International research prizeClimate Change and Health: With a Humboldt Professorship to Universität Heidelberg

Press Release No. 63/2021
1 July 2021

International research prize goes to epidemiologist Joacim Rocklöv on proposal of Ruperto Carola

To study climate change and its impact on global public health with the aid of new research approaches, Prof. Dr Joacim Rocklöv, an eminent epidemiologist, is receiving a Humboldt Professorship worth up to five million euros located at Heidelberg University. It is awarded by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Leading international academics are granted such a professorship in order to conduct long-term, cutting-edge research at German universities. As professor for “artificial intelligence in the researching of climate-sensitive infectious diseases”, Joacim Rocklöv will explore the influence of climate and environment on the spread of diseases like malaria, HIV or dengue. The scientist, who was proposed by Ruperto Carola to receive Germany’s most highly endowed international research prize, is currently working at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine of Umeå University (Sweden).

Porträt Joacim Rocklöv

Prof. Rocklöv’s interdisciplinary research will be based at the Heidelberg Institute of Global Health (HIGH) of the Medical Faculty Heidelberg and, at the same time, connect with the Interdisciplinary Center for Scientific Computing (IWR) – one of the central research institutions at Heidelberg University. Accordingly, Joacim Rocklöv’s Humboldt Professorship is designed as a bridge professorship between HIGH and IWR. His research emphasis will be on how to use methods of artificial intelligence (AI), particularly machine learning, and of data science in order to gain a new understanding of the spread of infectious diseases and possibilities of intervention. Particular attention will go to the influence of changing climatic conditions. The aim is to highlight the impacts of climatic and environmental changes on public health, develop predictive models as early warning systems and come up with possible forms of intervention to counter the spread of climate-sensitive diseases. For causal studies and field research, Prof. Rocklöv will collaborate closely with Prof. Dr Dr Till Bärnighausen, director of HIGH and likewise a Humboldt Professor. Hence the first AI laboratory in Germany dealing with the connection between global diseases and climate change will come into being at Heidelberg University.

With Joacim Rocklöv, Ruperto Carola wants to gain a scientist for the Heidelberg research location who has proved himself in the specialist world as an excellent representative of his research field. Besides the outstanding scientific qualifications of candidates for a Humboldt Professorship, a crucial factor is the strategy of the universities, which are expected to offer the researchers and their teams lasting prospects in Germany. By appointing Prof. Rocklöv, Heidelberg University wants to further expand its leading position in the field of method-supported global health research and link this research area even more strongly to clinical infection research at Heidelberg University Hospital – an interdisciplinary approach of outstanding significance for medicine, health care, climate change research and policy advice.

Epidemiologist, mathematician and statistician Joacim Rocklöv has, since 2018, had a professorship at the Department of Public Health and Clinical Medicine at Umeå University, at which he was formerly a senior lecturer and then associate professor. After earning his doctorate in 2010, he received the Young Researcher Award of Umeå University in 2012. In 2019, for his research on environment-related arbovirus epidemics, Prof. Rocklöv was awarded the “Prince Albert II of Monaco – Institut Pasteur” prize. He collaborates in international research projects and advises international bodies and organisations as an expert in the field of epidemiology and climate change.

International academics who have a leading position worldwide in their field can be nominated for the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship. The intention is that – with the support of the highly endowed prize – their research studies can make a sustainable contribution to the international competitiveness of Germany as a research location. The prize money is meant for financing the first five years of their work. Up to ten professorships can be granted annually, and from 2020 to 2024 another six are available each year in the field of artificial intelligence. After successful appointment negotiations with the respective universities, the prizes will be awarded next year.