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12 January 2007

Excellent Prospects: Further Success for the University of Heidelberg in the Initiative for Excellence

University called upon to submit detailed proposals in all three lines of funding — Rector Hommelhoff and vice-Rector Tröger share the elation of all involved

Elation was great at the University of Heidelberg today. In Bonn the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Science Council (WR) had announced that the University of Heidelberg had taken a major step forward in the second round of the Initiative for Excellence launched by the Federal and State governments.

It was with great enthusiasm that Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff and the vice-Rector for research Prof. Dr. Jochen Tröger accepted the invitation from Bonn to make detailed proposals in all three lines of funding. "This is where we really swing into action," said Rector Hommelhoff. He thanked all the scientists and scholars of the University involved in the proposals, reserving special gratitude for the winners in the first and second lines of funding. Three Clusters of Excellence and three Graduate Schools have been called upon to submit detailed proposals. In the first group these are Heidelberg CASTLE: Cluster of ASTrophysicaL Excellence, Asia and Europe in a Global Context: Shifting Asymmetries in Cultural Flows, and Translational Oncology. In the second group the successful candidates are The Heidelberg Graduate School of International Public Health, The Hartmut Hoffmann-Berling International Graduate School of Molecular and Cellular Biology, and The Heidelberg Graduate School of Mathematical and Computational Methods for the Sciences. Nor was Rector Hommelhoff sparing in his praise for Heidelberg's competitors. The Initiative for Excellence had sparked off positive change processes at German universities in general, he said. The campaign had shown what was feasible and many universities would be following this up beyond the confines of the Initiative itself.

The high quality of this round of proposals is also apparent from the number of outstanding universities denied success at this stage.

Though the University of Heidelberg was successful in the first round with one Cluster of Excellence and one Graduate School, it initially failed to achieve its objectives in connection with its institutional strategy for the project-related encouragement of top-flight university research. Together with a number of other outstanding universities Heidelberg came in for some severe criticism. In the first round the original plan was to select five institutional strategies for special funding but only three universities were in fact successful straight off. After thoroughgoing revision of its strategy, the University of Heidelberg now hopes to corner a share of the total of 1.9 billion euros earmarked for all three lines of funding. "We are very glad that Heidelberg has been given a second opportunity," said vice-Rector Tröger, "and we are looking forward to engaging in this contest with the other universities selected. But competition is just as keen as it ever was, in fact it may have become even keener."

Despite the criticisms levelled at it, the University sees this second chance as an indication that it is on the right track with its strategic endeavours. "We take the criticisms of our first proposal seriously," said Rector Hommelhoff, "but we remain unswerving in our allegiance to the full-scale university. Together with our outstanding scientists and scholars we are determined to make the grade this time." At the same time he reminded his audience that remarkable academic prowess was also identifiable outside the purview of the Initiative itself, both in Heidelberg and at other universities. This, he said, should never be lost sight of.

Vice-Rector Tröger took a similar view, promising that alongside the institutional strategy the University of Heidelberg would do everything in its power to ensure that the Graduate Schools and Clusters of Excellence invited to submit detailed proposals would emerge successful from the contest.

Alongside the proposal for the third line of funding, the following Clusters of Excellence and Graduate Schools have been invited to submit detailed proposals.

Clusters of Excellence

Heidelberg CASTLE: Cluster of ASTrophysicaL Excellence

Spokesperson: Joachim Wambsganss
With the recently established "Centre for Astronomy of the University of Heidelberg" (ZAH), the Faculty of Physics and Astronomy with its research focus on cosmology and high-energy experiments and the two Max Planck Institutes of Astronomy (MPIA) and Nuclear Physics (MPI-K), Heidelberg provides excellent conditions for tackling the central challenges facing astrophysics and cosmology in the 21st century. The Heidelberg Cluster of ASTrophysicaL Excellence plans to concentrate and intensify the locally available research expertise in four areas that have been identified as the most important research challenges in the coming decade: stars and planets; the Milky Way and its environs; galaxies and quasars; cosmology and the early universe. Some of the issues posed by these topics are: How do stars and planets evolve from clouds of gas? How is the Milky Way evolving? How important are Black Holes at the centres of galaxies? What is the role played by Dark Matter and Dark Energy in our cosmos? To firmly establish and enhance worldwide visibility and leadership status in times of increasingly keen international competition, the proposal is to employ a large part of the funding requested for this Cluster in optimising the research environment for young scientists at various stages of their careers. If the proposal is accepted, extremely well-equipped independent young research groups will be established in the most promising research areas, with attractive tenure-track (or similar) posts for group leaders. In addition, a cluster-wide post-doc fellowship programme will be introduced with at least five post-doc positions every year. New professorships, a generous visiting scientist programme, specific measures and quantitatively defined objectives for enhancing the proportion of suitably qualified women and the possibility of using part of the funding for future-oriented investments will ensure that CASTLE establishes the Heidelberg research infrastructure in astrophysics/cosmology at world-class level and keeps it there in future.

Asia and Europe in a Global Context: Shifting Asymmetries in Cultural Flows

Spokespersons: Madeleine Herren, Axel Michaels, Rudolf G. Wagner
This Cluster discusses historical changes and inversions in the relations between the cultures of Asia and Europe in terms of an asymmetrical transfer in a global context. "Asymmetry" is introduced as a cultural studies concept with a heuristic function. It is used not to criticise the absence of symmetries but to describe the dynamics of cultural flows. The interdisciplinary research design centres on multi-media translations and language skills, studies historical development processes and their effects on the present and sets out to develop a methodology for globally interlinked regional studies with a view to investigating the significance of notions about the world in their respective scope for the range of asymmetries encountered in the relevant cases. The approach will be verified in central, interlinked research fields, i.e. in the areas of the State (governance and administration), civil society (public spheres), health and the environment, and the historical awareness behind the political implementation of traditions (historicities and heritage).

Translational Oncology

Spokespersons: Jürgen Debus, Klaus-Josef Weber
Cancer is the second most frequent cause of death. Given the ongoing epidemiological development, the increasing socio-economic significance of this fact has become apparent. Despite the progress made in connection with a number of varieties of cancer in the recent past, many species of tumour still urgently require innovative strategies for prevention, diagnosis and therapy. These challenges can only be successfully tackled on the basis of a comprehensive and efficiently coordinated multi-disciplinary strategy for translational oncological research. Here the expression "translational oncology" stands for a strategic approach efficiently organising and accelerating the transfer of basic-research findings to clinical applications. This is the only way of ensuring that promising findings from different research fields in biology, biomedicine and medical technology can be subjected to swift clinical testing and thus be more quickly turned to account for the benefit of patients.

Graduate Schools

Heidelberg Graduate School of International Public Health

Spokesperson: Rainer Sauerborn
Public health is confronted by a number of global challenges. Their effects are staggered and their impact manifests itself in very different socio-economic and ecological contexts. These challenges are (1) demographic change leading to an age shift in population structures, (2) the increase of chronic ailments, (3) the persistence of known infectious diseases and the emergence of new ones, and (4) global anthropogenic changes to the environment. The aim of the proposal is to establish a Public Health Centre centring around a Ph.D. programme. This programme is innovative in a number of ways. In content, it focuses on future-oriented public health topics like healthy aging, protection from new infectious diseases, the challenges posed by climate change, and human and economic prevention of chronic ailments. The expertise required for this is to be provided by 25 scientists and scholars from five Faculties of the University (medicine, the humanities, the natural sciences). In addition, a large number of non-university institutions like the German Cancer Research Centre, the BASF company, public health boards and the World Health Organisation will be closely involved in the Graduate School, contributing teaching, research projects and practical know-how. A structured teaching programme linking practical relevance with a distinct research focus will take the students through the three years of their education and training. The quality and sustainability of the Ph.D. programme will be achieved and maintained by the progressive introduction of study fees, as is customary throughout the world. After the termination of funding from the Initiative for Excellence, education and training costs are to be covered by grants and scholarships. The international nature of the course encompasses comparative study of the challenges to public health and the approaches undertaken to cope with them in different health systems. Students will be selected by way of international competition. They will benefit from a wide spectrum of cooperative university ventures, ranging from practicals and the attendance of mutually recognised courses to joint international study courses. Involved in these collaborative ventures are internationally renowned academic institutions like the Harvard School of Public Health, the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and the Institut Pasteur.

The Hartmut Hoffmann-Berling International Graduate School of Molecular and Cellular Biology

Spokespersons: Elmar Schiebel, Michael Lanzer
The headlong developments taking place in the life sciences and the resulting potential for medical and biotechnological applications are a powerful motivation notably for young people to take an active part in research on biological processes. In the framework of an internationally visible Graduate School in the field of molecular and cellular biology, the Faculties of Life Sciences and Medicine of the University of Heidelberg, together with scientists from chemistry and mathematics and non-university institutions like the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Medical Research and the German Cancer Research Centre (DKFZ), plan to create new structures in doctoral education and training and thus assume a leading role in providing opportunities for young scientists.

Heidelberg Graduate School of Mathematical and Computational Methods for the Sciences

Spokespersons: Hans Georg Bock, Rolf Rannacher
Scientific computing with its central methodical components mathematical modelling, simulation and optimisation has developed into a key technology for understanding scientific and technical challenges and tackling those challenges successfully. Problems as different as outlines for efficient fuel cells, understanding the dynamics of cancer, optimum control of combined-cycle power plants, the prognosis of pesticide degradation in the soil or analysing the risks of historical buildings all require a massive deployment of cross-disciplinary expertise and the use of mathematical and computer-assisted methods. The interdisciplinary approach implicit in scientific computing is generally considered the "third pillar" of science, alongside experimentation and theory. We badly need young academics who have benefited from outstanding training in these methods and their applications. This need is as pressing in industry and business as it is in higher education and research. The Graduate School proposed here is designed to meet this need. For this purpose, a structured, interdisciplinary education and training programme has been designed, encouraging the development of new and even more efficient methods of scientific computing, importing these methods into new areas of academic endeavour and creating additional cooperative research structures at the University of Heidelberg by providing new incentives and impulses for research and education. The three guiding principles for doctoral education at the Graduate School are scientific excellence — interdisciplinarity — internationality.

Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

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