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Press Release No. 58 | 10. December 2015
Leibniz Prizes 2016: DFG Honours Ten Researchers

Germany's most important research prize / 2.5 million euros each for outstanding research work / Awards ceremony on 1 March 2016 in Berlin

The new recipients of Germany's most prestigious research prize have been announced. In Bonn today, the Joint Committee of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) chose ten researchers, three women and seven men, to receive the 2016 Leibniz Prize. The recipients of the prize were selected by the Nominations Committee from 120 nominees. Of the ten new prizewinners, three are from the life sciences, three from the natural sciences, three from the humanities and social sciences, and one from the engineering sciences. Each of the ten winners will receive 2.5 million euros in prize money to support their future research.

The awards ceremony for the 2016 Leibniz Prizes will be held on 1 March 2016 in Berlin.

The recipients of the prize, officially known as the Funding Prize in the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme of the DFG, for 2016 are:

  • Professor Dr. Frank Bradke, Neuroregeneration, German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), Bonn
  • Professor Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier, Infection Biology, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin
  • Professor Dr. Daniel Cremers, Computer Vision, Chair of Informatics IX: Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, Technical University of Munich
  • Professor Dr. Daniel James Frost, Mineralogy/Experimental Petrology, University of Bayreuth
  • Professor Dr. Dag Nikolaus Hasse, Philosophy, Institute of Philosophy, University of Würzburg
  • Professor Dr. Benjamin List, Organic Molecular Chemistry, Department of Homogeneous Catalysis, Max Planck Institute for Coal Research, Mülheim an der Ruhr
  • Professor Dr. Christoph Möllers, Law, Chair of Public Law and Legal Philosophy, Humboldt University of Berlin
  • Professor Dr. Marina Rodnina, Biochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry (Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer Institute), Göttingen
  • Professor Dr. Bénédicte Savoy, History of Modern Art, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University of Berlin
  • Professor Dr. Peter Scholze, Arithmetic Algebraic Geometry, Mathematical Institute, University of Bonn

"This year the Nominations Committee had a wide range of nominees from which to select up to ten winners," said DFG President Professor Dr. Peter Strohschneider in the Joint Committee. "From among the outstanding candidates, who were discussed in great depth, the committee chose ten who it believes will be able to achieve further exceptional achievements in their research with the help of this additional funding."

Profiles of the 2016 Leibniz Prize recipients:

Professor Dr. Frank Bradke (46), Neuroregeneration, German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE), Bonn

Frank Bradke has been selected for the 2016 Leibniz Prize for his pioneering research in the field of regenerative neurobiology. His main interest is in the growth of axons, the projections of nerve cells. The impaired regenerative ability of axons plays an important role in paraplegia. In a series of connected studies, Bradke investigated how these fibres can be encouraged to grow again. First he discovered that the microtubules in the axon, essential to the stability of the cytoskeleton, are much more stable than in other cell projections. This gave rise to the equally far-reaching insight that the pharmacological stabilisation of these microtubules could stimulate the regeneration of the axon. Finally came the realisation, as unexpected as it was groundbreaking, that this pharmacological stabilisation also inhibits scarring in the spinal cord. All these and other areas of Bradke's work are exceedingly important to both basic research and therapeutic approaches.

Frank Bradke studied biochemistry in London and Berlin. After obtaining his doctorate in Heidelberg and researching in both Stanford and San Francisco, he led an independent junior research group at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried. Since 2011 he has worked at the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Bonn. He is also a professor at the University of Bonn.

Professor Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier (47), Infection Biology, Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, Berlin

Emmanuelle Charpentier's name is closely associated with an entirely new method of genome modification. It is for the discovery and development of this method that she is now being recognised with the Leibniz Prize. Charpentier is interested in regulatory processes in infectious diseases caused by bacteria. In this field she has also studied CRISPR-Cas, a bacterial defence system against phages. Charpentier – in partnership with Jennifer Doudna in Berkeley – has succeeded in significantly simplifying this originally very complex system. This in turn was the starting point for the development and use of CRISPR-Cas9 as a cutting tool, which allows a genome to be modified at any point with great efficiency and reliability. Compared with previous methods of genome modification, these RNA-based, programmable DNA "scissors" are revolutionary. The method is considered to be one of the greatest advances in the life sciences in recent decades, which is already being used all over the world.

Emmanuelle Charpentier studied microbiology, genetics and biochemistry in Paris and obtained her doctorate at the Pasteur Institute. After periods spent researching in the USA, Austria and Sweden, she came to Germany in 2013, when she was appointed to a Humboldt Professorship, working first at the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research in Braunschweig and Hannover Medical School. In October 2015 she was appointed director of the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin. She has already won several major international awards for her research into CRISPR-Cas9.

Professor Dr. Daniel Cremers (44), Computer Vision, Chair of Informatics IX: Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition, Technical University of Munich

In Daniel Cremers, the Leibniz Prize is being presented to one of the world's leading researchers in image processing and pattern recognition. Cremers' fundamental discoveries have brought this field of research an important step closer to its goal of reproducing the abilities of human vision with camera systems and computers. In particular, Cremers has advanced the approach of so-called convex optimisation in such a way as to solve complex non-convex problems in image processing. He has developed algorithms that combine basic research in mathematics with a wide range of applications at the highest level, and which, for example, have proved much more effective in image-based 3D reconstruction, image denoising and the identification of similarity in 3D forms. Already in successful practical use in many different fields, Cremers' work may also be expected to have an impact in future innovative applications such as driver assistance systems and robotics.

Daniel Cremers studied mathematics and physics in Heidelberg and New York and obtained his doctorate in 2002 in Mannheim. After engaging in postdoctoral research and spending a brief time in industrial research in the USA, he returned to Germany in 2005 when he was appointed professor at the University of Bonn. In 2009 he took up his current post at the Technical University of Munich, where he has established one of the world's leading computer vision working groups.

Professor Dr. Daniel James Frost (45), Mineralogy/Experimental Petrology, University of Bayreuth

Daniel "Dan" James Frost has been selected for the 2016 Leibniz Prize for his outstanding work in the field of experimental petrology. Frost studies the formation, structure and development of planets by carrying out experiments at extremely high pressures and temperatures. His main interest is in the Earth's mantle and specifically its degree of oxidation, which has a major influence on the Earth's entire water and carbon cycle and the formation of its metallic core and is therefore one of the key parameters of our planet. Researchers had long assumed that the degree of oxidation in the Earth's crust was similar everywhere, but Frost demonstrated that oxidation in the Earth's crust actually depends significantly on depth and that the near-surface mantle is more oxidised in relative terms. This indicates the presence of large amounts of water in the upper part of the Earth's crust. Through this work as well as his research into the formation of the Earth's core, Frost has fundamentally expanded our knowledge of the structure of the Earth and its development over time.

Daniel Frost studied chemistry and geology in London and Bristol and obtained his doctorate in 1995 before going on to do a two-year postdoctoral post in the USA. He has been researching and teaching at the University of Bayreuth since 1997 and was appointed Professor of Experimental Geosciences in 2012. His laboratory at the Bayerisches Geoinstitut in Bayreuth attracts early career researchers from all over the world.

Professor Dr. Dag Nikolaus Hasse (46), Philosophy, Institute of Philosophy, University of Würzburg

Philologist and philosopher Dag Nikolaus Hasse has opened up fundamental new insights into the beginnings of modern Europe, for which he is now being recognised with the Leibniz Prize. His oeuvre is primarily concerned with the relationships between Christian-Latin, Arabic and Jewish philosophy, theology and natural science from the Middle Ages to the Enlightenment. In a series of studies Hasse has demonstrated how intensive and fertile the cultural exchange was between scholars and institutions in the Orient and the Occident. In his work, he brings together historical-philological research with the detective's powers of observation and new analytical methods he has developed himself. For example, with the aid of computer-based methods he identified peculiarities of language among individual translators of Arabic texts and thus reconstructed their influence on the great schools of translation as well as courtly scholarship in the East and West. Equally seminal are two long-term projects under his leadership which are shedding light on the changes to the Ptolemaic worldview in the West-East dialogue and connections in terms of scholarly language between the Latin and the Arabic world.

Dag Hasse has been teaching history of philosophy in Würzburg since 2005. He studied Latin, Greek, Arabic, philosophy and history of philosophy in Göttingen, Yale, Tübingen and London, and in his dissertation and other early studies on Avicenna and Aristotle he already laid the foundation for his original and highly regarded research.

Professor Dr. Benjamin List (47), Organic Molecular Chemistry, Department of Homogeneous Catalysis, Max Planck Institute for Coal Research, Mülheim an der Ruhr

The Leibniz Prize for Benjamin List honours a highly innovative and globally respected chemist who has established an entirely new field of catalysis and catalysis research. List discovered the proline-catalysed intermolecular aldol reaction as a young assistant professor. It was one of the foundations of organocatalysis, which for the first time allowed natural substances, rather than metals, to be used as catalysts in the manufacture of chemical products and other industrial key technologies. Organic catalysts are normally less toxic than standard metal catalysts and also easily recoverable, so they make an important contribution to more sustainable and resource-efficient chemistry. In addition to new organocatalysts and organocatalytic reactions, List has discovered and developed fundamental new principles for asymmetric and organotextile catalysis. The two latter methods can be used for example in water treatment in locations where people are isolated from water supplies.

Passionate about chemistry since his schooldays, Benjamin List studied in Berlin and obtained his doctorate in Frankfurt am Main under Johann Mulzer. As a postdoctoral researcher in La Jolla, California, he turned his attention to biologically oriented chemistry. In 2003 he joined the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim an der Ruhr, initially as the leader of a working group before being appointed director in 2005. He is one of the most frequently cited chemists in the world and has won numerous awards.

Professor Dr. Christoph Möllers (46), Law, Chair of Public Law and Legal Philosophy, Humboldt University of Berlin

Christoph Möllers has made a name for himself in his native Germany as a brilliant jurist and a public intellectual. He has been selected for the 2016 Leibniz Prize in recognition of his outstanding work on public law, specifically constitutional law. His research spans a wide field from the theory and history of German Staatsdenken, the separation of powers, and theory of democracy to freedom of religion and constitutional jurisdiction. Möllers considers the core questions of public law from the perspective of democratic theory and enriches juridical thinking with a comprehensive theory of democratic legitimacy. He also brilliantly combines juridical, historical, philosophical, normative and political theory approaches and insights. However, his writings, such as "Staat als Argument", "Die drei Gewalten" and "Das entgrenzte Gericht" do not only set new standards in the study of law: they are also broadly received in the social and cultural sciences and enjoy high regard and wide distribution both in German-speaking countries and elsewhere.

Christoph Möllers studied law, philosophy and literature in Tübingen, Madrid and Munich. After obtaining his doctorate in Munich and his habilitation in Heidelberg, he held professorships in Münster and Göttingen before taking up his current post at the Humboldt University in 2009. He combines his academic work with legal practice as counsel for the German federal government, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat and as a part-time judge at the Higher Administrative Court of Berlin-Brandenburg. In this capacity he has been involved in high-profile cases and decisions, for example on the request to ban the National Democratic Party of Germany, party funding and data retention, which have become subjects of legal research in their own right.

Professor Dr. Marina Rodnina (55), Biochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry (Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer Institute), Göttingen

Marina Rodnina is being presented with the Leibniz Prize in recognition of her pioneering contributions to the understanding of the function of ribosomes. These extremely complex molecular machines synthesise proteins from amino acids. Rodnina is primarily interested in the question of how this process of translation can take place with maximum precision and without errors – which is exceedingly important because a single "wrong" component can result in a defective protein and damage throughout the entire cell. By using a combination of kinetic and fluorescence-based methods, Rodnina has obtained entirely new insights into the structure and function of ribosomes. Her findings represent the most comprehensive conceptual and quantitative framework yet produced for the understanding of translation. In other projects she has identified a series of proteins and clarified their function, for example the auxiliary protein EF-P, opening up new possibilities for defence against bacteria. Finally, Rodnina decoded the mechanism of "recoding", mainly used by organisms with a small genome to deliberately change their reading frame in translation in order to make more proteins. These and other findings of Rodnina's have long appeared in textbooks and enjoy high international recognition.

Born in Kiev, where she studied biology and obtained her doctorate in molecular biology and genetics, Marina Rodnina moved to the University of Witten-Herdecke in 1990 with a research fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. It was here that she completed her habilitation and was appointed Professor of Physical Biochemistry. Since 2008 she has been director of the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen.

Professor Dr. Bénédicte Savoy (43), History of Modern Art, Center for Metropolitan Studies, Technical University of Berlin

Bénédicte Savoy has been selected to receive the 2016 Leibniz Prize as one of the most highly regarded and innovative art historians in two countries. In her academic work as well as in large exhibition projects, the French-born researcher forges links between German and French art history in a European perspective and regards it as a vitally important field of German-French relations. Her dissertation on the French theft of art in Germany during the Napoleonic occupation pioneered this connection and Savoy's practice of conveying complex ideas in a vivid way. Other studies have described the exhibition of Nefertiti in Berlin as a "German-French affair" and the emergence of public museums in Germany as an undertaking of political and historical significance – an approach that most recently led Savoy to processes of "nation building", which she illuminated from the perspective of museum and collection culture. Savoy also enjoys considerable success as an organiser of German-French exhibitions: in Bonn she put on a highly regarded exhibition on Napoleon Bonaparte and in Paris an equally fascinating exhibition on the Humboldt brothers.

Like her academic and curatorial work, Savoy's academic training was binational. She studied history of art, history and German literature in Paris and Berlin and obtained her doctorate under Jacques Le Rider. In 2003 she was appointed junior professor at the Technical University of Berlin, where she took up her current post as the Chair of History of Modern Art in 2009. Bénédicte Savoy has already received several awards for both her research work and her inspiring academic teaching.

Professor Dr. Peter Scholze (27), Arithmetic Algebraic Geometry, Mathematical Institute, University of Bonn

At 27, Peter Scholze is the youngest researcher to receive the Leibniz Prize in its more than 30-year history. Scholze is already considered to be one of the world's leading mathematicians and a rare talent which only emerges every few decades. In recent years he has already answered fundamental questions in arithmetic algebraic geometry which had remained unsolved for decades. This is especially true of his proof of the so-called Langlands conjecture for p-adic local bodies. His theory of so-called perfectoid spaces has dramatically expanded the spectrum of methods in mathematics. These and other aspects of Scholze's work have been praised as both perspicuous and elegant, and have won him the highest recognition throughout the mathematical community.

Peter Scholze studied mathematics in Bonn, where he obtained his bachelor's and master's degrees and in 2012 his doctorate at the age of just 24. In the same year he was appointed by the University of Bonn to one of five chairs at the internationally renowned Hausdorff Center for Mathematics. Scholze thus became the youngest professor at W3 level in Germany, a distinction he still holds today. His incredible talent was already apparent in his early schooldays, when he took part in Mathematical Olympiads. Having received intensive support, he then went on to win several gold medals at International Mathematics Olympiads, which have since been followed by many of the most prestigious prizes in mathematics.

The Leibniz Prize

The Leibniz Prize has been awarded annually by the DFG since 1986 as part of the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme, which was set up by the federal government and the state governments in 1985. In recent months the DFG has celebrated the 30th anniversary of the Leibniz Programme with a series of events, including a symposium at which more than 150 winners and representatives of the research system discussed the impacts, visibility and future of the Leibniz Prize, and a colourful Leibniz celebration at the Bundeskunsthalle in Bonn.

Up to ten prizes may be awarded each year. With the ten prizes for 2016, a total of 338 Leibniz Prizes have been awarded. Of these, 112 were bestowed upon researchers in the natural sciences, 99 in life sciences, 76 in humanities and social sciences, and 51 in engineering sciences. The number of award recipients is higher than the number of awarded prizes because, in rare cases, the prizes and money are shared. Accordingly, a total of 364 nominees have received the prize: 319 men and 45 women.

The Leibniz Prize is the most important research prize in Germany. Seven past prizewinners have subsequently received the Nobel Prize: 1988 Professor Dr. Hartmut Michel (Chemistry), 1991 Professor Dr. Erwin Neher and Professor Dr. Bert Sakmann (Medicine), 1995 Professor Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (Medicine), 2005 Professor Dr. Theodor W. Hänsch (Physics), 2007 Professor Dr. Gerhard Ertl (Chemistry) and most recently in 2014 Professor Dr. Stefan W. Hell (Chemistry).

The purpose of the prize is to improve the working conditions of outstanding researchers and expand the research possibilities open to them, free them from administrative work and enable them to recruit highly qualified early career researchers. For this purpose they can be awarded prize money of up to 2.5 million euros for a period of up to seven years. These funds are approved without any form of proposal being submitted and recipients are given as much freedom to use the funds as is possible with the use of public money. This was acknowledged at the first award ceremony in 1986 by the DFG President at the time, Professor Dr. Hubert Markl, when he coined the expression "idyllic freedom", which is what the prize offers in addition to great renown and a large monetary award. These words have since become synonymous with the Leibniz Prize.

Date and Time

The 2016 Leibniz Prizes will be bestowed on 1 March 2016 at 3.00 pm at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin. A separate invitation will be sent to members of the media.

Further Information

Media contact:

  • Marco Finetti
    Head of DFG Press and Public Relations
    Tel. +49 228 885-2230
    presse@dfg.de

DFG programme contact:

Additional information about the 2016 prizewinners can be requested at the start of the new year by contacting the DFG Press and Public Relations Office or at www.dfg.de.

Detailed information about the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme is available at:

Additional Information

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