Osteoarthritis, the painful degeneration of articular cartilage, is a widespread scourge. Cartilage, once impaired, will never recover unaided. This fact has been known for 300 years, but it is still one of the major challenges confronting orthopaedic research. In "Ruperto Carola 2/2001", the latest issue of the University of Heidelberg research magazine, Wiltrud Richter's title story reports on the way the Stiftung Orthopädische Universitätsklinik foundation is squaring up to this challenge and designing new therapy approaches on the basis of research in molecular biology. She outlines the latest developments in the all-out bid to engineer an efficient form of treatment for ailing joints with the help of stem cells from adult donors. Further topics in the new issue range from religions on the Internet to environmental physics. The Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment on board the ERS-2 European research satellite is a first-time opportunity for capturing global data on a number of tropospheric trace constituents. The other articles focus on India ("Rural Democracy and Political Elite"), mathematics ("What is a Space?") and the world-famous Prinzhorn Collection ("Beauty from Troubled Minds").
Vice-Rector Prof. Dr. Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik takes a critical look at German society's attitude to scholarship and scientific research "Anti-intellectual attitudes have major currency"
In its recently published list of recommendations, the German Research Council noted the present dearth of post-graduate students. In the Editorial of the new issue Vice-Rector Prof. Dr. Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik addresses the problems involved in recruiting candidates to swell the ranks of upcoming scholars and scientists. Though appreciative of the German Research Council's remedial measures in the form of junior professorships, earlier autonomy for budding researchers and less dependence on supervising professors, she indicates that the roots of the problem go deeper.
On the subject of junior professorships, Weigelin-Schwiedrzik points out that teams of young scientists have been an important research instrument in the natural sciences for years and recommends that this practice should be encouraged, not as a substitute for the "conventional" route to top-level academic jobs (in Germany via the Habilitation qualification) but as an alternative in those areas where the formation of such teams is in the best interests of the subject in question. In Germany today, appointments to professorships no longer hinge exclusively on the Habilitation. Suitable candidates without this qualification can succeed if the credentials they have are in line with the way a department wishes to develop.
But this policy has not done much to remedy the absence of suitable candidates. Even in disciplines with a lengthy history of "young scientist" teamwork, full-fledged researchers are still at a premium. Why? The answer, the Vice-Rector contends, is the loss of prestige the universities have suffered in the public eye. Why should a highly qualified scientist throw in his lot with an institution that not only pays little and demands a lot but has also come in for a great deal of flak from society as a whole?
German society, Weigelin-Schwiedrzik believes, indulges not only in what the German Research Council calls "scientific pessimism" but also in a high degree of anti-intellectualism and abhorrence for all who stray away from the straight-and-narrow of the juste milieu. The members of the younger generation have long since drawn their own conclusions from this. And foreign scholars and scientists "imported" into the country get the first inkling of what is awaiting them when they report to the Aliens' Registration Office. If things do not improve soon, all the well-meant efforts to change the situation for the better will be in vain, the Vice-Rector concludes.
GOME: keeping a close watch on the atmosphere
The first main article comes from the field of environmental physics. Global data on atmospheric trace constituents culled from the troposphere (the lowest layer of the earth's atmosphere) has long been a dream vision for many scientists. Earlier satellite-borne instruments were largely "blind" to this section of the gaseous envelope surrounding our native planet. Not until the launch of the Global Ozone Monitoring Experiment (GOME) on board the ERS-2 European research satellite was any significant progress foreseeable in this respect. GOME provides a first-time opportunity of gleaning global data on a whole series of tropospheric trace constituents. Thomas Wagner and Ulrich Platt of Heidelberg University's Institute of Environmental Physics list the spectacular results achieved by the GOME mission.
India: rural democracy and political elite
India, the world's largest democracy, is undergoing a period of instability. The political landscape is fragmented. Some states are governed by regional parties, while the central government is in the hands of a motley coalition. But Indian democracy has proved its resilience on many earlier occasions. Dietmar Rothermund of the South Asia Institute describes how India has contrived to achieve this resilience and how it can best be preserved in the future.
The Prinzhorn Collection: beauty from troubled minds
Whether in London, New York, Los Angeles or Barcelona wherever the Prinzhorn Collection is on show it attracts an enormous degree of attention. Its reputation for being the most important collection of art by the mentally disturbed is undisputed. Bettina Brand-Claussen and Christoph Mundt of the University Psychiatric Hospital outline the history of the collection and discuss the significance of these disconcertingly fascinating products of troubled minds. Eighty years after art historian and psychiatrist Hans Prinzhorn compiled these strangely evocative and disturbing works, Heidelberg is about to open a museum designed specially to house the collection. It will be opening its doors in September of this year.
What is a space?
Mathematical knowledge on spaces is vast. And yet mathematicians say that they know almost nothing about them. In the next article, Matthias Kreck of the University's Institute of Mathematics surveys the development of the concept of space over the centuries. He explains what a space is and how we recognise it as such. At the same time his article is an impressive and comprehensible demonstration that, belying its dry-as-dust reputation, mathematics is in fact an extremely exciting branch of human knowledge.
Religions on the Internet
In terms of communication technology, the Internet is both the greatest advance and the greatest challenge for modern-day society. Structures of governance and management have been revolutionised by it, e-learning, e-commerce, e-banking, etc. are securely established in our vocabularies. Less well-known is the fact that religions and notably new forms of religiosity have also played a major role in this development. "That is why we need disciplines to engage analytically with the Internet phenomenon and its cultural, religious, economic and socio-political implications," contends Gregor Ahn, who teaches Religious Studies at the University and was awarded the Baden-Württemberg State Teaching Prize for the year 2000. "Religious Studies is one of those disciplines," insists the 42-year-old scholar in an interview with Press Officer Michael Schwarz.
In the "News and Views" section Jens Halfwassen takes a critical look at the abolition of Habilitation grants by Federal education minister Bulmahn. Under the heading "News from the Stiftung Universität Heidelberg Foundation", Paul Kirchhof reports on the recipients of Ruprecht Karl awards for the year 2000. The magazine closes with the permanent column on "External Funding".
"Ruperto Carola" is published by Universitätsverlag C. Winter Heidelberg GmbH. Single copies cost DM 10,- plus postage (DM 5,- for students). Like the special support subscription (DM 60,- for four issues), they can be ordered from Pressestelle der Universität Heidelberg, Postfach 105760, D-69047 Heidelberg. Gratis copies of earlier issues are available for inspection in the foyer of the Old University (Grabengasse 1).
For further information and articles from earlier issues (German only) go to
Please address any inquiries to:
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317