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Press Release No. 4 | 2 March 2020
Ten Researchers to Receive Germany's Most Important Award for Early Career Researchers

DFG and BMBF to award the 2020 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prizes / Award ceremony on 5 May in Berlin

This year ten researchers – including four women and six men – will receive the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize, the most important award for early career researchers in Germany. The recipients were chosen by a selection committee in Bonn appointed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). They will each be presented with the €20,000 prize on 5 May in Berlin.

The 2020 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prizes are being awarded to:

  • Dr. Dr. Daniel Kotlarz, Paediatric and Adolescent Medicine, LMU Munich
  • Jun.-Prof. Dr. Ulrike Ingrid Kramm, Physical Chemistry of Solids, Technical University of Darmstadt
  • Prof. Dr. Elvira Mass, Immunology, University of Bonn
  • Dr. Fruzsina Molnár-Gábor, International Medical and Data Protection Law, Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities
  • Dr. Timothy Nunan, Global History, Free University of Berlin
  • Dr. Georg Oberdieck, Mathematics/Algebraic Geometry, University of Bonn
  • Jun.-Prof. Dr. Michael Saliba, Materials Science, Technical University of Darmstadt
  • PD Dr. Erik Schilling, Modern German Literature, LMU Munich
  • Dr. Monika Undorf, Cognitive Psychology, University of Mannheim
  • Dr. Wolfgang Zeier, Physical Chemistry of Solids, Justus Liebig University Giessen

The Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize has been awarded annually since 1977 to outstanding researchers at an early stage of their academic careers who do not yet have a permanent professorship. The prize serves as both recognition and an incentive to continue pursuing a path of academic excellence. Since 1980 it has been named after the atomic physicist and former DFG President Heinz Maier-Leibnitz, during whose period in office (1973–1979) it was first awarded. The Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize is regarded as the most important award for the promotion of early career researchers in Germany.

A total of 126 researchers from all fields of research were nominated for this year’s prize. The winners were selected by the responsible committee chaired by DFG Vice President and mathematician Prof. Dr. Marlis Hochbruck.

The recipients:

Dr. Dr. Daniel Kotlarz (41), Paediatric and Adolescent Medicine, LMU Munich

Daniel Kotlarz investigates the genetic causes of primary immunodeficiencies – rare and heterogeneous groups of genetic defects that can affect the immune system in many different ways – in early-onset forms of chronic inflammatory bowel disease. Kotlarz's work as project leader in a DFG-funded Collaborative Research Centre has demonstrated for the first time that individual genes can also trigger these conditions, which in turn has provided important stimuli for personalised treatment strategies. He also leads a Junior Research Group in the department of paediatric gastroenterology at Boston Children's Hospital at Harvard Medical School, which uses animal models to understand human immunodeficiencies. Kotlarz has documented his work in numerous high-calibre publications as both first and co-author.

Jun.-Prof. Dr. Ulrike Ingrid Kramm (40), Physical Chemistry of Solids, Technical University of Darmstadt

Platinum and platinum alloys are currently used as catalysts in the oxygen reduction reaction in fuel cells. The optimisation of the individual stages in the reaction is a fundamental problem. The search for more cost-effective catalyst materials is also economically and societally important. This is the area in which Ulrike Ingrid Kramm's research is focused, and she has made key contributions to understanding the active centres of transition metal complexes. Kramm's methodologically broad and interdisciplinary approach has enabled her, among other things, to establish Mössbauer spectroscopy as an essential technique in electrocatalysis. Kramm has published her results, achieved with the help of DFG funding, in prominent journals.

Prof. Dr. Elvira Mass (33), Immunology, University of Bonn

Elvira Mass investigates the development and function of macrophages, cells of the innate immune system. Her work has resulted in seminal insights into the molecular basis of the role of tissue macrophages in organogenesis – the process of organ development in the embryo – which she has published in high-calibre journals. Her insights are contributing to a better understanding of certain conditions such as osteopetrosis, in which bones become abnormally dense, and neurodegenerative disorders, which are caused by mutation-carrying microglial cells. Elvira Mass earned her doctorate in Bonn and worked as a researcher in London and New York before returning to Germany to lead an independent junior research group at the LIMES Institute at the University of Bonn, where she was recently appointed to a W2 professorship.

Dr. Fruzsina Molnár-Gábor (35), International Medical and Data Protection Law, Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities

Fruzsina Molnár-Gábor works at the interface of health and medical law and data protection law. Through her research, she is helping to establish the field of biomedical law in Germany. Previously, academic engagement with the legal regulation of biomedical issues was mostly separated into the conventional legal subject areas, such as criminal, civil and public law. In her international publications, which are not limited to traditional legal journals, Molnár-Gábor takes a different approach by engaging in genuine interdisciplinary dialogue with experts in biomedicine. A trained lawyer, she is a member of two interdisciplinary working groups, "Machine Learning in Medical Technology" at acatech, Germany's National Academy of Science and Engineering, and "The Future of Medicine: Healthcare For All" at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Dr. Timothy Nunan (34), Global History, Free University of Berlin

Timothy Nunan has studied and researched in the field of global history at Oxford, Princeton, Harvard and Berlin and is fluent in several languages. This, combined with his outstanding knowledge of the regions his research focuses on – Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran – allows him to examine his research topics from multiple perspectives. In his dissertation, Nunan was already developing new insights into Central Asia, Afghanistan, the Cold War and the role of humanitarian aid, which opened up new research questions for scholars in the field. Nunan's research stands out by virtue of its scholarly breadth, bringing together topics in East European and pan-European history in the research region of Central Asia. In this sense, he is carrying out pioneering work, considering the history of the Cold War – especially the role of the Soviet Union – together with that of the Islamic Revolution. Through his research, Nunan has thus contributed to global historiography topics that were not previously recognised, or not examined together.

Dr. Georg Oberdieck (31), Mathematics/Algebraic Geometry, University of Bonn

Mathematician Georg Oberdieck works in the field of algebraic geometry. This involves investigating geometric objects described by simple equations. Since there are so many of these objects, the question often arises of how many objects of a particular kind occur in certain contexts. Numerical tasks of this kind are referred to as enumerative geometry. In concrete terms, numerical problems like these arise in theoretical physics, to name one example. Oberdieck has solved problems such as these in concrete physical contexts and in so doing provided a much better description of the mathematical structure of these objects than was previously available. The paper he authored with Aaron Pixton, "Gromov-Witten theory of elliptic fibrations: Jacobi forms and holomorphic anomaly equations", has been especially influential. In this paper, the authors demonstrate their impressive grasp of methods in a range of fields, which they apply brilliantly to their core questions.

Jun.-Prof. Dr. Michael Saliba (36), Materials Science, Technical University of Darmstadt

Michael Saliba's core research area is perovskite-based solar cell development, an inexpensive and easily produced alternative to traditional silicon technology. In particular, he has helped to develop material structures for photovoltaics and his work has resulted in many high-calibre publications and patent developments. Saliba studied mathematics and physics in Stuttgart, earned his doctorate in physics at Oxford and has researched at Stanford and in Fribourg, Switzerland. He is involved in a project in the DFG Priority Programme "Perovskite semiconductors: From fundamental properties to devices" and is a member of the Global Young Academy.

PD Dr. Erik Schilling (36), Modern German Literature, LMU Munich

Erik Schilling's research is concerned with the literature and theory of the postmodern era, modern lyrics, the history of genres, and forms of intertextuality, particularly intertextual relationships between modern and ancient literature. In his dissertation, Schilling examined the contemporary German-language historical novel through a comparative look at the works of Umberto Eco. His habilitation thesis dealt with hymnic poetry in its contexts from the 18th to the 20th century. In this work, Schilling adopts a novel method to take a fresh look at texts by writers such as Goethe, Hölderlin, Nietzsche and Rilke. His approach combines remarkable productivity and diversity with philological diligence and great sensitivity in dealing with literary objects and the available research on them. Of particular note is the way in which his studies of literature and literary theory relate to and stimulate one another. In this way, Schilling is contributing important new impetus to the self-description of literary studies and its interpretive practice.

Dr. Monika Undorf (39), Cognitive Psychology, University of Mannheim

Monika Undorf is an experimental psychologist and an expert in metacognition, particularly metamemory. This term refers to knowledge about one's own memory – in other words, knowledge about how we learn and retain information. One key question for researchers is how metamemory judgements come about and how we acquire knowledge about our own memory. In her experimental studies, Undorf has shown that experiences at the moment of learning and storing content contribute significantly to metamemory judgements. Building on innovative method development, Undorf's findings have made important contributions to the theoretical and empirical development of memory research and have quickly gained international attention. Her DFG-funded work has been published in high-calibre international journals.

Dr. Wolfgang Zeier (34), Physical Chemistry of Solids, Justus Liebig University Giessen

To achieve a sustainable energy supply, we need to overcome current obstacles to increasing battery efficiency. One aim of Wolfgang Zeier's research is to develop better electrolytes for solid-state batteries which are safer, charge faster, and offer higher capacity and better performance. Through his work, he has made significant contributions towards a fundamental understanding of ion conduction. His core hypothesis is that lattice dynamics have an important influence on ion transport. In his most recent publications he has clearly demonstrated such an effect, which has brought him very close to confirming this hypothesis. Zeier's work has been met with a considerable international response in the materials science community.

Further Information

Representatives from the media are cordially invited to attend the award ceremony. Please register in advance with the DFG Press and Public Relations Office, Tel. +49 228 885-2109, Link auf E-Mailpresse@dfg.de

The 2020 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prizes will be presented on 5 May at 4pm in the Festsaal of the Humboldt University of Berlin, Luisenstraße 56, Berlin.

More information about the 2020 prizewinners will be available soon at:

DFG Head Office contact: