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1 August 2000

Latest Issue of Heidelberg University's Research Magazine Featuring New Laser Technology for Detecting Cancer Cells

"Ruperto Carola" 2/2000 reports on ongoing research projects at Heidelberg University—Vice-rector Prof. Dr. Jochen Tröger warns of undesirable consequences from the current reform of university medical research and care—Other topics: Henry David Thoreau—The unsolved mysteries of glass—The "regression fallacy" and its error potential—What can intelligent bioinformatic systems really do?—How the nervous system takes shape

Making individual molecules visible is as difficult as it is vital. To observe how enzymes "collaborate" inside the cell, scientists have to develop ingenious techniques, some of them verging on the ultimate in sophistication. One trick is to use probes loaded with dyes that light up when they've tracked down their target molecule. In the cover story of the latest issue of research magazine "Ruperto Carola" Markus Sauer from the Institute of Physical Chemistry of the University of Heidelberg describes new methods and promising-looking applications, including an innovative system for detecting breast cancer at a very early stage. Other topics include the influence of Henry David Thoreau on American transcendentalism, the mysteries of glass, and the "regression fallacy" as a frequent cause of logical errors and misjudgments. Last but not least: What role can intelligent bioinformatic systems play in enhancing our understanding of human genetics?

Vice-rector Prof. Dr. Jochen Tröger on the pressure for reform at all levels of medical endeavour at the University

In the editorial, vice-rector Prof. Dr. Jochen Tröger outlines the very considerable pressure for reform being exerted on the medical institutions of the University of Heidelberg and extending to medical care, research and teaching. For the two medical faculties (Heidelberg and Heidelberg at Mannheim) the new University Law is only one of numerous reform drives over the last few years. Tröger also describes the repercussions of the university medicine reform law with its insistence on a formal division between medical care, research and teaching. Where, he asks, are the potential dangers of such structural changes?

In Tröger's view the law actually perpetuates a number of old, hitherto covert injustices. Another major problem is the valuation of the in-service further education and training so crucial in the medical field. Having no budgetary relevance, activities in this field stand to forfeit their internal significance and in the long term are an obvious candidate for cutbacks. A third hazard is the fact that the quality of medical care is much harder to evaluate than research and teaching. The potential upshot is a shifting of priorities to the detriment of the patients.

Tröger then goes on to address further problems accruing from the reform initiative of the German Research Council calling for a clear distinction between research physicians and medical care physicians. "The clear-cut career distinction called for by the Research Council needs to be mulled over very carefully," says Tröger. At the last, however, he retains his optimism: "We are confident we can maintain the balance between excellent medical care and high standards in research and teaching."

"As if the sparrows taught him"

In the summer of 1998, taking brief respite from his onerous presidential duties and the unwanted attentions of special investigator Kenneth Starr, Bill Clinton allowed himself the luxury of an extended ramble through the woods near the town of Concord, Massachusetts. The official motive for his presence in Concord was the opening of the Thoreau Institute. In the first main article in "Ruperto Carola" 2/2000, Dieter Schulz of the Department of English Studies describes the unusual career of the American writer Henry David Thoreau and his influence on American transcendentalism, a utopian vision that has lost none of its impact.

Through a glass darkly

Glass is part and parcel of our everyday lives but it still poses a number of riddles for physicists. How does glass actually take shape? How do different kinds of glass behave at very low temperatures? Siegfried Hunkliger of the Kirchhoff Institute of Physics reports on the sophisticated methods scientists have to devise to get to the bottom of some of the best-kept mysteries connected with glass.

The regression fallacy

It is ubiquitous, hard to discern and its effects can be disastrous. Even intelligent people well versed in the art of formal thinking are not immune to the "regression fallacy", the cause of countless logical errors and misjudgments. Klaus Fiedler of Heidelberg University's Institute of Psychology explains the universal principle underlying the fallacy, illustrates its ubiquity without various surprising examples from everyday life and shows how to identify and avoid sources of serious error in human thinking. Klaus Fiedler was recently awarded the prestigious Leibniz Prize of the German Research Council for his work.

Taming the glut: What intelligent bioinformatic systems can do

With its plethora of problems and methods molecular biology generates a vast array of data. The immense glut of complex findings can only be coped with by the use of computers. Bioinformatics is a discipline in its own right that supplies modern science with the necessary analytic systems needed for the job. At Heidelberg University's Centre for Interdisciplinary Scientific Computing, Roland Eils has been looking into what intelligent bioinformatic systems can actually do, for example in actively enhancing our knowledge of human genetics rather than simply amassing more and more information on the subject.

How the nervous system takes shape

In January 2000 the new Long-Term Collaborative Research Project (SFB) on Molecular Developmental Neurobiology took up its work. In an interview with Michael Schwarz, the project's official spokesman Prof. Klaus Unsicker outlines the vital issues involved in this research undertaking, which aims at nothing less than finding out how thought, language and emotion come about.

Virtual implantation

Thanks to a new software system dentists can now plan the ideal positioning of dental implants on the computer screen in three dimensions. Future link-ups between this software and intraoperative navigation systems will make it possible to implement the virtual planning in the course of the actual operation. This helps forecast outcomes more precisely and reduce risks for the patient. The new system was developed by Stefan Haßfeld and Wolfram Stein of Heidelberg University's Hospital for Oral and Maxillo-Facial Surgery. The two scientists were recently rewarded for their efforts with the "Miller Prize" of the German Society for Dental, Oral and Maxillary Surgery.

In the "News and Views" section Prof. Volker Lenhart of the Department of Educational Studies criticises the new reform of teacher training and the ministerial objectives behind it. The magazine rounds off with the permanent colums "News from the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation" and "External Funding".

"Ruperto Carola" is printed by Universitätsverlag C. Winter — Heidelberger Verlagsanstalt. Single copies cost DM 10,- plus postage (DM 5,- for students). Like the special support subscription (DM 60,- for 4 issues) they can be ordered from: Pressestelle der Universität Heidelberg, Postfach 105760, D-69117 Heidelberg. Gratis copies of earlier issues are available for perusal in the foyer of the Old University building (Grabengasse 1).

Full text version (in German).

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

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Updated: 07.08.2000


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