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Press Release No. 8 | 31. March 2017
DFG to Fund Four New Research Units and Two Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies

Topics range from plant morphodynamics to Russian lyric poetry in transition / Total of around €17 million for first funding period

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is establishing four new Research Units and two new Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies. This was decided by the DFG Senate during its spring session in Bonn. In addition, another Research Unit, funded jointly by the DFG and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF), will begin its work. The DFG Senate approved the joint project in September 2016 with a funding amount of approximately €3 million; it has now been approved by the Swiss partner organisation.

The collaborations will enable researchers to pursue pressing issues in their research areas and take innovative directions in their work. Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies are specifically tailored to the working methods used in the humanities. Funding is available to Research Units for a maximum of two three-year periods, while Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies can be funded for two four-year periods. In the initial funding period, the six new groups will receive a total of approximately €17 million. As a result, the DFG will be funding a total of 180 Research Units and nine Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies.

The New Research Units

(In alphabetical order by spokesperson's university)

How does sovereignty work in practice and where do its limits lie? The Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies “Rethinking Oriental Despotism – Strategies of Governance and Modes of Participation in the Ancient Near East” aims to counter stereotypes of ancient Oriental forms of sovereignty and enlightened democracy with a new perspective. To this end, the researchers will concentrate on the practical dimension of political orders: How is sovereignty manifested, asserted and maintained? They will use a combination of new and established theoretical and methodological concepts, drawing on these to analyse the extensive textual legacy of the Middle Assyrian and Hittite empires. The group’s findings will therefore be reflected beyond the narrower specialist discourse and made accessible in other contexts.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Eva Cancik-Kirschbaum, Free University of Berlin)

The Research Unit “Blue Planets around Red Stars – Scientific Exploitation of the CARMENES Survey” plans to gather data on more than 300 low-mass stars using the German-Spanish spectrometer CARMENES. It is presumed that this data will contain the nearest extrasolar planets, including many habitable ones. The group’s aim is to understand the existence, abundance, formation and habitability of extrasolar planets orbiting low-mass stars. The researchers also aim to contribute to our understanding of the physics of low-mass stars and our fundamental knowledge of planets.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Ansgar Reiners, University of Göttingen)

Elementary cell properties control the behaviour of cell populations and organs and therefore ultimately the morphogenesis of an organism. Plant cells are interconnected through their cell walls and thus immobile, yet they must constantly and intensively coordinate their behaviour. This high degree of complexity is one reason why the control mechanisms of plant morphogenesis are not yet well understood, in spite of progress made in individual aspects. In the Research Unit “Quantitative Morphodynamics of Plants”, researchers in plant developmental biology, computer science and physics are therefore jointly addressing this problem area in order to achieve an integral and quantitative understanding of tissue morphogenesis.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Alexis Maizel, University of Heidelberg)

Processes in which sugar molecules are joined to proteins are known as glycosylation. They are one of the most important molecular changes that happen to proteins, and they occur after the translation of ribonucleic acid into an amino acid sequence. In humans, the majority of proteins are glycosylated, and a distinction is made between different types of glycosylation. The Research Unit “The Concert of Dolichol-based Glycosylation: From Molecules to Disease Models” aims to improve our understanding of glycosylation pathways at the molecular, cellular and systemic level and thus better understand the serious diseases known as congenital disorders of glycosylation (CDG).
(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Sabine Strahl, University of Heidelberg)

The metabolism of trace elements in the body is affected by diet, gender, age and general health. The effect of individual trace elements such as iron, iodine and zinc is well understood, but their interactions in different physiological and pathophysiological conditions have not been the subject of much research. The Research Unit “Interactions of Essential Trace Elements in Healthy and Diseased Elderly (TraceAge)” aims to determine the age-specific and gender-specific trace element fingerprints of older people through a range of investigations. It is hoped that the results will provide the basis for better healthcare and healthy ageing and as well as for future intervention studies.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Tanja Schwerdtle, University of Potsdam)

Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the literary field of Russian-language authors was enlarged by literature written in Russian in other countries. In addition, Russian lyric poets in particular have forged numerous links with foreign literatures through social media. The Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies “Russian Lyric Poetry in Transition: Poetic Forms to Address Boundaries of Genre, Language, Culture and Society between Europe, Asia and America” will study Russian lyric poetry from the beginning of perestroika (1985) to the present day. The focus will be on the transitions mentioned in the title, which are conceived as the boundaries of genres, languages, cultures and societies. The broad concept of lyric poetry will also allow the Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies to engage in theoretical considerations of new forms of performance, internet literature, pop culture and pop music.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Henrieke Stahl, University of Trier)

In a globalised world, the density of state, suprastate and private institutions with partly similar areas of action is continually increasing. Individual institutions operate at different levels and their responsibilities often overlap, which can lead to conflict. The Research Unit “Overlapping Spheres of Authority and Interface Conflicts in the Global Order”, funded jointly with the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNF), aims to identify such conflicts and explore them in more depth.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Michael Zürn, Berlin Social Science Center (WZB)

Further Information

Media contact:

  • DFG Press and Public Relations,
    Tel. +49 228 885-2109,

Further information will be provided by the spokespersons of the established units.

For information on DFG Research Units and Humanities Centres for Advanced Studies, visit:

Additional Information

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