This year's recipients of the most important prize for early career researchers in Germany have been announced. The selection committee, appointed by the DFG and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, has chosen ten early career researchers, five women and five men, to receive the 2016 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prizes. The prizes of €20,000 each will be presented on 18 May in Berlin.
Aline Bozec noticed at an early stage in her research career that bones have a number of integrating interfaces to other tissues and organ systems. In the course of her work in France, Austria, Spain and Germany, she has described key transcription factors and signal paths which are relevant in the form of switches for differentiation and activity in osteoclasts, osteoblasts and fat cells. Bozec has used this knowledge to explain fundamental phenomena concerning the regulation of bone growth and bone absorption, the modulation of regenerative mechanisms in stem cell niches in bone marrow, and their significance for health and disease. The French-born biochemist is the head of an Emmy Noether independent junior research group and a junior professor at the University Hospital in Erlangen. She is also a project leader in the DFG Priority Programme "Osteoimmunology".
Tobias Erb is the head of a working group at the Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology in Marburg that focuses on analysing and optimising carbon dioxide fixation and other metabolic pathways in the carbon cycle. Erb discovered a new pathway for carbon dioxide assimilation – the ethylmanolyl-CoA pathway – early on in his career when he was writing his doctoral thesis. Funded partly by an ERC Starting Grant, his research into the metabolic pathways of acetate and carbon fixation has contributed greatly to the knowledge of the carbon cycle in biology. Before working at the MPI, Erb was a junior leader in a working group at ETH Zurich. Since 2013, he has been a member of the Young Academy of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities and of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina.
Linguistic modelling of the meaning of language expressions traditionally distinguishes between a semantic level, which is largely independent of the context of the expression, and a pragmatic level, which is comparatively heavily dependent on this context. This distinction is reflected in the system-oriented and usage-oriented approaches that have become established in the theory of meaning and in linguistics. In his research at the universities of Mainz and Frankfurt/Main, Daniel Gutzmann has overcome this dichotomy by developing a two-dimensional model of linguistic meaning which provides for both a description of the situation and a speaker-related aspect. The model can be applied to a wide range of phenomena which have not been adequately described up to now, such as modal particles, sentence mode, and expressive verbalisms. Since April 2015, Gutzmann has been a visiting professor for Linguistics at the University of Cologne.
The representation of knowledge is the machine-readable representation of human knowledge that facilitates its intelligent and automatic processing with a computer. This basic technology thus allows large and/or complex amounts of data to be handled intelligently in a wide range of applications. Knowledge representation research focuses on three areas: formal foundations, development and optimisation of software systems, and their application. Markus Krötzsch has made an important contribution to all three of these areas during his doctoral studies at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), as a researcher at the University of Oxford, and as the leader of an Emmy Noether independent junior research group at the Technical University in Dresden. One of his achievements is the creation of Wikidata, a "Wikipedia of Data" which supplies Wikipedia articles in every language with data which had already been available in millions of articles. For example, using the "semantic" wiki developed by Krötzsch, it is now possible to answer the question of which of the ten largest cities in the world currently has a female mayor.
Christoph Lundgreen studied both history and law, which is reflected in his research. In his dissertation on "Conflicting Rules in the Roman Republic", submitted in conjunction with his studies in Dresden and Paris as part of a double doctorate, Lundgreen integrated observations on legal history as well as theories of political science and sociology and thus revealed hitherto unconsidered aspects of research into the political culture of the Roman Republic. The concept of the category "law", broadened by its inversion, the conflict in law, is not only redefined, but the law/violation itself becomes a historical kaleidoscope through which Lundgreen views the order of the Republic and communication between political and social institutions.
Isabell Otto pursues an innovative approach in cultural media studies. She places the very fast-paced developments in digital media in cogent theoretical contexts and at the same time interprets patterns using actual instances. Examples include her discursive and analytical studies of media violence and aggressive behaviour in films, television series and computer games. In 2010, Isabell Otto was appointed Junior Professor for Media Studies at the University of Konstanz and awarded a fellowship under the Fast Track funding programme of the Robert Bosch Foundation. As head of the DFG network "Media of Collective Intelligence" and current deputy spokesperson for the DFG's "Media and Participation. Between Demand and Entitlement" Research Unit in which she holds a Research Unit professorship, she focuses particularly on issues of community and participation. In her postdoctoral thesis "Chronologies under the Constraints of Digital Media", Isabell Otto looked at temporality in the digital sphere.
Professor Hannah Petersen is working on new theoretical descriptions of the "Little Bang" in the area of relativistic heavy ion collisions. Heavy ion collisions give rise to quark-gluon plasma at extremely high pressure under which the plasma expands explosively. The conditions surrounding this event are similar to those of the Big Bang. Petersen was one of the first to recognise that the course of the explosion was affected by fluctuations in density and temperature as the result of quantum effects and to investigate how this happens. Using a comparison of theory and experimental data, Hannah Petersen set up a much-cited hybrid model which maps the dynamic of the plasma and its viscosity to the initial state of the quantum fluctuation in each case. She has been head of a Helmholtz independent junior research group since 2012 and was appointed to a W2 professorship in 2013. Her "event-by-event" method of analysis has provided a new foundation for various experiments, for example at the Relativistic Heavy Ion Collider (Brookhaven, USA) and at the future Facility for Antiproton and Ion Research (Darmstadt).
An IT specialist, Ludovic Righetti is researching how to teach a robot to walk. He uses movement patterns from nature, such as the climbing skills of animals, and attempts to apply their principles to concepts for robot control mechanisms. Righetti has succeeded in combining several superfluous degrees of freedom for the robot with the contact problem in walking. This is a sophisticated undertaking as there are no accurate models for ground compositions, which is why robots up to now have not been able to deal with every ground surface. Righetti received an ERC Starting Grant in 2014 for his work in this area. His methods have also succeeded in making robots grasp objects better with several fingers, which has particularly significant potential for human-robot interaction. After studying in Switzerland and a postdoctoral stay in the USA, Righetti set up an independent junior research group at the MPI for Intelligent Subsystems in Tübingen. He is still head of this group.
The neural processes investigated in brain research can only be measured indirectly. They behave in an extremely non-linear fashion and are subject to great variability on different scales of time and space. The development of descriptive theoretical models to support usable quantitative analysis and comparison of neural data is therefore a challenge. Tatjana Tchumatchenko is head of the working group "Theory of Neural Dynamics" at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt/Main" in which she researches the dynamic and information processing of neural systems from individual nerve cells to neural networks. She has developed mathematical models for describing dynamic and static properties of biological neural networks and theoretically analysed and numerically implemented them. With this work, she has provided theoretical neuroscience with important insights, particularly on information processing.
Based on a firm grounding in ethnology and sociology, Professor Céline Teney works in the area of integration research and political sociology. Her research is characterised by a wide range of topics, such as the acculturation of ethnic minorities, the transnationalisation of elites and other social groups, and the election success of extreme right-wing parties. Professor Teney uses a multitude of data analysis methods, such as geographically weighted statistical analysis processes in her analysis of the election success of the NPD (National Democratic Party of Germany). She is a native of Belgium and studied and completed her doctorate in Freiburg and Brussels; she has also worked as a researcher at the Social Science Research Center Berlin and the University of Harvard. At the University of Bremen, she leads an independent junior research group "Winners of Globalization? A Study on the Emergence of a Transnational Elite in Europe", financed under the Excellence Initiative.