play a major part in clinical psychology. However, understanding of the neurobiological basis for these phenomena is still rudimentary. The International Research Training Group "The Neuroscience of Modulating Aggression and Impulsivity in Psychopathology" therefore seeks to investigate the influence of the environment, traumatic experiences, personality, gender, culture and genetic factors on aggressive and impulsive behaviour. Underlying neuronal networks and neurotransmitters will also be examined. The work of all the doctoral researchers will be overseen by a supervisor in Aachen and another in Pennsylvania.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Ute Habel, Host University: RWTH University of Aachen; Partner Institution: University of Pennsylvania, USA)

The German-Japanese International Research Training Group "Deep Earth Volatile Cycles" will look at the material cycles of volatile elements ("volatiles") from the Earth's core and their effect on the surface of the Earth. These volatile components form the vital water, carbon and nitrogen cycles and are exchanged rapidly between reservoirs on the surface of the Earth. At the same time, volatiles are exchanged between the surface of the Earth and its core. This exchange is triggered by plate-tectonic processes. The doctoral researchers will analyse the mutual dependencies between the geochemical and the geodynamic behaviours of the volatiles and research their transport and storage and their release from the Earth's core.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Daniel J. Frost, Host University: University of Bayreuth; Partner Institution: Tohoku University, Japan)

Myeloid antigen-presenting cells, or APCs, play a key role in the human immune response. They are important for vaccinations and in the resistance to infections, but also cause sickness if incorrectly regulated. Many functions of myeloid APCs have not yet been explained. The research locations in Bonn and Melbourne, which specialise in immunology, will therefore investigate a number of different infection models ranging from malaria to bacterial and viral infections. The work of the International Research Training Group "Myeloid Antigen Presenting Cells and the Induction of Adaptive Immunity" will focus on three areas: interaction of myeloid cells with T-cells; modification of T-cells; and interaction in inflammatory responses and infection models. The funding recipients in this International Research Training Group will be able to receive a double doctorate from Bonn and Melbourne.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Christian Kurts, Host University: Rheinische Friedrich Wilhelm University of Bonn; Partner Institution: University of Melbourne, Australia)

In physics, a new and little researched class of particle accelerators allows the energy used to accelerate the particle beam to be recovered. The accelerated beam is decelerated back to low injection energies in the superconducting electromagnetic acceleration resonators. Particle accelerators which work in this way are called "energy recovery linacs" (ERLs) and allow the highest beam output in continuous-wave operation. The new Research Training Group "Accelerator Science and Technology for Energy Recovery Linacs" plans to produce studies on the sources, the control systems and the beam dynamics of such ERLs. Particle accelerators of this new type are currently being built at the Research Training Group’s bases in Darmstadt and Mainz.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Norbert Andreas Pietralla, Host University: Technical University of Darmstadt; Partner Institution: University of Mainz)

In the Research Training Group "Adaption Intelligence of Factories in a Dynamic and Complex Environment", doctoral researchers will look at factory adaptation planning from the point of view of information technology, production technology, logistics and construction. Companies today are under increasing pressure to adapt their manufacturing systems quickly and efficiently. At the same time, key aspects of this issue have not yet been researched in sufficient depth. These unresolved research questions include the terminology to be shared by the disciplines involved and the description, planning, management and support of interdisciplinary planning processes. The Research Training Group will focus on the management and virtual support of adaptation processes and intelligent, efficient production systems. The TU Dortmund has a virtual model factory and a CAVE (Computer Aided Virtual Environment) developed in-house at its disposal for this purpose.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Jakob Rehof, Host University: Technical University of Dortmund)

Results of research carried out over the last few years indicate that the development of the central nervous system has a significant influence on the occurrence of neuropsychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases in adult life. However, up to now, diseases of the central nervous system in adults have largely been considered separately from the mechanisms of brain development and the diseases associated with them. The doctoral researchers in the Research Training Group "Neurodevelopment and Vulnerability of the Central Nervous System" will be looking more closely at the development of diseases of the central nervous system. They will use animal models and induced pluripotent stem cells from patients to model the interactions between development and disease processes.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Dieter Chichung Lie, Host University: Friedrich Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)

How effective are habitat trees and dead wood, which provide specialised living environments for organisms, in maintaining the structure and biological diversity of the forests of central Europe? This question is the focus of the new Research Training Group "Conservation of Forest Biodiversity in Multiple-Use Landscapes of Central Europe (ConFoBi)". As well as studying forest biodiversity, the Research Training Group will work closely with forest and nature conservation agencies to evaluate how nature conservation can be combined effectively with forest use. The doctoral researchers will use the Black Forest as their research area and model. All the measurements will be carried out in 135 areas over a total of 25 km².
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Ilse Storch; Host University: Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg)

The global energy requirement continues to grow, yet the Earth's raw materials are finite. How then will it be possible to supply billions of people with energy? In Germany, this development is also influenced by the decision not to use nuclear energy and the change to regenerative fuels as part of the energy transition. Using fundamental knowledge of physics and chemistry, the Research Training Group "Substitution Materials for Sustainable Energy Technologies" will work on finding solutions for innovative materials that can replace dwindling raw materials. It will concentrate on energy transport, energy conversion and energy storage.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Bernd Smarsly; Host University: Justus Liebig University of Gießen)

The German-Canadian International Research Training Group "PRoTECT – Plant Responses to Eliminate Critical Threats" plans to research plant immunity mechanisms. This includes examination of the structure and biochemistry of the cell wall and the cuticle, a protective waxy coating on leaves and shoots, and analysis of the vascular tissue, the phloem and xylem cells. This is an interdisciplinary Research Training Group involving botany and microbiology, cell biology and genetics as well as chemistry. It will not only consider defence mechanisms in plants, but also the pests that attack them (fungi and insects). German and Canadian doctoral researchers in this Research Training Group will work on connected dissertation topics under the joint supervision of researchers from both countries.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Ivo Feußner; Host University: Georg August University of Göttingen; Partner Institution: University of British Columbia, Canada)

The natural process of ageing is often accompanied by age-related diseases. In order to improve the health of older people, detailed knowledge of the molecular mechanisms that lead to age-related limitations on organ function is required. It is expected that these mechanisms include "posttranslational modifications of proteins" (PTMs). In an ageing organism, these PTMs can lead to faulty regulation of cellular processes. The "ProMoAge – Protein Modification: A Key Mechanism for Ageing" Research Training Group intends to research the role of PTMs in greater depth. The focus will be on examining the influence of ageing-relevant signal proteins and epigenetic and transcriptional regulation processes by PTMs.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Andreas Simm, Host University: Martin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg, Partner Institution: Friedrich Schiller University of Jena)

What do future-proof energy systems look like? They need to deal with fluctuating infeeds of energy from renewable sources and with irregular demand levels, from industrial systems for example. Both of these requirements are fundamental to the success of the energy transition in Germany. To better plan for measures such as increasing infeed from locally produced energy, it is necessary first to create a structured record of energy status data and to analyse it. These data describe the provision, storage, transmission and use of energy in the form of measurement values and derived variables such as the level of wastage from batteries. The focus of the research conducted by the "Energy Status Data – Informatics Methods for its Collection, Analysis and Exploitation" Research Training Group is on handling these data and thus further developing energy informatics, a new research area.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr.-Ing. Klemens Böhm; Host University: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)

The "Cultures of Critique: Forms, Media, Effects" Research Training Group will examine the options, effects and conditions of approaches to critical actions. Increasing digitalisation and radical changes to the ways in which media are distributed have given rise to a plethora of different forms of critical practice. Indeed, the theoretical foundations of critique have become open to substantial doubt as a result: What can still be deemed now to be an act of critique? What players, expectations and conditions play a role? The new Research Training Group will examine how forms and media of representation are mutually determined by the relationship of critique and object. The doctoral researchers will concentrate their research on three areas: art, media and social critique.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Beate Söntgen; Host University: Leuphana University of Lüneburg)

Western research in post-colonialism in the cultural and scientific disciplines has been concerned primarily with English-language print media created often in institutions in North America, Great Britain and Australia. The new Research Training Group "Minor Cosmopolitanisms" seeks to extend this research to include previously neglected areas of post-colonial practice, and investigate more than just print media. Instead, it will research how "minor cosmopolitanisms", new forms of cosmpolitanism that go beyond a eurocentric heritage, are negotiated in literature, other media and in everyday practice. The doctoral researchers will not only work in Potsdam but also move around a closely knit network of eight partner institutions in the USA, Canada, South Africa, India and Australia.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Lars Eckstein, Host University: University of Potsdam)

The new Research Training Group "Algorithmic Optimization (ALOP)" will look at the many areas of application for powerful numeric methods of optimisation – such as model-based simulations or statistics in economics. The Research Training Group therefore includes not only mathematicians, but also experts in economic studies and economic statistics. The early career researchers will receive training in three areas: system models, big data and the principles of mathematics, with the aim of combining application-oriented and basic research.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Volker Schulz, Host University: University of Trier)

Infectious diseases are one of the major causes of death all over the world. Many researchers are working to combat them. However, it is not easy to investigate human pathogens because the cell cultures and animal models used to do so are artificial systems. The "3D Tissue Models for Studying Microbial Infections by Human Pathogens" Research Training Group intends to develop new methods and strategies for investigating the key mechanisms of infection. These methods and strategies will be very similar to natural conditions or reflect these natural conditions in their key components. The host-microbe interactions of infections will be examined with new 3-dimensional models of human tissue. The Research Training Group will make use of the interdisciplinary expertise in infection biology available at the university and in tissue engineering at the Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology Section of the Fraunhofer Institute in Würzburg.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Thomas Rudel; Host University: Julius Maximilian University of Würzburg)

The Research Training Group "Document – Text – Editing. Conditions and Forms of Transformation and Modelling: A Transdisciplinary Perspective" will examine the subject-specific editing of documents. It will link work on editing theory with individual editions relevant to the theory, setting out a definition of editing and relating it back to (subject-specific) academic use of editions. The advances in media technology offered by the digital era will also be included. The doctoral researchers will work together in an editing workshop, a platform for communicating about editing in practical terms that exists both in real and virtual space. The aim of the Research Training Group is to produce a "grammar of editing".
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Jochen Johrendt; Host University: University of Wuppertal)

Further Information

Media contact:

  • DFG Press and Public Relations,
    Tel. +49 228 885-2443,

Further information can be provided by the spokespersons of the Research Training Groups.

Contact at the DFG Head Office:

Additional information about the funding programme and the funded Research Training Groups is available at:

Additional Information

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