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Press Release No. 14 | 10 May 2021
DFG to Fund 17 New Research Training Groups

Topics ranging from the quality of interaction in primary school teaching to novel quantum light sources and allergic diseases / A total of around €92 million for the first funding period

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) is establishing 17 new Research Training Groups (RTGs) to bolster the support offered to early career researchers. This was announced by the Grants Committee, which met by video conference due to the coronavirus pandemic. The new RTGs will receive a total of roughly €92 million over a period of four and a half years from spring 2021 onwards. This includes a 22-percent programme allowance for indirect project-related costs. Five of the consortia are International Research Training Groups (IGK) with partners in Australia, Japan, Canada and South Africa.

In addition to the 17 new groups, the Grants Committee agreed to extend funding for another 14 RTGs for an additional funding period. Research Training Groups offer doctoral researchers an opportunity to complete their doctorates in a structured research and training programme at a high level of expertise. The DFG currently funds a total of 219 RTGs, including 34 IRTGs.

The 17 new Research Training Groups in detail
(in alphabetical order of host university, with information on the spokesperson as well as the other applicant universities and cooperation partners):

The interaction between polyelectrolytes, i.e. macromolecules with charged groups, and various cellular or tissue systems is being investigated by the International Research Training Group “Charging into the Future: Understanding the Interaction of Polyelectrolytes with Biosystems”. Research at the Berlin site focuses primarily on fundamental physical and chemical questions, while the two Canadian partner universities in Montréal and Vancouver are seeking to use the knowledge gained to address issues of direct pharmaceutical relevance. (FU Berlin, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Rainer Haag; cooperation partner: Université McGill, Montréal; University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada)

Under the title “Transformative Religion: Religion as Situated Knowledge in Social Transformation Processes”, the German-South African Research Training Group aims to contribute to research into the complex interrelationships between religion and society, in particular comparing countries of the Global North to those of the Global South. What influence does religion exert on social transformation processes? And by the same token, how do transformations in contemporary global societies affect religion? When carrying out case studies, the RTG examines religion as a type of specifically situated knowledge and look into the relationship between religion and social transformation. (HU Berlin, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Torsten Meireis; cooperation partner: Universiteit Stellenbosch, Inyuvesi YakwaZulu-Natali (UKZN) and University of the Western Cape, all South Africa)

In recent years, there has been growing recognition of the fact that the microenvironment in tissue is of great importance to the development and function of immune cells. The Research Training Group “Immune Microtope: Microenvironmental, Metabolic and Microbial Signalling for the Regulation of Immune Cell-Pathogen Interaction” aims to explore whether antimicrobial immune defence is influenced by tissue context as well as the microenvironmental factors and metabolism at the site of infection, which together form the “immune microtope”. (University of Erlangen-Nuremberg, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Christian Bogdan)

The Research Training Group “Dynamics of Controlled Atomic and Molecular Systems” focuses on the investigation and control of the electron and nuclear dynamics of systems in well-defined quantum states. These include modern techniques for producing controlled atomic, molecular and cluster arrangements, as well as for generating and characterising ultra-short light pulses. In a series of complementary experimental and theoretical projects, the researchers involved aim to analyse interactions and dynamics at low temperatures and on ultra-short time-scales. (University of Freiburg, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Frank Stienkemeier)

Proteases are enzymes that perform numerous important functions within and between cells, coordinate cells in multicellular organisms and determine the interactions between pathogen and host. But what is their role in infections? This is the question addressed by the Research Training Group “Proteases in Pathogen and Host: Their Role in Inflammation and Infection – RTG-PRO”. To this end, scientists in both basic research and the clinical setting seek to shed light on the role of proteases in inflammation on the one hand, and on the molecular relationships between sequence, structure and function on the other. (University of Greifswald, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Barbara M. Bröker)

The Research Training Group “Subjectivity and the Practice of Interaction in Primary School Teaching” investigates the interactive constitution of subject-related learning. Here the focus is on both subject matter and quality of interaction in primary school teaching, as well as the balance between these two factors, including an examination of how interaction is organised, how subject matter is structured and how tasks are conducted during lessons. By analysing teaching practice in German and mathematics lessons, the RTG aims to lay the foundations for comparative subject didactic teaching research that is able to identify both specific and overarching features of subject-related learning. (University of Halle-Wittenberg, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Georg Breidenstein; also applying: University of Kassel)

Biological processes are controlled by finely tuned activating and inhibiting signals. Along these signalling pathways, there are so-called checkpoints which interrupt ongoing processes in order to enable an in-depth check. In the immune system, checkpoint blockade both strengthens the elimination of invading pathogens and cancer cells and causes tissue damage. The aim of the Research Training Group “Checkpoints of Innate Immunity in Cancer and Tissue Damage (In-Check)” is to take a closer look at checkpoints in cells of innate immunity. In this way, it might be possible to develop treatments for tumours and tissue damage by therapeutically activating or blocking these checkpoints. (University of Heidelberg, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Adelheid Cerwenka)

Meta-surfaces consist of customised nano-scale optical elements, so-called meta-atoms, which are arranged in a plane. They can be used to control the properties of light fields. Most meta-surfaces realised so far have been purely passive, however. The International Research Training Group “Tailored Meta-Surfaces – Generation, Programming and Detection of Light” aims to create active meta-surfaces that are capable of emitting, detecting and dynamically manipulating light. The researchers based in Jena and Canberra seek to exploit the potential of meta-surfaces to create the conditions for novel (quantum) light sources, programmable optical systems and improved detectors. (University of Jena, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Isabelle Staude; cooperation partner: The Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, Australia)

The Research Training Group “KD⊃2;School – Design of Adaptive Systems for Economic Decisions” involves experts in the fields of business informatics, economics, psychology and computer science. They wish to explore context-dependent economic decision-making processes and design the relevant IT-based systems to support economic decisions. The purpose of adaptive systems is to adapt to the context of a decision-making situation and be “self-improving”. Up until now, research into this type of system has mainly been profit-oriented or geared towards achieving political goals. (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Christof Weinhardt)

The research programme pursued by the Research Training Group “HYDROGEN Isotopes, 1,2,3H” combines various fields of research within chemistry as well as certain related disciplines such as solid state physics and materials science with the aim of investigating nuclear quantum effects in hydrogen isotopes. Adopting an integrative approach, various methods of organic synthesis, radiochemistry, molecular and solid state chemistry are used, as well as theoretical chemistry. The research aims to contribute to a better understanding of the properties of hydrogen in its various forms and harness it for human use – for example to develop sustainable energy sources or recycle radioactive waste. (University of Leipzig, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Knut R. Asmis)

How can autoimmune diseases that affect 4-5 percent of the population be detected at an early stage? Hardly any research has been conducted into this question to date – a situation which the Research Training Group “Definition and Targeted Intervention in Predisposition to the Development of Autoimmune Diseases” is seeking to rectify: it is investigating biomarkers for early detection, predispositions and the link to environmental factors as triggers of autoimmune diseases. In future, this could enable treatment even before the onset of symptoms, thereby offering an alternative to the immunosuppressive therapies currently in use, which patients are usually required to undergo for the rest of their lives. (University of Lübeck, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Ralf Joachim Ludwig)

The less researched aspects of “Dynamics and Stability of Linguistic Representations” are being investigated by the Research Training Group of the same name, which bears the supplementary title “Neurolinguistics – Acquisition & Intervention – Variation & Change”. Linguistic representations are the mental and cognitive equivalents of basic linguistic categories from the phonetic to the word and phrase level. Working at the interface between research in the humanities and the natural sciences, the Research Training Group aims to bring together and empirically substantiate the various representational assumptions and theories based on a meta-theoretical perspective and conduct research into fundamental phenomena of language perception, language acquisition and language use. (University of Marburg, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Mathias Scharinger)

Up to 40 percent of the population in industrialised countries suffer from allergic diseases. For this reason, the Research Training Group “Immunological Switches in Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases” has set itself the goal of searching for so-called immune master switches (IMS). These are responsible for the initiation of inflammatory reactions in allergies and autoimmune diseases, but they also cause chronification and resilience to such reactions. By identifying relevant IMS, the researchers involved hope to be able to better assess the risk of allergic diseases progressing and resulting in complications or death. (TU Munich, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Tilo Biedermann)

The Research Training Group “Functional pi-Systems: Activation, Interactions and Applications (pi-Sys)” is dedicated to investigating, analysing and producing substances and materials that contain functionalised pi-systems – a special form of chemical bonding. The researchers based in Münster and Nagoya, Japan, are working at the interface between materials research and organic synthesis chemistry on the one hand, and catalysis and biological applications on the other. In doing so, their aim is to approach the pi-systems from the point of the chemical bond and not as individual substance classes. In this way, they are seeking to develop “next-generation materials”. (University of Münster, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Armido Studer; cooperation partner: Nagoya University, Japan)

Quantum technology makes use of quantum mechanical effects to store, process and transmit information. This results in novel phenomena, concepts and functionalities. The German-Canadian Research Training Group “Imaging of Quantum Systems: Photons, Molecules and Materials” aims to combine the research fields of quantum optics, ultra-fast electron dynamics and electronic coherence to develop innovative concepts in telecommunications, data and image processing. (University of Rostock, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Stefan Scheel; cooperation partner: University of Calgary, University of Ottawa, both Canada)

In radar technology, the term “cooperative aperture synthesis” refers to a process in which several mobile radar systems are combined to form a large-area radar aperture. The individual radar systems are carried by flying robots that move in a swarm. The novel tomographic radar imaging principles that this principle enables are to be researched by the Research Training Group “Cooperative Aperture Synthesis for Radar Tomography (KoRaTo)” for use in the area of earth observation, for example. To this end, the RTG aims to map out the entire process from the acquisition of radar measurement data – including the data models and algorithms required for this purpose – through to elaboration of the digital image data. (University of Ulm, spokesperson: Professor Dr.-Ing. Christian Waldschmidt; also applying: University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)

The Research Training Group “Neuronal Mechanisms of (Mal)Adaptive Approach-Avoidance Behaviour” is concerned with the underlying behavioural patterns of approach and avoidance. From the perspectives of psychology, psychiatry and neurobiology, the researchers aim to acquire a better understanding of a wide range of animal and human behaviour. For example, they are looking at the neural mechanisms underlying the switch from avoidance to approach or the role of social factors in modulating approach and avoidance behaviour in humans and mice. (University of Würzburg, spokesperson: Professor Dr. Matthias Gamer)

The 14 RTGs with their funding extended for an additional period
(in alphabetical order of host university, with information on the spokesperson as well as the other applicant universities and cooperation partners, and with references to the project descriptions in GEPRIS – the DFG internet database for current funding):

Further Information

Media contact:

The Research Training Groups spokesperson can also provide additional information.

Programme contact at the DFG Head Office:

More detailed information on the funding programme and the Research Training Groups to be awarded funding can be found here: