Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize 2011

The winners of Germany's most prestigious research prize have been officially announced. At its meeting in Bonn today, the Joint Committee of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) named ten researchers, four women and six men, as the winners of the 2011 Leibniz Prize. The award winners were selected by the Nominations Committee from among 152 nominees, and will each receive € 2.5 million in prize money. Of the ten Leibniz Prizes awarded this year, four were awarded in the life sciences, three in the natural sciences, two in the engineering sciences, and one in the humanities and social sciences.

Prof. Dr. Ulla Bonas, Microbiology/Molecular Phytopathology

Ulla Bonas is a world-leading expert on the interactions of pathogenic bacteria and their host plants. As a microbiologist Bonas has studied Xanthomonas campestris pv. Vesicatoria (Xcv), a plant pathogen to which bell pepper and tomato plants are particularly prone, for the last twenty years, focussing her efforts on AvrBs3,one of the pathogen's main avirulence genes. In a series of sensational studies, Bonas cloned and characterised the AvrBs3 gene, and went on to successfully analyse its functions, which the gene uses to drive cell growth by tricking its host plant into supplying nutrients. Bonas showed that in more resistant plants, the bond to the Bs3 gene triggers a suicide programme which kills off the cell and cuts off the pathogen's supply of nutrients, enabling the host plant to effectively "turn the tables" on the bacteria. Bonas' work marked a fundamental advance in our understanding of plant-microbial interactions. Her findings are especially valuable for the development of new biotechnologies as they show how genes can be switched on and off.After studying biology and completing her doctorate in Cologne, Ulla Bonas first studied Xcv as a post-doctoral research fellow at Berkeley, and continued this research in Berlin and, as a DFG Heisenberg Fellow, in France. Bonas has researched at the University of Halle-Wittenberg since 1994, where she is a Professor of Genetics at the Institute of Biology. With a reputation as an especially imaginative researcher and a talented networker, Bonas is highly regarded for her commitment to the support of early career researchers.

Prof. Dr. Christian Büchel, Cognitive Neurosciences

Christian Büchel has been awarded the Leibniz Prize for his ground-breaking research into the characterisation of neuronal networks, which play a role in such complex brain processes as learning, memory, speech, fear, and pain. Büchel's studies cover a broad range of topics and are notable for their interdisciplinary approach. In his cognitive neuro-scientific studies Büchel showed that the functional interaction of the brain's various regions are subordinate to higher cognitive processes. In other research he studied the mechanisms which help to regulate our sense of fear and apprehension, and he was the first scientist to show that the amygdala – a core area of the brain – plays a key role in human fear conditioning. Equally significant was Büchel's observation that neuronal activities in the spinal cord already can be modulated by cognitive factors, and affect perception in a manner similar to pain. His often highly technical research couples cognitive research with basic research in neurobiology to produce findings that are also relevant to clinical practice.

Christian Büchel studied medicine in Heidelberg. Parallel to this, he also trained as a neurological specialist in Essen, Jena, and London. After undertaking several years of research in Great Britain, he was appointed to the Chair of Systemic Neuroscience at the University Hospital in Hamburg-Eppendorf in 2005. Büchel has previously received several national and international awards for his research.

Prof. Dr. Anja Feldmann, Computer Science/Computer Networks/Internet

Anja Feldmann is the scientific expert on the internet in Germany and a leading figure in the international internet research community. Her work on internet routing, traffic analysis and modelling has advanced basic research and played a decisive role in the ongoing development of the Internet. Feldmann's studies of the potentials and limits of web proxy caching have shaped the business decisions of countless internet services, and technologies for compressing and sending web page updates based on her findings have become ubiquitous elements in internet browsers and servers. Feldmann was also involved in the development of Netscope, a set of software tools for visualizing and optimizing internet service traffic with which she developed the first internet service traffic matrix. Building on this technology, Feldmann went on to create a global traffic matrix encompassing the entire internet. Her recent work has focused on technologies for detecting and defending high speed networks against malicious attacks, as well as new web applications and forms of internet usage such as chats, Web 2.0 and social networking. Feldmann's findings will be used to further improve internet architecture.

Anja Feldmann's unique combination of theoretical insight and practical know-how goes back to her research in the USA. After studying computer science in Paderborn, Feldmann completed her doctorate at Carnegie Mellon University before joining computer and technology giant AT&T to work in their research laboratories. Feldmann was just 33 years old when she was awarded a professorship at Saarland University, which she later left to join the Technical University of Munich, tuning down two other calls to professorship. In 2006 she accepted the Deutsche Telekom AG Endowed Chair for "Intelligent Networks and Management of Distributed Systems" at the Berlin Institute of Technology .

Prof. Dr. Kai-Uwe Hinrichs, Organic Geochemistry

Kai-Uwe Hinrichs brings together geochemistry and microbiology in his research. Hinrichs is especially interested in understanding how particular micro-organisms affect the carbon cycle, and how these processes afftect our planet. Early in his career he showed that the deep oceanic biosphere is inhabited by archaea. These single-celled micro-organisms play a role in the production of both methane and complex hydrocarbons such as ethane and propane; phenomena about which little was known at the time. Hinrichs developed an innovative method of examining organic molecules – also known as biomarkers – contained in geological environmental samples, which he used to identify and quantify microbial processes. In other research Hinrichs has studied mass mortality phenomena, evolutionary niches, and archaebacteria, addressing research questions with implications extending beyond biogeochemistry into the fields of evolutionary biology and research into the origins of life.

A trained chemical scientist, Kai-Uwe Hinrichs wrote his diploma dissertation in organic geochemistry in Oldenburg, and went on to complete a doctorate in this field. Hinrichs was drawn to his core research areas during his time as a post-doctoral graduate at the world-famous Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in the USA, where he was subsequently made an Assistant Professor before transferring to the University of Bremen in 2002. A professor of the Department of Geosciences at the University of Bremen, Hinrichs is a prominent member of MARUM, the DFG Oceanographic Research Centre and cluster of excellence in Bremen. Kai-Uwe Hinrichs was recently also awarded a prestigious European Research Council Advanced Grant.

Prof. Dr. Anthony A. Hyman, Cell Biology/Microtubules and Cell Division

Widely regarded as one of the world's leading cell biologists, Anthony A. Hyman has been awarded the Leibniz Prize. Located at the interface between cell biology and developmental biology, his research has focussed primarily on the role of so-called microtubules in cell division. Functioning as dynamic "molecular machines", these cytoskeletal components organise the distribution of a cell's components to its daughter cells. Hyman has developed a range of innovative physical and genomic methods of studying the microtubular cytoskeleton, including laser microsurgery techniques. Using video microscopy and high-throughput processes Hyman has successfully identified hundreds of genes which cause cell division defects. His findings have greatly improved our understanding of cell division as one of the most fundamental and complex biological processes, and his research has also led to important breakthroughs in both cell and systems biology.

Hyman studied zoology at Imperial College in London, took his doctorate at Cambridge, and completed his post-doctoral studies at the University of California in San Francisco. He subsequently became a Group Leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, and was called to the newly established Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (MPI – CBG) in Dresden in 1999, where he continues to research today.

Prof. Dr. Bernhard Keimer, Experimental Solid State Physics

Bernhard Keimer's research addresses central and complex aspects of solid state physics. An outstanding international expert on neutron diffraction, Keimer's name is tied closely to the innovative research methods he has pioneered in his twenty-year-long quest to understand high temperature superconductivity in cuprates – a group of chemical compounds containing copper anion. In his ground-breaking research Keimer uses inelastic neutron diffraction to study spin excitation in high temperature superconductors. The basis of these neutron experiments is a programme initiated by Keimer for the production of purpose-built single crystals to be assembled in mosaics of several hundred minute and near-perfect samples. In his studies of other structures, such as the magnetic structure of ruthenate-cuprate compounds, Keimer adopted the same long-term strategy. In other research Keimer has contributed significantly to our understanding of Mott insulators.

Shortly after completing his pre-diploma in physics, Bernhard Keimer transferred to the world-renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Boston, where he also completed his doctorate. Keimer subsequently held a number of professorships in Princeton before he was appointed Director of the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart in 1999. He is one of the most frequently cited scientists in his field worldwide, associate editor of several leading professional journals, and a member of numerous academies. Widely respected as an academic mentor, Keimer has attracted early career researchers from around the world to the institute in Stuttgart.

Prof. Dr. Franz Pfeiffer, Laser Medicine

An outstanding researcher with an exceptional ability to drive technological innovation, thirty-eight-year-old Franz Pfeiffer has already made a name for himself in the international X-ray imaging research community by pioneering new methods of visualizing soft tissue. Pfeiffer's discoveries exploit the phenomenon of phase shifting, which occurs as X-rays pass through soft tissue. An improved image contrast results from the interplay of constructive and destructive interference. Prior to Pfeiffer's groundbreaking work, phase-contrast X-ray imaging was only possible using synchrotron X-ray sources available at large-scale research facilities. Pfeiffer devised a unique method enabling the use of broadband X-ray transmission gratings for this purpose. He then showed that this approach could be used in combination with computer tomography to achieve previously unattainable levels of clarity and contrast in three-dimensional views of biomedical samples. In a second breakthrough, Pfeiffer succeeded in developing a method of utilising dark field imaging in laboratory X-ray instrumentation. Pfeiffer's discoveries are not only of importance to biophysical research, they have potentially enormous implications for the future of medical imaging and diagnostics, and will lead to significant improvements in mammography and computer tomography.

After studying physics at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, Franz Pfeiffer completed his doctorate at Saarland University, conducting a number of experiments at major research facilities such as DESY in Hamburg. Pfeiffer carried out his post-doctoral research at the University of Illinois before joining the renowned Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland. In 2007 he took up an assistant professorship at the ETH Lausanne, and in 2009 he was called to the Chair of Applied Biophysics at the Technical University of Munich, where he is currently establishing a laboratory for biomedical imaging.

Prof. Dr. Joachim Friedrich Quack, Egyptology

Egyptologist Joachim Friedrich Quack has been awarded the prestigious Leibniz Prize in recognition of his achievements as an eminent international authority in his field. A leading expert on the languages and history of Egyptian culture, Quack has dedicated his research efforts to the study of Late Egyptology and the Greco-Roman period in particular. This period has often been neglected in traditional Egyptology, and its rich legacy has remained largely unknown in other fields of Classical Studies. In several large monographs and countless essays Quack brought to light an epoch of Egyptian cultural history, revealing its unique character and historical significance to the academic community. His reconstruction of the "The Book of the Temple" is widely regarded as a landmark publication. One of the single most important documents in Egyptian religious history, its guidelines on the construction and operation of the "ideal temple" were valid for hundreds of years. Starting with just two papyri, Quack gradually located and brought together dozens of manuscripts scattered around the globe in this monumental undertaking. He is currently working on an eagerly anticipated annotated edition of the text.

Joachim Friedrich Quack studied in Tübingen and Paris, and both his master's thesis and doctoral dissertation have become standard reference works. Following a DFG-sponsored residency in Copenhagen and a DFG research fellowship, Quack became a research associate at the Free University of Berlin, where he gained his habilitation. In 2005, aged just thirty-nine, Quack was called to succeed Jan Assmann as Professor for Egyptology in Heidelberg.

Prof. Dr. Gabriele Sadowski, Technical Thermodynamics

A highly successful researcher at the interface of engineering and natural sciences, Gabriele Sadowski is a recognised authority in the international thermodynamics research community. Her research in the areas of polymer thermodynamics and statistical thermodynamic equations of state has been truly groundbreaking. Among her other achievements, Sadowski has extended the scope of the SAFT theory, used to create molecular models of fluids, to include polymer systems. Known as PC-SAFT, the equation of state which she developed has become an industrial standard and is used in software packages to process and predict states. In her more recent work Sadowski has expanded the scope of thermodynamic research to the life sciences and the study of complex mixtures containing biologically derived agents biological agents. This research in the emerging field of bio-thermodynamics is especially relevant to medical science and biotechnology, and, for instance, can contribute to the production of particulate pharmaceutical substances.

After completing her degree and doctorate at the Technical University of Leuna-Merseburg, Sadowski shifted her focus to the study of process engineering and completed her habilitation thesis in this discipline at the Berlin Institute of Technology in 2000. She was called to the Chair of Thermodynamics at the Technical University of Dortmund in 2001 at just thirty-six. Her numerous research awards and keynote lectures at leading international conferences testify to Gabriele Sadowski's academic standing and expertise. In addition to initiating and coordinating a DFG Priority Programme, Sadowski is a Faculty Dean and a member of numerous academic advisory boards in chemical industry. Her reputation for scientific excellence has enabled Sadowski to attract both top-class scientists from abroad as well as early career researchers to her projects.

Prof. Dr. Christine Silberhorn, Quantum Optics

Aged thirty-six, Christine Silberhorn is the youngest Leibniz Prize laureate in 2011. Despite her young age Silberhorn already holds a top position with enormous international visibility as a leading expert on experimental quantum optics. Her research on quantum information processing is exceptional for both its broad scope and her use of continuous rather than discrete variables. Silberhorn's research ranges from quantum systems with individual photons and continuous variables to the implementation of entangled quantum states of light based on glass fibres and waveguides, and quantum networks comprised of numerous channels. Her work on the realisation of Einstein-Podolsky-Rosen states and quantum cryptography with continuous variables has attracted widespread attention, and her more recent work on the realisation and measurement of so-called Fock states with large numbers of photons has proven to be equally important.

After studying to be a teacher of physics and mathematics in Erlangen-Nuremberg, Christine Silberhorn wrote her doctoral thesis on quantum information processing, a work which won her the Ohm Prize. After completing post-doctoral research in Oxford, she gained her habilitation from the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg in 2008, and was called to the Chair of Experimental Physics at the University of Paderborn in 2010. In 2008 Christine Silberhorn won the most important award for early career researchers in Germany, the prestigious Heinz Maier Leibniz Prize of the DFG and the German Ministry of Education and Research, which is now being followed by the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize just two years later.