Two ERC Advanced Grants for Scientists at the University of Heidelberg

26 09 2008
Warmest congratulations, both personal and on behalf of the University, from Rector Prof. Dr. Bernhard Eitel for Professors Lorenz Cederbaum and Herta Flor — “Pioneering research ventures on topics of interest all over the world”
Two of the highly regarded and generously endowed ERC Advanced Research Grants of the European Research Council have been awarded to scientists working at the University of Heidelberg: Prof. Dr. Lorenz Cederbaum of the Institute of Physical Chemistry and Prof. Dr. Herta Flor, a professor of the University of Heidelberg conducting research on pain at the Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim. Rector Prof. Dr. Bernhard Eitel congratulated them both very warmly.

The Rector praised Professor Cederbaum’s project as having the potential to enable us to achieve a better understanding of fundamental processes in chemical, physical and biological systems. The project aims at in-depth theoretical and experimental investigation of the phenomenon of intermolecular Coulombic decay (ICD) and also involves the assembly of a team of experts for the purpose. Of Professor Herta Flor’s “PHANTOMMIND” project on the phantom sensation phenomenon the Rector said that it promised to “open a window on the mind and the brain” and held out prospects for a better explanation of pain sensation and pain memory and the correlations between learning and memory in the central nervous system. Professor Eitel emphasised that both projects were pioneering research ventures on topics of interest all over the world. He wished Prof. Cederbaum and Prof. Flor every success for their projects and the tenacity required to implement them.

Professor Cederbaum’s project on intermolecular Coulombic decay

In comparison with isolated atoms and molecules, atoms and molecules embedded in an environment — for example a liquid or a cluster — have developed a way of getting rid of surplus energy that is as efficient as it is astounding. They simply pass it on to their neighbours. Prof. Cederbaum’s research team at the University of Heidelberg theoretically predicted this mechanism, which has now been variously confirmed beyond all doubt by experimentation. As soon as a stimulated particle finds itself in the vicinity of others, the ICD decay mechanism prompts the emission of an electron from one of the neighbouring particles. This decay mechanism has major future potential. The ERC advanced investigator grant is designed to enable this potential to be investigated and controlled.

The European Research Council selected Lorenz Cederbaum’s project from almost a thousand applications in the physical sciences and engineering group. 105 projects wee approved for funding, only eight of them in Germany. The funding amounts to approx. 1.95 million euros and will greatly advance research on physical chemistry at the University of Heidelberg.

Professor Flor’s research on phantom pain in amputated limbs

Prof. Dr. Herta Flor investigates the phenomenon of phantom pain in amputated limbs. The generously endowed project that has now been approved is based on inquiries addressed to people who have undergone amputation and suffer from phantom pain or experience non-painful phantom sensations. These findings will then be compared with those of otherwise healthy persons experiencing somatic illusions. If one asks healthy probands to execute hand movements in front of a mirror in such a way that this hand and its mirror image are visible while the other unseen hand performs movements of an opposite kind, this results in unpleasant physical sensations. Professor Flor is interested in what happens in the brain during this process. Functional magnetic resonance tomography will be employed to reveal which parts of the brain are active in the presence of phantom pain, phantom sensations and bodily illusions. The working hypothesis is that in the case of bodily illusions processes take place in the brain that are similar to those involved in the case of phantom pain. So far no study has been published on this subject.

Herta Flor’s proposal is one of 44 selected by the European Research Council from a total of 400 applications in the social sciences and humanities group. The funding amounts to approx. 2.3 million euros and will further strengthen the Rhine-Neckar research region.

ERC grants

The European Research Council (ERC) is an institution established by the European Commission to provide funding for basic research. It is part of the EU’s 7th Framework Programme (2007 — 2013) and supplies financial support in the field of “Ideas”. The ERC budget for the period in question amounts to 7.5 billion euros. ERC funding for basic research is designed to promote visionary research projects and to encourage new interdisciplinary research ventures.

ERC grants are available in two lines of funding (Starting Grants and Advanced Grants). The sole evaluation criterion is the excellence of the research projects submitted. The Advanced Grants are targeted at experienced investigators with an excellent track record.

Please address any inquiries to
Prof. Dr. Lorenz Cederbaum

Prof. Dr. Herta Flor

General inquiries from journalists can also be addressed to
Dr. Michael Schwarz
Public Information Officer
University of Heidelberg
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

Irene Thewalt
phone: 06221/542310, fax: 542317

Editor: Email
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