May 19, 1999

Research Magazine of Heidelberg University featuring anti-stress programs in plants and early signs of glaucoma

Title story of Ruperto Carola 1/99: Prof. Thomas Rausch on the astonishing strategies plants develop to reduce stress at the cellular level – Further topics: Heidelberg scientists on a small satellite for the big issues in astronomy; the way four different western European countries go about providing for financial security in old age

Stress is not unique to humans. Plants are subject to it too. They're out in the open in all weathers, they have to soldier on in saline or polluted soil, pests and pathogenic agents are out to get them. To arm plants against the adversities of everyday life, nature has equipped their smallest unit, the cell, with molecular anti-stress programs. Some of these molecules operate like a revolving door, elegantly ejecting harmful substances from the cell. In Ruperto Carola 1/99, the latest issue of Heidelberg University's research magazine, Prof. Thomas Rausch of the Institute of Botany describes the fascinating anti-stress strategies plants deploy at the cellular level and the surprising practical applications they can be put to. The spectrum of topics in the latest edition range from art history and scientific computing to sociology: how do four different western European countries tackle the problem of safeguarding living standards in old age? Also in this issue: how laser beams detect early signs of glaucoma.

In the Editorial, vice-rector Prof. Dr. Heinz Horner enumerates the regulations elaborated by the University of Heidelberg to militate against scientific malpractice. Says Horner: "The University of Heidelberg proceeds on the assumption that these provisions are cautionary measures that will not need to be actually resorted to." This does not however lessen the importance of squaring up to the subject. "The aim is to quicken sensitivity to the need for a practical code of scientific ethics."

Eloquent legacies

The Haus zur Kunkel is a historical building located not far from Konstanz Cathedral in Germany. As early as the 19th century, wall paintings dating back to the year 1320 were discovered on the premises. But it has taken till now for interdisciplinary research to turn its attention to such legacies from bygone days. Pictorial testimonies of this kind are used to reconstruct a picture of everyday life and the systems of values prevailing in late medieval urban communities. In the newest issue of Ruperto Carola, Lieselotte Saurma-Jeltsch of Heidelberg University's Institute of Art History gives an interpretation of the frescoes in the Haus zur Kunkel and explains their significance for art history research.

Weighing up the universe

How big, how old, how heavy is the universe? These are the most exciting questions presently being addressed in astronomy. Astronomers need to find an answer because that would help them understand why the universe is the way it is and what fate is likely to befall it in the remote future. The answer they come up with is decisive in determining whether the expansion of the universe that began 12 to 15 billion years ago with an explosive and chaotic "big bang" will continue indefinitely, or whether at some point it will start folding back on itself. The second of these eventualities would mean the universe ultimately collapsing into the hot, dense chaos from which it once emerged. Heidelberg scientists have teamed up to devise a measuring instrument that can be positioned on a satellite and transmit crucial data supporting these studies. In the new issue Ulrich Bastian and Siegfried Röser of the Institute of Astronomic Computing and Holger Mandel of Baden-Württemberg's Observatory tell readers all about "Diva", a small satellite for the big issues in modern astronomy.

Telltale signs

The disease is a particularly insidious one. It gives no warning of its onset, no pain tells the victim that something's wrong. Almost imperceptibly the field of vision becomes more restricted until at last the eye can only register a small extract of the world outside. Glaucoma is one of the most frequent causes of blindness. Treatment is difficult, and that makes it doubly crucial to identify the condition in time. With a new imaging technique called Laser Scanning Tomography it is now possible to discern the first telltale signs of pathological change. Reinhard Burk and Eberhard Völcker of the University's Ophthalmological Hospital describe the conception, realisation and clinical use of the "Heidelberg Retina Tomograph".

Combustion: Too hot to handle?

Combustion processes are especially important for humankind. After all we derive some 90 percent of our energy from such complex "chemically reactive flows". Their intricacy is so daunting that up to now they have largely defied accurate computation. In Ruperto Carola Jürgen Warnatz of the Center for Interdisciplinary Scientific Computing describes one way of approaching the quantification of combustion processes. The information thus obtained is indispensable for success in optimizing these processes and reducing pollutant formation.

Is there a life after retirement?

The German superannuation system is expensive and anything but perfect. This is the result of an international comparison of old-age financial security systems in four west European countries. The differences between the systems in Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden and Switzerland and the conceivable impetus such a comparison can provide for socio-political reform debates in Germany are the subject of the article by Jürgen Kohl of the Institute of Sociology.

The permanent columns "News from the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation", "External Funding" and "Young Scientists Report" round off the magazine.

Ruperto Carola is printed by Universitätsverlag C. Winter – Heidelberger Verlagsanstalt. Single copies cost 5 EUR plus postage (2,50 EUR for students). Like the special support subscription (4 issues for 30 EUR), they can be ordered from: Pressestelle der Universität Heidelberg, Postfach 105760, D-69047 Heidelberg, Germany.

Please address inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Public Information Officer of the University of Heidelberg
Tel: +49 6221 542310, fax: 542317
michael.schwarz@rektorat.uni-heidelberg.de

You will find the full German texts of all issues of "Ruperto Carola" complete with abstracts in English in the Internet under www.uni-heidelberg.de/uni/presse


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