Press Release No. 81 | 6 December 2007
Honour, Prize Money and "Idyllic Freedom": 2008 Leibniz Prizewinners Announced
DFG Awards Most Prestigious German Research Prize to Eleven Prizewinners
The winners of this year's Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize have been officially announced. At its meeting in Bonn today, the Joint Committee of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) named eleven researchers, eight men and three women, as this year's winners of Germany's most prestigious research prize, following their selection by the Nominations Committee from amongst 158 candidates.
The 2008 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize will go to:
Prof. Dr. Susanne Albers, Theoretical Computer Science, University of Freiburg;
Prof. Dr. Martin Beneke, Theoretical Particle Physics, RWTH Aachen University;
Prof. Dr. Ing. Holger Boche, Communications Technology and Information Theory, Technical University of Berlin, Fraunhofer German-Sino Lab for Mobile Communications, Berlin, and Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications (Heinrich Hertz Institute), Berlin;
Prof. Dr. Martin Carrier, Philosophy, University of Bielefeld;
Dr. Elena Conti, Structural Biology, Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Martinsried,
Dr. Elisa Izaurralde, Cell Biology, Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen;
Prof. Dr. Holger Fleischer, Business Law, University of Bonn;
Prof. Dr. Stefan W. Hell, Biophysics, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen;
Prof. Dr. Klaus Kern, Physical Chemistry of the Materials, Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, Stuttgart;
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Lück, Algebraic Topology, University of Münster;
Prof. Dr. Jochen Mannhart, Experimental Solid State Physics, University of Augsburg.
"This year's prizewinners are a symbol of the outstanding quality and broad spectrum covered by top-level research in Germany," said Professor Matthias Kleiner, President of the DFG, on the occasion of the announcement. Kleiner also pointed out that the Leibniz Prize, which has been awarded since 1986, is not only the most prestigious honour for researchers and scientists in Germany. "Six former recipients have gone on to win a Nobel Prize after receiving the Leibniz Prize, including the evolutionary biologist Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard and this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, Gerhard Ertl," he continued. "The Leibniz Prize is thus a global indicator of absolutely top-quality science."
Along with the great prestige of winning, recipients of the Leibniz Prize are awarded a significant amount of prize money - usually 2.5 million euros. The main feature of the Leibniz Prize, however, is its flexibility, which is a unique example of the use of public money not only in the scientific community. Winners can use their prize money for their own research as they see fit over a period of up to seven years - "truly idyllic freedom," as a former president of the DFG, Hubert Markl, once put it.
Today's announcement brings the total number of prizes awarded under the Leibniz Programme to 259. Of this total, 93 were awarded in the natural sciences, 72 in the life sciences, 56 in the humanities and 38 in engineering. Because the Leibniz Prize can also be shared in exceptional cases, the actual number of prizewinners is higher, with a total of 282 nominees having received the award, 28 of whom were women.
The 2008 Leibniz Prize award ceremony will take place on 11 February 2008 at 3 p.m. at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin.
The 2008 Leibniz Prizewinners in brief:
Prof. Dr. Susanne Albers (42), Theoretical Computer Science, Department of Computer Science, University of Freiburg (2.5 million euros)
Susanne Albers has made a significant impact on computer science, and in particular research into efficient algorithms, over the last 15 years. She is one of the leading researchers in the field worldwide and is considered the ultimate expert in the field in Germany. With her research, Albers has achieved significant optimisation of online and approximation algorithms, which, in contrast to conventional algorithms, do not have all of the required data when the calculation begins, but are continually updated as the calculation progresses, with an approximation generated after each new input. The methods she has developed have made a fundamental contribution to basic research in the field, yet at the same time her results are also highly relevant to real-life applications. This is also demonstrated by her current work on energy efficiency algorithms, which are very important for laptops and mobile phones, for example.
After studying mathematics, computer science and economics in her home town of Osnabrück, Susanne Albers obtained her doctorate from Saarland University in 1993, where she was part of the DFG's very first Research Training Group computer science. She then worked at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics until 1999, and made several research visits to the USA, Japan and elsewhere in Europe. She was just 33 when she qualified as a university lecturer in 1999 and was offered three professorship appointments simultaneously, of which she took up the position in Dortmund. Since 2001 she has held the Chair for Information and Coding Theory at the University of Freiburg.
Prof. Dr. Martin Beneke (41), Theoretical Particle Physics, Institute of Theoretical Physics at the RWTH Aachen University (2.5 million euros)
With his research, Martin Beneke is contributing significantly towards the examination of the theoretical concepts of elementary particle physics that aim to identify any discrepancies as well as allowing entirely new structures to be discovered. In particular, Beneke is conducting high-precision measurements that will allow him to compare the measurements collected in particle acceleration experiments with the predictions made according to the standard model in particle physics. Beneke has not only developed methods that are considered unique worldwide, but has also applied them himself to address current problems in physics, for instance the lifetime and decay of "superheavy" mesons. His investigations permit new insights into the matter-antimatter asymmetry, and thus improve the understanding of the microcosm and the development of the early universe.
Martin Beneke studied physics, mathematics and philosophy in Konstanz, Cambridge and Heidelberg, where he graduated in 1991, before obtaining his doctorate on the structure of perturbation series in higher order from the Technical University of Munich just two years later. He went on to qualify as a university lecturer in 1998 in Heidelberg, and in 1999, at the age of 33, took up the Chair in Theoretical Physics E at the RWTH Aachen University.
Prof. Dr. Ing. Holger Boche (40), Communications Technology and Information Theory, Institute of Telecommunications Systems at the Technical University (TU) of Berlin and Fraunhofer German-Sino Lab for Mobile Communications, Berlin, and the Fraunhofer Institute for Telecommunications (Heinrich Hertz Institute), Berlin (2.5 million euros)
Several key developments in the expansion of the mobile phone networks in recent years have been due to Holger Boche. On the basis of his theoretical work, Boche has advanced the understanding of complex mobile communication systems and at the same time has put his insights into practice in the technology used to standardise new mobile telephone systems. His research is of particular relevance to cross-layer optimisation, which increases the effectiveness and reliability of mobile phone networks. Boche has thus contributed significantly towards making it possible to use the existing mobile network frequencies with as few permanently installed transmitters and receivers to provide full coverage - a task which is not only a considerable scientific challenge but also has great economic potential.
Holger Boche has had an unusual scientific career. After completing vocational training as a measurement and control engineer at the mineral oil plant Lützkendorf, in former East Germany, he studied information technology at the Technical University of Dresden from 1986 until 1990, and then, from 1990 until 1992 he also studied mathematics - while also working as a research assistant. Having obtained two degrees Boche then went on to obtain a doctorate in both subjects with the distinction summa cum laude. Since 1998 he has been the head of the Department of Broadband Mobile Communication Networks at the Fraunhofer Society's Heinrich Hertz Institute as well as being head of its German-Sino Lab for Mobile Communications. Since 2002 Boche has also been a full professor for Mobile Communications at the TU Berlin.
Prof. Dr. Martin Carrier (52), Philosophy, Faculty of History, Philosophy and Theology, Department of Philosophy at the University of Bielefeld (2.5 million euros)
Martin Carrier is one of the most versatile and innovative present day philosophers of science, both nationally and internationally. In his essays, he combines the theory of science and the philosophy of science in an unusually intricate way. Carrier's work is characterised by the combination of philosophical penetration and a deep understanding of the natural sciences, in particular physics. His studies on the space-time theory of physical geometry and on Nicolaus Copernicus are thus of interest to and stimulating for his fellow philosophers and natural scientists alike. In this way, Carrier is contributing towards maintaining the recognition and vitality of German philosophy far beyond its own boundaries.
Martin Carrier studied physics, philosophy and educational science in Münster, where he also obtained his doctorate in 1984. In 1989 he qualified as a university lecturer in Konstanz, before teaching as a full professor of philosophy in Heidelberg between 1994 and 1998, with a particular emphasis on the theory of science. Since 1998 he has been a professor of philosophy specialising in the philosophy of science in Bielefeld. Carrier is a member of the German Academy of Sciences Leopoldina and the Academy of Sciences and Literature in Mainz. In the past decade alone he has received funding for six projects and two Research Training Groups from the DFG, as well as a Volkswagen Foundation grant for a research group and a research group at the Center for Interdisciplinary Research, Bielefeld.
Dr. Elena Conti (40), Structural Biology, Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Martinsried,
Dr. Elisa Izaurralde (48), Cell Biology, Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology, Tübingen (2.5 million euros)
The molecular biologists Elena Conti and Elisa Izaurralde have together gained fundamental new insights into intracellular RNA transport and RNA metabolism, which is why they are being awarded the Leibniz Prize jointly. They began their scientific careers in entirely different fields of molecular biology. Elena Conti started out in X-ray structure analysis, whereas Elisa Izaurralde was a biochemist. However, their time together at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg brought their work together too. In this cooperation they complemented and reinforced each others' interests and strengths. This led to Elena Conti working primarily on the structural aspects of intracellular RNA transport, while Elisa Izaurralde concentrated on the functional aspects. This cooperation enabled them to identify and characterise a number of factors such as the nucleoporins and the proteins NXF1/p15 and Mtr2. These and other collaborative projects allowed them to gain new insights into the highly complex regulation of gene expression.
Elena Conti was born in 1967 in Varese, Italy, and studied chemistry in Pavia before receiving her doctorate at Imperial College, London. She worked as a postdoc at Rockefeller University in New York, USA, until 1999, before becoming the leader of her own research group at the EMBL in Heidelberg, where she first collaborated with Elisa Izaurralde. Since 2006 Elena Conti has been a director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in Martinsried.
Elisa Izaurralde was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1959 and studied biochemistry in Geneva, where she also obtained her doctorate. She first worked with Elena Conti as a postdoc at the EMBL in Heidelberg, before leading her own group at the University of Geneva until 1999, before returning to the EMBL, where she concluded her time as the coordinator of the gene expression programme. Since 2005 Elisa Izaurralde has been a director at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology in Tübingen.
Prof. Dr. Holger Fleischer (42), Business Law, Institute for Trade and Business Law, University of Bonn (2.5 million euros)
Holger Fleischer's studies of business law are a unique combination of the history of law, comparative law, the doctrinal study of law and economic theory of law. He is particularly interested in corporate and competition law as well as in key areas of civil law. His postdoctoral thesis on "Information Asymmetry in Contract Law" is still considered groundbreaking, as is his quite literally cosmopolitan approach, with constant reference to the legal systems in England, France and the USA. Due to this and his innovative combination of research methods across disciplinary boundaries, Holger Fleischer has made a name for himself as a moderniser of contemporary German civil law.
Holger Fleischer studied law and economics in Cologne before not only passing both state examinations in law (in 1990 and 1995) and becoming a doctor of law (1992), but also obtaining a diploma in Business Administration (1994). He expanded his knowledge of international law at the University of Michigan, USA, where he became a master of law (1993), and he gained practical experience in law as a trainee lawyer at the higher regional courts in Cologne and Brussels (1994/95). In 1999 he qualified as a university lecturer and was appointed as a professor at the University of Göttingen in the following year. Since 2004 he has been a full professor and director of the Institute for Trade and Business Law at the University of Bonn.
Prof. Dr. Stefan W. Hell (44), Biophysics, Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen (2.5 million euros)
Stefan Hell is inextricably linked to the development of STED microscopy. With this development, Hell countered beliefs about the limits of the resolution of microscopy that had held for over a century by taking a truly revolutionary look at the resolution of conventional laser scanning microscopy (LSM). In LSM, a beam of laser light is focussed on the specimen and the fluorescence stimulated by the laser is measured. Hell's groundbreaking development worked on the assumption that it should be possible to significantly improve the resolution by inhibiting the fluorescence from the rim of the focal point before the stimulated dye molecules could give off any fluorescence. This can be achieved by stimulated emission depletion - STED. Using this approach, Hell was able to achieve a resolution between three and four times better than with the best conventional microscopes and, for the first time, it became possible to visualise the fusion of individual synaptic vesicles in biological systems and the nerve terminals by light microscopy. It is hard to overestimate the importance of this discovery for modern biology, or for other areas such as the semiconductor industry, for example.
After studying physics and obtaining his doctorate in Heidelberg, Stefan Hell initially pursued his ideas as a "freelance inventor", before beginning his scientific career as a postdoc at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL). As the leader of the Laser Microscopy Group at the University of Turku in Finland, he developed the principles of STED microscopy, which he then developed further while leading an independent junior research group from 1996, and subsequently as a director at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen from 2002 onwards. Hell has already received several national and international distinctions for his work, most recently in 2006, when he won the Innovation Award of the Federal President of Germany, the "German Future Prize".
Prof. Dr. Klaus Kern (47), Physical Chemistry of the Materials, Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, Stuttgart (2.5 million euros)
Klaus Kern is a globally recognised pioneer of nanoscience. He has produced numerous groundbreaking works on the analysis of controlled fabrication of functional surface structures at the atomic level, primarily using scanning tunnelling microscopy (STM). His studies of the formation of copper oxide nanotemplates have come to be seen as a milestone, just as is the case for his method for the production of metallic nanostructures, which is now used in many laboratories around the world. In 2002, Kern produced the smallest solid state magnet that had ever been made, using a chain of about 80 cobalt atoms. The insights into anisotropic energy of individual atoms gained in the course of his work have been decisive in driving the development and use of nanoscopic materials, for instance for data storage applications.
After studying physics and chemistry and obtaining his doctorate from the University of Bonn, Klaus Kern studied interfaces as a research scientist at the Research Centre Jülich. As a postdoc he went to AT & T Laboratories in Murray Hill, New Jersey, USA, before qualifying as a university lecturer in Bonn in 1989. Soon thereafter he accepted a chair as a professor of experimental physics at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne, from where he moved to the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart as a director in 1998. Kern has received numerous national and international distinctions for his work, including the Gerhard Hess Prize from the DFG.
Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Lück (50), Algebraic Topology, Department of Mathematics, University of Münster (2.5 million euros)
Wolfgang Lück is considered one of the most highly recognised proponents of algebraic topology worldwide, and his work encompasses an extremely broad range of topics. On the one hand, he has written groundbreaking programmatic works, which have contributed towards establishing a hierarchy between various unsolved assumptions. Simultaneously however, his forte lies in his methodical approach to solving many unanswered questions. For instance, Lück extended the classical L2 theory, which now has a far broader range of uses thanks to his work. One of the high points of Lück's work is the solution of an assumption that is part of the Thurston norm about the L2-Betti numbers. Another high ranking example of his work is his proof for one of the central isomorphism problems for hyperbolic groups, which now permits key questions relating to the topology of variety and in the theory of operational algebra to be addressed. In addition to his achievements in his field of expertise, Lück has also achieved great renown as an academic lecturer and as an organiser of science.
As a student of Tammo tom Dieck, one of the most outstanding proponents of classical topology, Lück studied, obtained his doctorate and qualified as a university lecturer in Göttingen. At the age of 33 he took up a post as an associate professor, followed by a tenure-track position at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, USA, before returning to Germany as a full professor, first to Mainz and finally to Münster in 1996. Lück was awarded the Max Planck Research Prize in 2003.
Prof. Dr. Jochen Mannhart (47), Experimental Solid State Physics, Institute of Physics, University of Augsburg (2.5 million euros)
The internationally renowned experimental physicist Jochen Mannhart has achieved several groundbreaking discoveries in the field of functional interfaces in oxides. One area in which he has rendered particular services is in the optimisation of grain boundaries in high-temperature superconductors. He has also managed to construct purely oxide field effect transistors, which can be used to control the density of free electrons in boundary layers particularly effectively. In addition, Mannhart and his group have developed an especially sensitive low-temperature scanning probe microscope, which can reach the record breaking resolution of just 77 pm, thus making it possible to see individual atoms at subatomic resolution for the first time ever. Mannhart's work is equally seminal in the quest for answers to fundamental questions about the role of the electron system in solids as for future developments in electronics, optoelectronics and spintronics.
Jochen Mannhart studied physics in Tübingen, where he obtained his doctorate just one year after graduating in 1987 and went on to qualify as a university lecturer in 1994. During his scientific career he spent prolonged periods working at the IBM T. J. Watson Research Center, Yorktown Heights, USA, and at the IBM Zurich Research Laboratory, Switzerland. Since 1994 Mannhart has held the Chair for Experimental Physics at the Center for Electronic Correlations and Magnetism at the University of Augsburg.
Note to Editors:
Further information about the 2008 prizewinners will soon be available from the DFG's Press and Public Relations Office or from www.dfg.de.
Information about the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme is available online at
For further information on the Leibniz Programme from the DFG, please contact
- Ursula Rogmans-Beucher, Tel. +49 (0) 228 885-2726, firstname.lastname@example.org.