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Press Release No. 14 | 14 April 2008
Outstanding German-Polish Scientific Cooperation

A Chemist from Munich and a Physicist from Warsaw Selected to Receive the Copernicus Award by the DFG and the FNP

Professor Wolfgang Domcke, a chemist from Munich, and Professor Andrzej Sobolewski, a physicist from Warsaw, have been selected to receive the Copernicus Award by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the Foundation for Polish Science (FNP) for their services to German-Polish scientific cooperation. The prize is in recognition of their many years of fruitful cooperation in the fields of the photochemistry and photophysics of biologically relevant molecules and their combined dedication to the promotion of young researchers. The award includes prize money of 50,000 euros and will be presented in Warsaw on 14 May by the presidents of the DFG and the FNP, Professor Matthias Kleiner und Professor Maciej Zylicz.
The prizewinners have - each in their own right and through their cooperation - primarily made a name for themselves in the fields of quantum dynamics and quantum chemistry. Wolfgang Domcke, who is now 60, has held the Chair of Theoretical Chemistry at the Technical University of Munich since 1999, which he took up after having qualified as a university lecturer in physics in Freiburg and subsequently spending periods in Heidelberg and Düsseldorf. Andrzej Sobolewski, who is 56, has been a Professor at the Institute of Physics of the Polish Academy of Sciences since 1991 and has received numerous national and international prizes since taking up that position, including the most prestigious honour for Polish scientists, the Award of the Foundation for Polish Science, which he was presented with in 2007.
Both researchers have successfully cooperated on numerous projects for over 20 years, as documented by more than 60 joint publications. They discovered a mechanism capable of explaining the photostability of DNA, the carrier of genetic information. According to their calculations, the base pairs adenine-thymine (or adenine-uracil) and cytosine-guanine possess specific mechanisms that enable them to return to a stable ground state very rapidly after being excited into an unstable state by UV radiation. The basic processes on which this mechanism is based take place within a few femtoseconds - the time it takes light to travel just a fraction of the width of a human hair. The radiation absorbed is then given off as heat without damaging the molecule. The scientists have been able to demonstrate that the proposed mechanism for these base pairs is particularly effective and that similar mechanisms also play a role in the photostability of proteins. The promotion of young researchers is always given high priority in all of the work they do. They have jointly supervised many of the research staff, which has given the young scientists the opportunity to learn very valuable skills from both of these eminent researchers.
This dedication also contributed towards the award panel's decision to select them as the winners of this year's Copernicus Award. The panel, which is made up of German and Polish scientists, selected Domcke and Sobolewski from a total of 29 nominees from all areas of research. The chemist from Munich and the physicist from Warsaw are the second pair of scientists to win the Copernicus Award, which the DFG and the FNP have awarded to one scientist from Germany and one from Poland every two years since 2006. The winners of the first Copernicus Award were the pharmacologists Professor Eberhard Schlicker from the University of Bonn and Professor Barbara Malinowska from the University of Bialystok in Poland.
The Copernicus Award, named after the astronomer Nicolas Copernicus (1473-1543), is intended by the DFG and the FNP to act as a symbol of the close cooperation between Germany and Poland in the field of scientific research. The 50,000 euros in prize money is contributed equally by both of the organisations and the winners receive 25,000 euros each, which they are free to use for any scientific purpose within the scope of the funding programmes of the DFG and the FNP. One emphasis should, however, be on the advancement of the joint promotion of young researchers. The DFG reached an agreement on promoting cooperation between outstanding young researchers from all disciplines with the FNP in 2006. In addition to the Copernicus Award, both of the organisations have also been working towards close cooperation in research funding for some years now.

Further Information

Further information on the Copernicus Award and this year's winners is available at

For further information on the Copernicus Award from the DFG, please contact Dr. Torsten Fischer, International Affairs Division, Tel. +49 228 885-2372, Torsten.Fischer@dfg.de.