ProfilLeibniz Award Laureates Of Heidelberg University
The Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize is the most prestigious research award in Germany. It has been given annually by the German Research Foundation (DFG) since 1986 and is endowed with up to 2.5 million euros per award.
It recognises exceptional scientists and scholars for ground-breaking achievements in their field of research and whose continued work is expected to permanently shape the research landscape. Prizewinners are chosen from a slate of nominations put forward by third parties.
The following recipients were, or still are, researchers at Heidelberg University at the time the prize was awarded.
Researchers Working At Heidelberg University At Time Of Award
2023 • STEFAN PFISTER • PAEDIATRIC ONCOLOGIST
born in Tübingen in 1974
After studying human medicine, Stefan Pfister earned his doctorate in Tübingen. As a postdoctoral researcher he joined the Harvard Medical School in Boston / Massachusetts (USA). He specialised in paediatrics at Mannheim University Hospital, the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) and Heidelberg University Hospital. His habilitation in 2010 at Heidelberg University entitled him to teach paediatrics as a subject. Since 2012 Stefan Pfister has headed the Division of Paediatric Neurooncology at the DKFZ and has held an eponymous professorship at the Medical Faculty Heidelberg since 2014. He directs the preclinical programme in the three-person directorate of the Hopp Children’s Cancer Center Heidelberg (KiTZ) – a joint institution of the DKFZ, Heidelberg University Hospital and the university. He is receiving the 2023 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize for his outstanding studies to investigate and develop new diagnosis and treatment procedures for childhood brain tumours.
2017 • JOACHIM P. SPATZ • CELL BIOPHYSICS
born 1969 in Heidenheim an der Brenz
Joachim P. Spatz was appointed Professor of Biophysical Chemistry at Heidelberg University in 2000. He has also been Director of the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg since 2016. Before, he worked at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems (formerly MPI for Metal Research) in Stuttgart from 2004 to 2015. The biophysicist's research focuses on cell physics, synthetic biology and materials science. Joachim P. Spatz has received a number of awards for his scientific accomplishments, including an ERC Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). He received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 2017 for his outstanding research at the intersection of materials science and cell biophysics.
2014 • IRMGARD MARIA SINNING • BIOCHEMISTRY AND STRUCTURAL BIOLOGY
born 1960 in Höchstädt an der Donau
Irmgard Maria Sinning teaches and researches at the Biochemistry Centre of Heidelberg University (BZH), where she has been Professor of Biochemistry and Structural Biology since 2000. She had previously been with Uppsala University and the Max Planck Institutes of Biochemistry and Biophysics, among others. From 1994 to 2000, she led a working group at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. Irmgard Sinning was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 2014. She studies the fundamental mechanisms and molecular machines in cells and was instrumental in the identification of one of the most important transport mechanisms in the cell. Her work incorporates biochemistry, biophysics, and structural biology.
2011 • JOACHIM FRIEDRICH QUACK • EGYPTOLOGY
born 1966 in Husum
Joachim Friedrich Quack joined Heidelberg University in 2005 as Professor of Egyptology and Director of the Institute for Egyptology. Before that he was a research associate and then Heisenberg Fellow at the Department of Egyptology of the Free University of Berlin. He was a guest professor at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris in 2015. His research focuses on the language, literature, and religion of ancient Egypt. He was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz in 2011 for his accomplishments particularly in the field of Late Egyptology.
2004 • HANNAH MONYER • NEUROBIOLOGY
born 1957 in Laslea (Romania)
Hannah Monyer received her MD at Heidelberg University in 1982 and habilitated there in 1993. In 1999 she was appointed to an endowed professorship at the university's Centre for Molecular Biology (ZMBH). She has been Medical Director of the Neurobiology Clinic in Heidelberg since 2002 and a professor at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) since 2003. Hannah Monyer did postdoctoral work at the Stanford University Medical Center in California and Columbia University in New York. She was awarded the Federal Cross of Merit in 1999. Five years later she was honoured with the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, and in 2009 she received an ERC Advanced Grant from the European Research Council. Through her research, the neurobiologist has contributed substantially to our understanding of the molecular foundations of learning and memory.
2003 • CHRISTOF NIEHRS • MOLECULAR DEVELOPMENTAL BIOLOGY
born 1962 in Berlin
Christof Niehrs has directed the Molecular Embryology Department of the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg since 1994. From 2000 to 2010 he was Professor for Molecular Embryology at the DKFZ and Heidelberg University, where he had previously earned both his PhD and habilitation. He was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 2003 for his work on the molecular mechanisms of embryonic development and cell differentiation. In 2010, Christoph Niehrs took a professorship at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and is the founding director of the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) there.
2003 • WINFRIED DENK • BIOMEDICAL OPTICS
born 1957 in Munich
Winfried Denk has been teaching and researching at Heidelberg University since 2002 as an Honorary Professor at the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy. His postdoctoral research work took him to Switzerland and the USA. In 1999 he was appointed Director of the Department of Biomedical Optics at the Max Planck Institute for Medical Research in Heidelberg, and since 2011 he has been Director of the Electrons-Photons-Neurons Department of the Max Planck Institute for Neurobiology in Martinsried. He was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 2003. His major scientific accomplishments include the development and optimisation of two-photon microscopy.
2001 • CHRISTOPH MARKSCHIES • THEOLOGY
born 1962 in Berlin
Christoph Markschies was Professor and Chair of Historical Theology at Heidelberg University from 2000 to 2004. Fellowships took him to Trinity College in Oxford, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He was appointed Chair of Ancient Christianity at Humboldt University of Berlin in 2004. His research focuses on the intellectual history of ancient Christianity. Christoph Markschies was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 2001.
2001 • EDUARD CHRISTIAN HURT • BIOCHEMISTRY
born 1955 in Hohenau
Ed Hurt has been Professor of Biochemistry at Heidelberg University since 1995, serving as Director of the Biochemistry Centre (BZH) from 2003 to 2005. Earlier in his career, Hurt was a work group leader at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg and a researcher at the Biozentrum of the University of Basel in Switzerland. Prof. Hurt's research has contributed substantially to our basic understanding of key molecular life processes of eukaryotic cells, such as transport between the cell nucleus and cytoplasm and the formation of ribosomes. In addition to the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, which he was awarded in 2001, he also received a Koselleck Grant (2011) and an ERC Advanced Grant from the European Research Council (2017) in recognition of his achievements.
2000 • KLAUS FIEDLER • SOCIAL PSYCHOLOGY
born 1951 in Wetzlar
Klaus Fiedler has been researching and teaching at the Institute of Psychology of Heidelberg University since 1992. He studied psychology in Gießen and taught there for more than ten years before joining the University of Mannheim as Professor of Microsociology and Social Psychology in 1990. Two years later he joined Heidelberg University as Professor of Social Psychology. Klaus Fiedler specialises in cognitive social psychology, including the relationships between language and social perception as well as decision-making research within the framework of cognitive ecological theory. He was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 2000.
1997 • STEFAN M. MAUL • ASSYRIOLOGY
born 1958 in Aachen
Stefan M. Maul has been Professor (Chair) of Assyriology at the Department of Languages and Cultures of the Near East at Heidelberg University since 1995. He previously pursued research at the École Pratique des Hautes Études in Paris, the Sapienza University of Rome, the University of London, and the Free University of Berlin. His research focuses on the cultural and religious history of the ancient Orient as well as its rituals and healing methods. He was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 1997. He used the prize monies to establish the research centre for the journal of cuneiform script in Assur, which he continues to direct today. In 2005 he co-founded the Heidelberg Research Community for the Study of the Ancient World.
1997 • THOMAS BOEHM • IMMUNOBIOLOGY
born 1956 in Gelnhausen
Thomas Boehm held a joint professorship in experimental therapy at Heidelberg University and the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg from 1994 to 1997. He received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize while in Heidelberg (1997). After earning his MD degree, Boehm habilitated at the University of Frankfurt (Main). He worked at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology of Cambridge University from 1987 to 1991, when he was appointed a professorship at the University of Freiburg. Since his departure from Heidelberg, the immunobiologist has been Director of the Developmental Immunology Department at the Max Planck Institute of Immunology and Epigenetics in Freiburg as well as an honorary professor at the University of Freiburg.
1995 • MANFRED G. SCHMIDT • POLITICAL SCIENCE
born 1948 in Donauwörth
Manfred G. Schmidt received his PhD in political science from the University of Tübingen in 1975 and habilitated at the University of Konstanz six years later. His first professorship was at the Free University of Berlin in 1984. He joined Heidelberg University in 1987 and was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 1995. After a four-year interim with the Center for Social Policy Studies of the University of Bremen, he returned to a professorship in political science at Heidelberg University in 2001. Manfred Schmidt became known particularly for his research in international comparative public policy, politics in Germany, and theories of democracy.
1994 • GLENN W. MOST • CLASSICAL PHILOLOGY
born 1952 in Miami
Glenn W. Most was Professor of Greek Philology at Heidelberg University from 1991 to 2001 and received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 1994. The US native studied at Harvard and Yale Universities as well as the University of Tübingen, where he earned his PhD in classical philology and comparative literature. He taught at the universities in Princeton, Siena, Michigan, and Innsbruck before his appointment to a professorship in Heidelberg. Since 2001, the classicist has been teaching as Professor of Ancient Greek at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa. His work on antiquity is multifaceted, covering themes such as anger and rage in Homer, a new edition of Greek tragedies, and methodological reflections.
1994 • STEFAN JENTSCH • BIOLOGY
born 1955 in Berlin, died 2016 in Munich
Stefan Jentsch researched and taught at the Centre for Molecular Biology of Heidelberg University (ZMBH) from 1993 to 1998. He received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 1993. The biologist was known for his distinguished research on the significance of the protein ubiquitin and its role as a molecular switch in numerous cell processes. His eminent career took him to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge and the Friedrich Miescher Laboratory of the Max Planck Society in Tübingen, among others. In 1998 he became a director of the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried and in 2001 was appointed an honorary professor at the Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. Stefan Jentsch was posthumously awarded the Otto Warburg Medal in 2017.
1993 • RUDOLF G. WAGNER • SINOLOGY
born 1941 in Wiesbaden
Rudolf G. Wagner accepted the Chair of Sinology at Heidelberg University in 1987 and was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize six years later. His research primarily focuses on Chinese philosophy and intellectual history as well as Chinese literature and its ties to politics. Rudolf Wagner studied sinology, Japanese studies, political science, and philosophy in Bonn, Heidelberg, Paris and Munich. He completed his habilitation at the Free University of Berlin, after which he pursued research at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Harvard University, and the University of California in Berkeley. He has been a Senior Professor at Heidelberg University since 2009.
1993 • WOLFGANG KRÄTSCHMER • NUCLEAR PHYSICS
born 1942 in Berlin
Wolfgang Krätschmer earned his PhD in 1971 at Heidelberg University and since then has been with the Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics in Heidelberg. He was appointed Honorary Professor of the Faculty of Chemistry and Earth Sciences at Ruperto Carola in 1993 and awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize that same year. The nuclear physicist first worked on radiation damage from heavy ions of cosmic rays and the chemical composition of interstellar dust. He eventually succeeded in synthesising the spherical C60 and C70 carbon molecules called fullerenes. Krätschmer was also involved in the development of a spectral photometer for an infrared space telescope for ESA and did postdoctoral research at the University of Arizona and the University of New York. He received numerous honours for his work, including the Stern Gerlach Prize (1992), the Carl Friedrich Gauss Medal (2002), an honorary doctorate from the University of Basel (2008), and the European Inventor Award in the "Lifetime Achievement" category (2010).
1989 • HEINRICH BETZ • NEUROBIOLOGY
born 1944 in Reutlingen
Heinrich Betz earned his doctorate in medicine in 1971 in Tübingen and habilitated six years later in biochemistry at the Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg. After research stays at the Pasteur Institute in Paris and the Max Planck Institute for Psychiatry in Munich, he was Professor of Neurobiology in Heidelberg and a research group leader at the Center for Molecular Biology (ZMBH) from 1983 to 1990. He subsequently worked at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt. He received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 1988 for his outstanding scientific research on the function of neurotransmitters.
1988 • GÜNTHER SCHÜTZ • MOLECULAR BIOLOGY
born 1940 in Bad Schwalbach, died 2020
Günther Schütz was appointed Professor of Molecular Biology at Heidelberg University in 1980 and became Director of the "Molecular Biology of the Cell I" Department at the German Cancer Research Center (DKFZ) in Heidelberg that same year. He continued to work even after reaching retirement age, leading a DKFZ working group as a Helmholtz Professor since 2008. His research career took him to the Free University of Berlin, the Institute of Cancer Research of Columbia University, and the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Genetics in Berlin. The molecular biologist's main area of interest is how biological signalling molecules regulate the activity of genes. He received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 1988.
1986 • GÉZA ALFÖLDY • ANCIENT HISTORY
born 1935 in Budapest, died 2011 in Athens
Géza Alföldy was Professor of Ancient History at Heidelberg University from 1975 until his retirement in 2002. The Hungarian native received his doctorate at the University of Budapest before emigrating to Germany and earning his habilitation at the University of Bonn in 1966. Thereafter he held research and teaching assignments in Bonn and Bochum. He was a visiting professor in Princeton, Rome, Paris, and Barcelona, among others. The historian, whose main field of research was the history and epigraphy of the Roman Empire, was awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize in 1986. He used the prize winnings to found the Epigraphic Database Heidelberg (EDH), in which ancient Latin inscriptions are still maintained and accessible today.