Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize 2014

The new recipients of Germany's most prestigious research prize have been announced. On Thursday, 5 December 2013, the Joint Committee of the Deutsche Forschungs-gemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) named eleven researchers – four women and seven men – as winners of the 2014 Leibniz Prize. The recipients of the prize were selected by the Nominations Committee from 129 nominees. Four of the eleven prizewinners are from the engineering sciences, three from the humanities and social sciences, another three from the life sciences, and one from the natural sciences.

The award ceremony for the Leibniz Prizes will be held on 12 March 2014 in Berlin.

Prof. Dr. Artemis Alexiadou, Linguistics

Artemis Alexiadou is a distinguished and world-renowned linguist. Her field of research is modern grammatical theory and in particular the development of models for linguistic structures, for which she has defined key methodological standards and made a significant contribution to international research development. She has devoted her energies to a key question in linguistics research, namely the relationship between the properties of nouns and verbs. By identifying parallel structures in verbal and nominal phrases, and the rules and laws on which these are based, she has made an important contribution to the ongoing development of models and theories of human language comprehension. In addition to the construction of models for linguistic structures, in her second major research area she has generated fundamental empirical knowledge about the syntax of a large number of individual languages. For example, in a number of very different languages, she has discovered patterns and networks of phenomena that were previously unknown and that contributed to new key ideas about how language works.

Born in 1969 in Volos, Greece, Artemis Alexiadou studied philology and linguistics in Athens and Reading before moving to Potsdam, where she wrote her doctorate and then habilitated in 1999. After receiving a Heisenberg fellowship from the DFG, she was appointed professor of theoretical and English linguistics at the University of Stuttgart in 2002. She combines her successful and prolific research career with active involvement in the organisation of research and academic self-administration. Among other things she is the spokesperson for a DFG-funded International Research Training Group and a Collaborative Research Centre. Alexiadou also draws in large numbers of early career researchers from all over the world.

Prof. Dr. Armin von Bogdandy, Public Law and International Law

Armin von Bogdandy is one of Germany's most renowned researchers in the field of constitutional, European and public international law, whose oeuvre is of exceptional breadth, depth and diversity in terms of his research interests and areas of work. Possessing extensive training in law and philosophy, he is also a gifted polyglot. In his numerous publications he examines questions such as the role of the executive in the European legislative process, the legal nature of the European Union and the supranationalisation of national law. His work on European constitutional law (Europäische Verfassungsrecht) and the comparative studies which he co-authored with leading researchers from all over Europe (Ius Publicum Europaeum) are standard works. However, von Bogdandy is not only interested in positive law; he also analyses the philosophical and historical origins of law as well as its political and social implications. His examination of key concepts such as constitution, democracy, legitimacy and the public continually influence political and legal debate in relation to Europe. Not least among his achievements is the way in which his work has bridged the gap between the normatively oriented German tradition and relevant US discourses in the study of law.

Born in 1960, Armin von Bogdandy studied law and philosophy in Freiburg and Berlin. He completed his doctorate in law in 1988 and spent time researching in Paris, Rome, Florence and Warwick before habilitating at the Free University of Berlin in 1996. His first professorial post was at the University of Frankfurt am Main. In 2002 he was appointed Director of the Max Planck Institute for Comparative Public Law and International Law in Heidelberg. Since 2001 he has served as justice and in 2006 he became president of the European Nuclear Energy Tribunal in Paris. Between 2008 and 2013 he served as a member of the Scientific Committee of the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights.

Prof. Dr. Andreas Dreizler, Combustion Research and Prof. Dr. Christof Schulz, Combustion and Gas Dynamics

Andreas Dreizler and Christof Schulz are among the world's leading experimentally oriented combustion researchers. While working at different universities, they have made an eminent and complementary contribution, including joint publications, to the same field of research: quantitative laser diagnostics of reactive flows. They are sharing a Leibniz Prize in recognition of their work.

Andreas Dreizler has made a large number of substantial experimental contributions to the quantitative characterisation of turbulent combustion processes. These include the world's first measurements of hydrocarbon concentrations and temperatures in flames, which could only be achieved through the ingenious use of non-linear optical effects, as well as the first quantitative imaging measurements of formaldehyde formation in self-igniting combustion engines and turbulent transport in flames with the help of laser-induced fluorescence and high-speed cameras. Most recently, Dreizler designed novel experiments to track the time-place behaviour of three-dimensional turbulent flows. Dreizler's measuring methods and results are being used all over the world to improve models of combustion. After he completed his physics degree, the foundations for his future career were laid while writing his doctorate with Jürgen Wolfrum in Heidelberg. He spent a short period in technology consulting before joining the staff of the University of Stuttgart and then the Technical University of Darmstadt, where since 2008 he has held a new professorship, Reactive Flows and Diagnostics, in the excellence cluster Smart Interfaces.

Christof Schulz has made crucial contributions to the key principles and technologies of high-resolution laser diagnostic measuring methods and their application in the experimental characterisation of technical combustion and particle synthesis processes. Using difficult measuring techniques, he was the first to achieve high quantitative accuracy in the monitoring of the undesired formation of nitrogen during combustion. He has also produced new insights into the kinetic mechanisms of soot formation during engine combustion. To transfer his measuring methods to technical systems such as combustion engines and gas turbines, he developed micro-optic sensors and application-specific endoscopes. Using these methods, Schulz has successfully moved into entirely new areas of science and made an important contribution to the materials sciences, for example in the development of more powerful batteries with higher capacity and longer life. After studying chemistry in Karlsruhe, Christof Schulz also completed his doctorate with Jürgen Wolfrum in Heidelberg, where he met co-recipient Andreas Dreizler. After habilitating in 2002, Schulz made several research visits to Stanford before being appointed to the University of Duisburg-Essen in 2004.

Prof. Dr. Nicole Dubilier, Marine Ecology

Nicole Dubilier is an internationally renowned marine microbiologist. Her special area of interest is the study of symbiosis, in which she studies ecological and evolutionary adaptations between bacteria and marine invertebrates. She finds the objects of her research on expeditions to deep-sea hydrothermal vents as well as more easily accessible seagrass meadows and sulphide-rich coastal sediments. The common feature of all these habitats is the low availability of energy and nutrients, which forces the host organisms to use organic carbon compounds produced by their bacterial symbionts through a process of chemosynthesis. In the gutless worm Olavius algarvensis, Dubilier discovered a particularly complex symbiotic relationship with two classes of bacterial partners. The sulphide produced by the secondary symbionts through the reduction of sulphate is used by the primary symbionts as an energy source to fix the vital carbon. Through this and other discoveries, for example relating to mollusks, whose symbiotic relationship with sulphur- and methane-oxidising bacteria enables high productivity, Dubilier has generated new insights into the dependencies of symbiotic organisms and the way in which marine organisms obtain energy.

After completing her degree and doctorate in biology, in 1992 Nicole Dubilier began working as a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard. She subsequently worked at the Max Planck Institute for Marine Microbiology in Bremen and as a visiting professor in Paris. In October 2013 she became a Director of the Max Planck Institute in Bremen and in 2012 she was appointed professor in the Faculty of Biology and Chemistry at the University of Bremen. In 2013 she received an ERC Advanced Grant. In addition to her research work, she gives exciting talks to raise public awareness of the global importance of marine microbiological systems.

Prof. Dr. Leif Kobbelt, Computer Science/Computer Graphics

Leif Kobbelt is an outstanding German computer graphics researcher in the field of geometry processing and one of the most innovative and prolific representatives of his field in the world. Through his work, he makes a significant contribution to meeting the ever-growing demand in our modern information society for the realistic representation of three-dimensional models. To achieve this, he identifies algorithms and data structures that can be used to model, modify, optimise and interactively visualise highly complex 3D objects. His main interest is subdivision schemes and polygon meshes in 3D models, an area in which he has already made pioneering contributions to the analysis and modification of existing polygon meshes (multiresolution modelling) and the generation and optimisation of new high-quality polygon meshes. Kobbelt is also one of the pioneers of point-based graphics, a technique whereby surfaces are represented simply by a sufficient density of points without any information about the connections between the points.

Born in 1966 in Cologne, Leif completed his degree and doctorate in Karlsruhe. After spending time as a postdoctoral researcher in Wisconsin, USA, in 1999 he habilitated with Leibniz Prize winner Hans-Peter Seidel in Erlangen-Nuremberg, after which he joined the staff of the Max Planck Institute for Computer Science in Saarbrücken. In 2001, at the age of 34, Kobbelt became the youngest professor at C4 grade at RWTH Aachen University, since which time he has held the Chair of Computer Graphics. In 2003 he was appointed Director of the Steinbeis Transfer Center for Geometry Processing and Computer-Aided Geometric Design. He is the recipient of several national and international awards, including the DFG's Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize in 2000 and an ERC Advanced Grant in 2013. As a lecturer, Kobbelt inspires students and doctoral researchers from all over the world. He also believes in making his findings available not only to the research community but to a wider audience, for example through open-source software libraries on the internet.

Prof. Dr. Laurens Molenkamp, Experimental Solid-State Physics

Through his most important work, Laurens Molenkamp helped to establish an entirely new field of research. Having made a series of fundamental contributions to experimental solid-state physics and in particular semiconductor spintronics, in 2007 he achieved the first experimental verification of what was previously only a theoretically predicted new quantum state of matter: topological insulators. The quantum spin Hall effect experimentally verified by Molenkamp is related to the quantum Hall effect, the most significant discovery in solid-state physics of the 1980s. Unlike this effect, however, the quantum spin Hall effect occurs without an external magnetic field. Instead it uses a strong spin-orbit coupling, opening up a range of potential applications, for example in information technology. This discovery has produced significant impetus in both basic and applied research and has made topological insulators one of the most active areas of global research in solid-state physics. In Germany it led to the establishment of the DFG Priority Programme "Topological Insulators".

Born in 1956, Laurens Molenkamp studied physical chemistry in Groningen, where he also received his doctorate in 1985. He then spent almost ten years in industrial research before being offered a professorship at RWTH Aachen University in 1994. Since 1999 he has held the Chair of Experimental Physics at the University of Würzburg. His work, especially his work on the quantum spin Hall effect, has been published and cited in the most respected publications and has won him several awards, most recently an Advanced Grant from the ERC.

Prof. Dr. Brigitte Röder, Biological Psychology/Neuropsychology

Brigitte Röder's work is highly important to both psychology and the modern life sciences. Her work is concerned with the interfaces between cognitive psychology, developmental psychology and cognitive neuroscience. It is primarily her study of the basic mechanisms of neuroplasticity that places her among the world's foremost researchers. She attempts to answer questions such as: How and to what extent can the brain adapt to age-related changes or sensory deprivation in the case of blindness and deafness? Is it possible to “train” the adaptability of the brain? How are functionally specialised brain systems developed and maintained? Röder is specifically interested in dynamic development over time. For instance, she investigates how perception and behaviour change in people with acquired blindness or deafness, compares this with people who have been blind or deaf from birth, and analyses both in relation to cortical development. This and other work, all characterised by tremendous creativity and the combination of psychological and psychophysiological experiments, eye movement measurements and imaging techniques, are of great importance outside basic research in the development of educational and rehabilitation programmes.

Born in 1967, Brigitte Röder studied psychology in Marburg, where she wrote her doctorate in cognitive neuroscience with Frank Rösler and habilitated in 2002. She has spent several periods away from her research home, for example carrying out doctoral and postdoctoral research in Illinois and Oregon. In 1999 she became one of the first funding recipients in the DFG's Emmy Noether Programme. From Marburg she moved to the University of Hamburg, where she continues to teach and research despite receiving several offers from other institutions. She has already received a number of awards, including an ERC Advanced Grant in 2010.

Prof. Dr. Irmgard Sinning, Structural Biology

Combining biochemistry, biophysics and structural biology, Irmgard Sinning works at the forefront of research. She is primarily concerned with protein complexes, which transport different membrane proteins to the correct cellular compartments in the appropriate target membranes. The crucial question is how the proteins are transported by the biological membranes. Sinning has published extensively in this area, seeking to explain one of the most important transport mechanisms: transport mediated by the signal recognition particle (SRP). This particle, a complex consisting of protein and ribonucleic acids, first recognises the proteins and binds them to the ribosomes while they are still being formed. The target protein is then transported to a receptor in which a pore opens to allow the protein to be threaded through and “translocated” from one compartment to the next. It is extremely important to understand this process because a membrane protein can only perform its biological function if in the right place and at the right time.

After studying food chemistry at the University of Munich (LMU), Irmgard Sinning worked on her dissertation at the Max Planck Institutes for Biochemistry and Biophysics in a group led by Leibniz Prize winner and future Nobel Prize winner Hartmut Michel. She completed her dissertation in 1989 at LMU. She then did postdoctoral research in Frankfurt and Uppsala and spent a number of years as the leader of an independent junior research group at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. In 2000 she was appointed professor of biochemistry at Heidelberg University Biochemistry Center, where she continues to work today.

Prof. Dr. Rainer Waser, Nanoelectronics/Materials Science

Rainer Waser is an outstanding researcher in both the natural sciences and engineering. His research is unusually broad, ranging from pure solid-state chemistry and defect chemistry to electronic properties and modelling, the technology of new materials and the physical properties of construction components. His early investigations into the electrical degradation of oxides were pioneering, and still serve as a foundation for the development of ferroelectric materials (an increasingly important field), as do his investigations into ferroelectric thin films. One extremely important area of his research is the use of resistive switches as memories in information technology. Initial efforts were made in this field by other researchers from the 1960s onwards, but failed to achieve scientific breakthroughs or technological prospects. It was Waser who, in 2006, discovered the basic mechanism controlling the switching characteristic. This opened up new possibilities in the miniaturisation of memory components and offers enormous potential for energy-saving, as resistive memories use three times less energy than their conventional counterparts.

Born in 1955, Rainer Waser studied chemistry at Technical University of Darmstadt. After spending two years researching in Southampton, he also received his doctorate from the Technical University of Darmstadt. In 1992, after spending eight years in industry, he was appointed professor in the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology at RWTH Aachen University. Since 1997 he has also been the Director of the Peter Grünberg Institute at Forschungszentrums Jülich. With a high-calibre global network, Waser is one of the most cited representatives of his field and is highly respected as a lecturer and mentor for early career researchers.

Prof. Dr. Lars Zender, Gastroenterology/Oncology

Lars Zender is the youngest of this year's Leibniz Prize recipients. The focus of his research is the liver. Zender has decoded fundamental new mechanisms that enable liver function to be maintained or restored. Using oncogenetic screens, he also discovered new genes that inhibit liver tumours. He applied the methodology developed in this process to another, pathophysiological context, namely the regeneration of liver function after acute or chronic liver failure as the normal final alternative to liver transplantation. The gastroenterologist's second main area of research is the role of senescence (cell ageing) in the development of cancer. Zender was able to demonstrate that the “activation” of senescence prevents the formation of tumours from premalignant liver cells and thus represents an important protective mechanism. His work in both fields has generated vital contributions to basic research and new possibilities for the development and improvement of treatment methods.

Born in 1975, Lars Zender began working at Hannover Medical School (MHH) while still a student, being involved in research projects on the regulation of cell death in the liver. After completing his doctorate, receiving his licence to practise medicine and working as an assistant physician at MHH, in 2004 he joined the research team at the renowned Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory as a postdoctoral researcher as part of the DFG's Emmy Noether Programme. After returning to Germany in 2008, he continued his work as a leader of an Emmy Noether and a Helmholtz independent junior research group, turning down several invitations from institutions in Germany and abroad. In 2012 he accepted a post at the University Hospital Tübingen, where he now leads the section for translational gastrointestinal oncology. He has received several awards for his work, most recently the respected German Cancer Award.