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Press Release No. 58 | 6 December 2002
Leibniz Prize Winners 2003

Germany's most prestigious research-funding prize is to be awarded to one female and ten male scientists

The grants committee of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) has chosen the prize winners in the 2003 DFG’s Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme. One female and ten male scientists are to receive the accolade of the most prestigious research-funding prize in Germany. The grant of 1.55 million euros is intended for use in research projects over a period of five years, and the scientists will be able to use the funds flexibly according to their requirements.

The aim of this programme, which was set up in 1985, is to improve the working conditions of outstanding scientists, to extend their opportunities to engage in research, to relieve them of administrative tasks and to make it easier for them to take on highly qualified junior scientists. Scientists from any field may be nominated for the prize. From the many candidates put forward for the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, the DFG nomination committee primarily chose those who promised a particularly marked increase in scientific achievements as a result of additional support. This year - as in previous years - the nominees included a considerable number of younger scientists.

The total number of prizes awarded in the Leibniz Programme rises to 207 following the decisions made today. Of these, 45 represent the humanities, 57 the bio-sciences, 75 the natural sciences and 30 the engineering sciences. From the 98 nominations submitted for the 2003 prize, the following scientists have been chosen as Leibniz prize winners:

Dr. Winfried Denk (45), medical optics, Max Planck Institute for Medical Research, Heidelberg (1.55 million euros)

The scientific career of Winfried Denk is that of a person who crosses boundaries. He started out as a physicist, but probably now counts in most people's eyes as a neurobiologist. In collaboration with W.W.Webb he worked on the pioneering development of two-photon microscopy. This method is based on using the phase coherence of laser light to obtain twice the amount of photon energy at the intersection point of two coherent beams. This enables long-wave light to be used to achieve fluorescence effects which can otherwise only be produced with far greater energy, in other words shorter-wave light. This method offers advantages which can be exploited most importantly in the investigation of biological structures. It wasn't long before Winfried Denk was applying the advantages of the method he had developed to throw light on certain mysteries in the field of biology. Before long his area of interest was concentrated on the integration powers of nerve cells. Meanwhile, Winfried Denk has miniaturised his method to such an extent that it could soon become a realistic possibility to use it with free-moving animals. Entirely new approaches are emerging here for brain research. Winfried Denk is currently a scientific member and Director of the Biomedical Optics Department of the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg. He studied physics at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich. He continued his studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, and then in 1989 he gained his doctorate in Professor W.W. Webb's laboratory. After a period of postdoctoral research in the IBM research laboratory in Rueshlikon he returned to the USA to a post at Bell Laboratories in Murray Hill, where he remained until he was offered a professorship at the Max Planck Society.

Prof. Dr. Hélène Esnault (49), algebraic geometry, Essen University, jointly with Prof. Dr. Eckart Viehweg (53), algebraic geometry, Essen University (1.55 million euros)

Hélène Esnault and Eckart Viehweg are the first married couple to be awarded the Leibniz Prize for scientific research carried out together. They have been working together for more than 20 years, and have produced around 25 substantial publications together in that time. The main body of their scientific work has been achieved together, and so they have been awarded the Leibniz prize jointly. Hélène Esnault and Eckart Viehweg have achieved important results in the field of algebraic and arithmetic geometry. The subjects studied in this field are solution quantities of equations or, to be more exact, the zeroing of polynomials. The simplest examples of such objects are curves (such as circles or straight lines) and surfaces (such as the earth's surface) which occur throughout the natural world. Esnault and Viehweg classify these objects according to their properties, which is a challenging problem in terms of mathematics. The strength of their work lies in the generalisation of classical methods in a highly abstract manner without losing touch with important approaches to classical problems in differential equations and number theory. Hélène Esnault was born in Paris and studied mathematics there. After a temporary post at the Max Planck Institute for Mathematics in Bonn funded by a Heisenberg scholarship from the DFG, in 1990 she accepted the offer of a C4 professorship at the University of Essen. Eckart Viehweg studied in Heidelberg. After a short period as a junior lecturer in Mannheim he received a Heisenberg scholarship from the DFG, and in 1984 he accepted the offer of a C4 professorship at the University of Essen.

Prof. Dr. Gerhard Huisken (44), mathematics, Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics, Golm (1.55 million euros)

By awarding the prize to Gerhard Huisken, the DFG is recognizing the achievements of one of the top researchers in the world, who works in the field where pure mathematics overlaps with theoretical physics. His mathematical research subjects are analysis and differential geometry; in the field of physics he has, most importantly, made excellent contributions to the general theory of relativity. A central problem in Gerhard Huisken's work is the development of the shape of surfaces with the passage of time, in other words he studies the deformation of surfaces, with the rules governing this deformation being determined by the individual geometries of the surfaces concerned. Prof. Huisken was a co-founder of this branch of research in the mid nineteen eighties as a result of his activities with what is known as medium curvature flow. Since that time he has constantly been at the forefront of research in this area. The theory of surface evolution developed by Gerhard Huisken not only leads to an understanding of the processes taking place with the passage of time, but it can also be used in designing the structure of mathematical and physical objects. Gerhard Huisken completed his doctorate in mathematics at the University of Heidelberg in 1983. Three years later followed his qualification as a university professor. From 1986 to 1991 he worked at the University of Canberra in Australia. Gerhard Huisken has been offered professorships at many renowned institutions such as the ETH in Zurich, Princeton University and Harvard University. His current position is as Director at the Max Planck Society's Albert Einstein Institute for Gravitational Physics in Golm (Potsdam).

Prof. Dr.-Ing. Rupert Klein (43), numeric fluid mechanics, Free University of Berlin and Potsdam Institute of Climate Impact Research (1.55 million euros)

Rupert Klein is the leading researcher in Germany in the field of theoretical fluid mechanics. His research is highly esteemed both by engineers and by applied and numerical mathematicians. His current research in Potsdam has several main focuses, the most notable of which is perhaps the development of completely new multi-scale models for tropical meteorology. These models describe the interplay between mesoscale cloud formation and convection with waves of gravitation and weight. This can be of importance for weather forecasting and climate research. Hydrostatic and geostrophic balance have a central part to play in the atmosphere depending on the linear scales observed. It is the deviations from these balances, however, which are of interest in weather forecasting. Rupert Klein studied mechanical engineering at RWTH Aachen, specialising in "Fundamental Principles of Mechanical Engineering". He obtained his doctorate in 1988 on the subject "Impact-induced combustion and the transition to detonation in narrow channels". Rupert Klein continued in Princeton with the studies he had started in his dissertation; at Princeton he received a research grant from the DFG, and continued to study the spreading out of detonation waves. In 1990 Rupert Klein came back to Germany to take up a post at RWTH Aachen. In 1997 he accepted a combined professorship at the Free University of Berlin and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Research. He turned down offers of professorships at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore and at the ETH in Zurich.

Prof. Dr. Albrecht Koschorke (44), modern German literary studies, Constance University (1.55 million euros)

Albrecht Koschorke is known as an extraordinarily innovative and productive researcher who has not only made an important contribution to current debates in the humanities, but indeed in some cases has initiated and set them in motion. In terms of history, subject and methodology, Albrecht Koschorke's research has covered an unusually broad spectrum. He employs a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches from many different fields: literary science, the history of medicine, history, sociology, psychoanalysis, theoretical media studies. The fundamental question underlying Albrecht Koschorke's academic research concerns the links between social structures, medical representations of human beings, economic systems, technical and media-related discoveries, perceptive possibilities and imaginations, and relationships between physical beings and literature. Albrecht Koschorke is also a gifted academic communicator and teacher; time and time again he has inspired and motivated more junior academics to embark on their own innovative research. Albrecht Koschorke studied modern German literature, philosophy, art history, communication science and ethnology at the Ludwig-Maximilian University of Munich. After obtaining his doctorate he qualified as a professor at the Free University of Berlin. Since the summer semester of 2001 he has held a post as C4 Professor of German Literature and General Literary Studies at Constance University.

Prof. Dr. Roland Lill (47), cell biology/biochemistry, University of Marburg (1.55 million euros)

In the course of his studies in the intensively-researched field of mitochondrial biogenesis, Roland Lill has discovered a completely new facet of the mitochondrial function. With the help of his study group he has discovered that mitochondria are essential for the formation of the so-called iron-sulphur proteins. The experiments, which were originally carried out on yeast, revealed a dozen mitochondrial proteins which play an important part in the biogenesis of iron-sulphur centres in proteins of the whole cell. Mutations in the equivalent transport proteins in humans are already known as the causes of two genetically-caused diseases. Roland Lill has opened up an entirely new branch of cell biology with this discovery, and has at the same time provided a convincing example of the significance of model organisms in the biosciences. Roland Lill studied chemistry in Ulm and Munich and obtained his doctorate in biochemistry; he went on to carry out two years of postdoctoral research at the University of California in Los Angeles, followed by a post as scientific assistant at the University of Munich's Institute for Physiological Chemistry from 1990 to 1995. From 1996 Roland Lill held a C3 professorship, and from 2002 a C4 professorship, at the Institute for Clinical Cytobiology and Cytopathology at the Philipps University in Marburg.

Prof. Dr. Christof Niehrs (40), development biology/genetics/zoology, German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg (1.55 million euros)

Christof Niehrs is well-known around the world as the development biologist who has answered many of the central questions in his field. His answers, together with an understanding of the underlying genomes, have laid the foundations for future contributions to questions which have not yet been answered, such as the question of shape and size in biology. Christof Niehrs has made his name in three fields of research: For studying mesoderm formation in amphibians (xenopus) he developed a gene expression screen for analysing gene activity in xenopus embryos. In the course of this research a number of control genes were identified which play a part in the development of the embryo. A second key focus of Niehrs' work relates to the Spemann organiser function, a piece of tissue from the amphibian embryo which has the power to induce a complete new embryo following transplantation. Possibly the most spectacular work presented by Christof Niehrs has been on the development mechanism of the embryo's head; this work has helped to solve one of the central problems which hampered even Spemann's research results. Christof Niehrs studied biochemistry at the Free University of Berlin. After obtaining his doctorate there he moved to a postdoctoral post at the University of California in Los Angeles. In the years following 1994 he developed his own study group at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg. Following his qualification as a university professor in 1997, at the age of 36 he was offered a C4 professorship in biochemistry at the University of Bochum. Since then he has been offered professorships at the University of Karlsruhe and at the German Cancer Research Centre in Heidelberg.

Prof. Dr. Ferdi Schüth (42), inorganic chemistry, Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim/Ruhr (1.55 million euros)

Ferdi Schüth is an extremely creative and multi-talented young scientist with a curiosity about his field and a strong feel for questions posed by real-life situations. His background lies in the broad field of chemistry. His primary interest lies in the synthesis of solids with properties or functions that can be controlled precisely, and particularly with regard to their use for catalytic reactions. His studies of the representation, structure and functionality of ordered mesoporous solids represent a particular focus. In this area Ferdi Schüth has made important contributions to managing the morphology of these new types of material, and has already demonstrated many highly-regarded catalytic applications. Ferdi Schüth has long been occupied with the central question of the elementary steps in the formation of particles from a solution. The formation of crystals from a solution is one of the most important processes in the production of solids; the objective is to obtain the custom-designed products directly from crystallisation. Ferdi Schüth studied chemistry at the University of Münster, where he obtained his doctorate in 1988 with a thesis on physical chemistry. Towards the end of his first degree course he also applied himself to studying law, and he took finals in law early in 1989. He gained his postdoctoral experience at the University of Minneapolis. After returning to Germany he worked at the University of Mainz with an interlude as a visiting professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara; then, in February 1995, he qualified as a professor at the Department of Inorganic Chemistry at Mainz. He had not yet reached the age of 35, but was nonetheless offered a C4 professorship at the University of Frankfurt, and just three years later became a scientific member of the Max Planck Society and Director of the Max Planck Institute for Coal Research in Mülheim.

Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Seidel (44), computer graphics, Max Planck Institute for Computer Science, Saarbrücken (1.55 million euros)

Hans-Peter Seidel is an outstanding and dynamic scientist who is renowned both in Germany and around the world due to his pioneering scientific contributions. He was consequently appointed to the ACM Siggraph Award Committee in 2001, which has no more than six members (of whom Seidel is the sole non-American representative), and which is widely regarded as a world authority in the field of computer graphics. An important characteristic of Hans-Peter Seidel's work is his development of new algorithms closely interlinked with the possibilities and perspectives offered by modern graphics hardware, and his coherent consideration of the entire processing chain from data acquisition through modelling to image synthesis. Meanwhile the term “3D image synthesis and analysis” was coined for this integrated approach. The professorship of graphical data processing in Erlangen was only created in 1992. Hans-Peter Seidel developed the professorship from scratch, and has taken it to its present world-class status in the few intervening years. As the deputising speaker he had a definitive involvement in the course of graduate lectures on "3D image synthesis and analysis" and in the special research field of "model-based analysis and display of complex scenes and sensor data". Hans-Peter Seidel studied mathematics, physics and computer science in Tübingen, obtained his doctorate in mathematics in 1987 and qualified as a lecturer in computer science in 1989. Since 1999 he has been Director of the Max Planck Institute for Computer Science and honorary professor at the University of Saarland in Saarbrücken.

Prof. Dr. Hubert Wolf (43), history of the Church/Catholic theology, University of Münster (1.55 million euros)

Hubert Wolf has rapidly become established as a leading historian of the Catholic Church. He is regarded as the outstanding representative of a younger generation of church historians who have taken their subject out of the narrower disciplinary ghetto and incorporated it into the wider interdisciplinary contexts of political and economic history. One of the outstanding characteristics of Hubert Wolf's work is the way in which he orders and effectively evaluates the enormous numbers of sources of recent times. As early as 1992 Hubert Wolf had access to the archives of the Inquisition and the papal Congregation of the Index, which proved fortunate for his branch of science. After the archives were officially opened in 1999 he was appointed to the international advisory board of the archive for the Congregation of the Roman Catholic faith. The evaluation of these archives, which has been supported by the DFG as part of a long-term project, has resulted in what can reasonably be described as an explosion in Hubert Wolf's scientific output. On top of his scientific achievements, Hubert Wolf is also an accomplished scientific communicator who has expressed his opinions in many articles in newspapers and periodicals as well as on radio and television. He is also a talented academic teacher and motivator for his more junior colleagues. Hubert Wolf studied Catholic theology at the Universities of Tübingen and Munich, obtained his doctorate (Dr. theol) in 1990 and was ordained as a priest in 1995. Just eighteen months later he qualified as a lecturer in Tübingen in the field of church history from the Middle Ages to the present day. In December 1991 he was awarded his first C4 professorship in church history at the University of Frankfurt. He was later offered professorships at Vienna, Cologne and Tübingen, all of which he turned down, and in May 2000 he was offered a professorship at Münster, which he accepted.

 

The ceremony at which the DFG President, Professor Ernst-Ludwig Winnacker, will award the prizes in the 2003 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme will take place in Berlin on 17th February 2003.

 

Note for editorial departments
Documents providing further information on the careers of the 2003 prize winners and presenting the key points of their research will be available after 15th January 2003 from the DFG Press and Public Relations Department.