Award ceremonyLautenschläger Research Prize for Neurobiologist Hannah Monyer

Press Release No. 40/2021
29 April 2021

Invitation to the Public Virtual Award Ceremony

Junior researcher prize goes to Felix Joos in theoretical computer science

As an internationally renowned expert in the field of brain research, Heidelberg neurobiologist Prof. Dr Hannah Monyer is being honoured with the 2020 Lautenschläger Research Prize, endowed with 250,000 euros. Dr h.c. Manfred Lautenschläger, the award sponsor and an Honorary Senator of Heidelberg University, is also donating a prize to outstanding junior researchers. This prize, worth 25,000 euros, goes to junior professor Dr Felix Joos, who is among the most promising talents internationally in the fields of theoretical computer science and discrete mathematics. The award ceremony was planned for December last year but had to be postponed owing to the provisions of the coronavirus ordinance. The festive presentation is now to take place on 7 May 2021 as a virtual event, open to the public, and will be livestreamed from the Great Hall of the Old University starting at 17:00. It is accessible via the portal heiONLINE of Heidelberg University

The award ceremony will be opened by Prof. Dr Bernhard Eitel, Rector of Heidelberg University. Two scientists will then report on their research: materials chemist Dr Claudia Backes from the Institute for Physical Chemistry – she received the junior researcher prize in 2018 – and Dr Johannes Schemmel from the Kirchhoff Institute for Physics. He heads the working group “Electronic Vision(s)” of experimental physicist Prof. Dr Karlheinz Meier, who was awarded the Lautenschläger Research Prize posthumously in 2018. The programme will continue with a scientific conversation involving the current two prize winners and two other scientists from Heidelberg University – neurophysiologist Prof. Dr Andreas Draguhn, who will present Prof. Monyer’s academic achievements, and Prof. Dr Johannes Walcher from mathematical physics as presenter for Prof. Joos. The event will conclude with an address by award sponsor Manfred Lautenschläger.

Prize winner Hannah Monyer

Prof. Monyer’s research focuses on the molecular mechanisms that support synchronous neural network activities and underlie cognitive processes such as learning and remembering. “In this field, Hannah Monyer combines intelligent questions with highly innovative experimental approaches and does not shy away from expanding beyond the boundaries of her own discipline to uncover the fundamental secrets of neural networks. She can rightly be called a pioneer of modern systemic neuro and behavioural science anchored in molecular biology,” says Manfred Lautenschläger of the current prize winner. Prof. Monyer was instrumental in several groundbreaking and internationally highly visible discoveries, related in particular to inhibitory interneurons and projection neurons – the brain’s “master clocks”. She has recently turned her attention to the function of specific inhibitory interneurons in neural “circuits” that exhibit an effect all the way through to the behavioural level. 

Since 1999 Prof. Monyer has been Medical Director of the Division of Clinical Neurobiology at Heidelberg University Hospital – a cooperational division of the Medical Faculty Heidelberg, Heidelberg University, and the German Cancer Research Center. She studied medicine and earned her doctorate at Heidelberg University. She worked as a resident physician in the Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, subsequently joining the Department of Paediatric Neurology at the University Children’s Hospital in Lübeck. In 1986, Hannah Monyer joined Stanford University (USA) as a postdoctoral research fellow and three years later came to the Center for Molecular Biology at Heidelberg University. She received her authorisation to teach biochemistry in 1993, becoming an endowed professor the following year and establishing her own research group. In addition to other prestigious awards for her achievements, Prof. Monyer received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize from the German Research Foundation in 2004.

Hannah Monyer

Prize winner Felix Joos

Paying tribute to Felix Joos, the winner of the junior researcher prize, Manfred Lautenschläger describes him as an “enormously productive young researcher, who with creativity, self-determination and technical flexibility is tackling major questions in theoretical computer science and discrete mathematics”. Prof. Joos recently attracted attention with his solution to the “Oberwolfach problem” (2018) and a paper on the “kissing number” (2019). His research in this field starts from the question of how closely equally large balls can be packed – not only in 3D containers like a box but in spaces of any dimension, what are called d-dimensional spaces. A central point here is how many balls can touch a single ball in the d-dimensional space. In connection with this “kissing number” Prof. Joos studies how great the difference is between the ideal and the least ideal ball packaging in the d-dimensional space. With his study of the lower barriers to the “kissing number” he has already developed innovative methods combining different tools from discrete mathematics and statistical physics.

Felix Joos studied mathematics at Ulm University, where he also submitted his dissertation. After research stays at the University of Birmingham (Great Britain) and the University of Hamburg, he joined Heidelberg University’s Institute for Computer Science in March of last year as a junior professor. Since 2019, Prof. Joos has headed a research group that is also funded by the Emmy Noether Programme of the German Research Foundation. He has already published numerous articles with cooperation partners from all over the world.

Felix Joos

Lautenschläger Research Prize

Worth 250,000 euros, the Lautenschläger Research Prize is the most highly endowed such prize by a private sponsor in Germany and is awarded every two years for special accomplishments in leading-edge research. The distinction is intended to honour scientists from Heidelberg University as well as other national and international researchers with special ties to Ruperto Carola through scientific cooperation. Entrepreneur Manfred Lautenschläger established the award in 2001 to foster outstanding researchers who are actively engaged in advancing the discovery process. An interdisciplinary board of internationally connected scientists selects the potential prize recipients, who can be nominated for the Lautenschläger Research Prize from any discipline. 

Lautenschläger junior researcher prize

The very first junior researcher prize was awarded in 2018. Eligible for selection are habilitation candidates, junior research group leaders or junior professors who can show outstanding scientific achievement and particularly innovative research approaches. The prize money helps to promote these young researchers in their personal scientific development and to support their research activity.