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Press Release No. 21 | 29 May 2002
Communicator Award 2002 for Wolfgang Heckl

Munich nano-researcher receives 50,000 euros for best presentation of science to the public

This year's "Communicator Award - Stifterverband Science Award" goes to Wolfgang M. Heckl, a Munich physicist and nanoscientist. Heckl is to receive 50,000 euros for excellent achievements in the presentation of his scientific activities to the public. The award of the prize by the Stifterverband on the recommendation of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft is to take place on August 22nd in the framework of the opening event of this year's "Wissenschaftssommer" (science summer) in Bremen. The prize is to be awarded jointly by the President of the Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft, Dr. Arend Oetker, and Professor Dr. Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, President of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft.

The idea of the Communicator Award is the outcome of close collaboration between the Stifterverband and the DFG. While the Stifterverband launched the scheme and funds it, the DFG developed the award's profile, calls for tenders and organises the work of the jury. The jury, which comprises scientific journalists and communications and public relations specialists, assesses the applications according to the criteria of relevance, target-group, originality and sustainability. A total of 29 applications from various subject areas were handed in for the third round. After a pre-selection, the jury deliberated on 13 applications that had been short-listed and elected Wolfgang Heckl winner of the 2002 Communicator Award.

Wolfgang Heckl has been a Professor of Experimental Physics at Ludwig Maximilians University (LMU), Munich, since 1993, where he heads a research team in the field of nano-sciences at the Department for Geo- and Environmental Sciences. With his interdisciplinary research, Heckl is forging links between the nano-sciences and the geo-sciences, biology and physics. He is currently dealing with the topic "Origins of Life", in the context of which he is examining the crystallisation and self-arrangement of organic molecules on the surfaces of minerals. In future, the techniques Heckl has developed to find traces of life in the nano-range will also be applied to explore other planets for life. The mobile grid probe microscope that Heckl recently developed with his research team will be used to scour surface sediments for traces of water from the primeval period of Mars history on one of the forthcoming Mars missions.

Wolfgang Heckl was born in Upper Palatinate in 1958, and after his "Abitur" (the German secondary school leaving exams), he studied physics at Munich Technical University. Having done a doctor's degree in biophysics, he first of all went to the University of Toronto in Canada as a post-doc for one year in 1989 and subsequently joined Professor Gerd Binnig at the IBM Research Laboratory in Switzerland. Having worked as a research assistant at LMU Munich for three years, he completed his "Habilitation" (the German qualification for a university lecturer) in physics there in 1993, and, in the same year, he accepted an appointment as Professor of Experimental Physics. At home, father of a family Heckl's favourite pastime is collecting old machines, dancing and skiing. He also seeks the link with science when he is not at work. Heckl is an enthusiastic painter of pictures relating to research.

For more than ten years, Wolfgang Heckl has committed himself to imparting his research results to the public at large. He already earned a reputation in this respect in the early nineties with various television contributions showing his grid tunnel microscope examinations of human hereditary matter, which for the first time enabled a representation of DNA bases as building-bricks of the genetic code. In several scientific programmes, including "Abenteuer Forschung" (ZDF) and "Nano" (3sat), Heckl has since offered the public insights into the world of nanotechnology. Live broadcasts from his laboratory and the use of video films he produced specially for this purpose on grid tunnel microscopic examinations have given many people the opportunity to experience this complicated research work firsthand. In his attempts to promote a better understanding of science, Heckl uses many ways of mediating contents and wishes to address people at all ages and from all sections of the population. In addition to numerous radio and television contributions, Heckl has made the public at large more familiar with the nanocosmos with newspaper articles, lectures and books. However, Heckl above all seeks direct contact, and this is why he is strongly involved in exhibition projects and events on natural science topics. For example, as the scientific director of the "Physik und Leben" (physics and science) exhibition, which was staged at the German Museum in Munich in 2001, he presented cutting-edge research to more than 6,000 visitors. Here, Heckl devoted special attention to the more than 30 school classes, staging special guided tours to demonstrate the highlights of physics for them.

Heckl's motto "into people's hearts" becomes particularly apparent in his educational activities for children and youths. His pedagogically and scientifically sophisticated concepts are above all aimed at one thing: seeing to it that science is fun for children and offering them playful, unprejudiced access to scientific topics. This is why Heckl is not only involved in running school competitions such as "Jugend forscht", "Physics on stage" and "Life in the Universe" but is also campaigning for new approaches in the didactics of natural sciences with his communication activities.

One of the aspects Wolfgang Heckl attaches particular significance to in imparting his research results to a broader public is the acceptance of advances in science by society, which is why he is always seeking dialogue with science sceptics. His effort for the Public Understanding of Science also encompasses politics; here, just like in his work with young people, Heckl regards his campaigning for an understanding of and enthusiasm about science as an investment in the future.

The persistency of his involvement and his extensive information activities in a wide range of media ultimately prompted the jury to opt for Wolfgang Heckl as the winner of the Communicator Award.

The Communicator Award not only comprises a money prize but is also symbolised by a hologram designed by Cologne artist Michael Bleyenberg that is intended to represent the notion of transparency in science and demonstrate that it is worthwhile to show things "in the right light". Only then will science develop its full brightness - just like the hologram.

Further Information

A detailed portrait of the prize-winner as well as further information can be requested for copying, also without reference, from the DFG Press and Public Relations Department or called up in the Internet under

The prize-winner himself can be contacted at:

  • Prof. Dr. Wolfgang M. Heckl
    Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München
    Institut für Kristallographie und Angewandte Mineralogie
    Theresienstraße 41 D-8033 München
    Tel: +49 (0) 89 2180-4331
    E-Mail: Heckl@lrz.uni-muenchen.de