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7 November 2001

Two Wolfgang Paul Award Winners Coming to the University of Heidelberg

More lavishly endowed than the Nobel Prize — Alexander von Humboldt Foundation awards Dr. Hilmar Bading 3.5 million and Prof. Dr. Joachim Herz 2.8 million marks — Rector Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff: "A token of supreme international excellence"

On 6 November 2001 the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation announced the recipients of the most highly endowed award in the history of German science. And the University of Heidelberg has every reason to exult. One of the laureates of the Wolfgang Paul Award, Dr. Hilmar Bading, who receives 3.5 million marks in prize monies, has just accepted a professorship at the Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Centre of the University of Heidelberg, while Prof. Dr. Joachim Herz, distinguished for his achievements with an award amounting to 2.8 million marks, will soon be joining Dr. Bading at the University of Heidelberg, dividing his time between the Molecular Biology Centre and the Institute of Botany. "It is a source of extraordinary gratification for us to be welcoming front-line researchers at the University who have just been distinguished by the Humboldt Foundation for outstanding excellence in their fields," said Heidelberg's rector, Prof. Dr. Peter Hommelhoff. "The Wolfgang Paul awards are also a challenge for the University of Heidelberg to ensure that the laureates are provided with a motivating academic environment of the highest quality," Prof. Hommelhoff added.

Best conditions in Germany for the best scientists from abroad

Though the Nobel Prize (worth 2 million marks) is certainly the world's best-known scientific award at present, the Wolfgang Paul awards from the Humboldt Foundation are in fact more generously endowed. This year 14 top-ranking scientists from outside Germany have been granted one-time awards of up to 4.5 million marks, guaranteeing them unbeatable research conditions at German scientific institutions. The award is funded by Germany's Ministry of Education and Research. The resources come from the German federal government's Future Investment Programme.

German research institutions nominated a total of 70 scientists from 23 countries for the Wolfgang Paul Award. The aim of the Wolfgang Paul Programme is to offer the awardees best-possible working conditions at research institutions in Germany. "This way," said Professor Wolfgang Frühwald, President of the Humboldt Foundation, "the best minds from abroad can make headway with their research projects free of administrative constraints and set up research groups of their own in Germany with the participation of highly qualified younger scientists."

Dr. Bading last worked in Cambridge (UK)

Dr. Hilmar Bading

Dr. Hilmar Bading (42) comes to Heidelberg from Cambridge (England), where he worked for the Medical Research Council at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology. Dr. Bading will be working and teaching at Heidelberg University's Interdisciplinary Neuroscience Centre.

Hilmar Bading studied at the University of Heidelberg, where he received his doctorate in 1984. His subsequent career took him to the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Genetics (Berlin), the Harvard Medical School and, most recently, the Laboratory of Molecular Biology (Cambridge, UK). Dr. Bading's research field is the molecular basis of learning and memory processes.

The brain has a virtually unimaginable number of nerve cells linked by an immense network very similar to a railway system. It has long been known that information is passed on from one nerve cell to another via encoded electrical signals. But information processing also takes place within cells. Dr. Bading's work has done much to identify the paths along which signals received by the surface of the cell find their way to the cell nucleus, the "control centre" of the nerve cell. The activation of these signal transmission paths (e.g. in learning processes) causes a modification of the genetic architecture in the nucleus. Such alterations of the genetic make-up of nerve cells are probably the basis of long-term memory. Dr. Bading discovered that the metal ion calcium is the central regulator of these transmission paths. Calcium enters the nerve cell via tiny channels and functions both as a switch activating the paths themselves and as a messenger substance penetrating to the cell nucleus. But as a messenger, calcium does not only bring good news. Hyperactivation of nerve cells caused, say, by epileptic fits or a stroke can disrupt the cell's genetic "time-table" and lead to nerve cell degeneration or cell-death. The fate of the nerve cell is determined by the form of the calcium signal. Deciphering this calcium code is the aim of Dr. Bading's future research.

Prof. Herz comes to Heidelberg from the US

Prof. Dr. Joachim Herz

Prof. Dr. Joachim Herz (43) will be working at the Molecular Biology Centre (ZMBH) of the University of Heidelberg. Herz studied at the University of Heidelberg, where he obtained a doctorate in pharmacology (1983) and medicine (1985). Subsequently he worked at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg and later at the Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Texas.

Prof. Herz' research field is a family of surface molecules on nerve cells that play a central role both in the development of the brain and the aetiology of Alzheimer's Disease. This family of genes includes the LDL receptor and binds the apolipoprotein E (APOE), a protein crucial for cholesterol transport and closely linked genetically to the development of Alzheimer's Disease. Prof. Herz' research is aimed at understanding the molecular mechanisms by which APOE leads to the development of AD and to study the role of APOE receptors in that process. His work so far has demonstrated that this genetic family has a crucial role to play in the development of the brain, notably in the way it controls the migration of newborn nerve cells in the cortex. The findings of Prof. Herz' ongoing research can be expected to cast light on the way in which APOE receptors control the brain's capacity for regeneration. This improved understanding of the mechanism at work could form the basis for a new class of drugs systematically protecting the brain against ageing processes and reducing the detrimental consequences of accidents or strokes.

Who was Wolfgang Paul?

Wolfgang Paul (1913-1993) was a pioneering figures in particle physics. He obtained his doctorate in Berlin in 1939 and gained his Habilitation in Göttingen in 1944. In 1952 Paul was appointed director of the Institute of Physics at the University of Bonn. In 1989 the invention of an "ion trap" for capturing atomic nuclei earned him and Hans G. Dehmelt the Nobel Prize for Physics, which they shared with Norman F. Ramsey. In 1979 Paul was elected President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, an office that he held for ten years.

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Dr. Michael Schwarz
Press Officer of the University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 54317

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Updated: 15.11.2001


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