Alexander von Humboldt Professorship – The Award Winners 2016

Till Winfried Bärnighausen


What impact are increasing treatment options for HIV carriers having on society as a whole? What are the effects on life expectancy? And how does employment consequently develop in a society? In his work, the epidemiologist Till Bärnighausen not only examines the group of carriers and sufferers, he also makes connections to society as a whole – an approach that has gained him a global reputation. Bärnighausen’s analyses of the effectiveness, costs and benefits of HIV prevention and interventions have not only caught the attention of the research community, they are also being adopted by organisations like the World Bank and the World Health Organisation. As a Humboldt Professor in Heidelberg, Till Bärnighausen is expected to drive global health research, which has been a somewhat neglected research area in Germany until now.

Nominating University: Heidelberg University

  • Till Winfried Bärnighausen
    Photo: Kathryn

    Professor Dr Till Winfried Bärnighausen,
    Born in Germany in 1969, Till Bärnighausen took his doctorate at Heidelberg University where he also trained as a general medical practitioner. He continued his training at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the University of London and Harvard School of Public Health. In 2004, he moved to the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa as an associate professor and has worked there at the Africa Centre for Health and Population Studies ever since. In 2009, he began teaching and conducting research at Harvard University in Cambridge, USA. Till Bärnighausen is a member of a number of societies, such as the International AIDS Society.

Sven Bernecker


Sven Bernecker is one of the most respected philosophers of our times, both in the fields of contemporary epistemology and classical German philosophy. His particular interests include the philosophy of mind, an area in which he is considered a pioneer of the renaissance of the philosophical debate on memory. His research focusses on the question as to what memory is, drawing on approaches taken from cognitive science, psychology and sociology. In Cologne, the Humboldt Professor is due to found and head a Centre for Contemporary Epistemology and Kantian Tradition. It may also prove valuable to cooperate with the philosopher and Humboldt Professor Michael Neil Forster who is already conducting research just up the Rhine in Bonn.

Nominating University: University of Cologne

  • Sven Bernecker
    Photo: private

    Professor Dr Sven Bernecker,
    Born in Germany in 1967, Sven Bernecker is a Full Professor at the University of California, Irvine (UCI), USA. He took his doctorate at Stanford University, USA, and completed his habilitation in Germany at LMU Munich. From 2011 to 2013, Bernecker held a professorship at the University of Vienna in addition to his position at UCI. He has received numerous honours, including the DFG’s Heisenberg Fellowship from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft and the 2011 Humboldt Research Award.

William Crawley-Boevey


The mathematician William Crawley-Boevey is looked upon as a pioneer in the field of representation theory and algebras. Being a theoretical researcher with a penchant for particularly thorny questions he has made important contributions to solving core mathematical challenges like Horn's problem, the Deligne-Simpson problem and Kac-Moody Lie algebras. He has developed seminal concepts in the theory of tame algebras, which govern representation theory to this day, and broken new paths in investigating the connections between representation theory and geometry. Together with his current work on vector bundles and the analysis of Riemann surfaces, this is the topic that still captures his imagination.

Nominating University: Bielefeld University

  • William Crawley-Boevey
    Photo: Robert J. Marsh

    Professor Dr William Crawley-Boevey,
    Born in the United Kingdom in 1960, Bill Crawley-Boevey took his doctorate at the University of Cambridge and embarked on his academic career at the University of Liverpool, UK, in 1985. After periods spent in Bielefeld and Oxford, he moved to the University of Leeds where he has been a professor since 2001. He has also held a visiting professorship at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute at the University of California in Berkeley, USA. Crawley-Boevey is a Fellow of the American Mathematical Society and a Member of the London Mathematical Society, which also awarded him the Berwick Prize.

Heinrich Jasper

Molecular Biology

What causes ageing? And what promotes regeneration? These are the core research themes of the distinguished international molecular biologist Heinrich Jasper. Jasper is particularly interested in the gut and gut bacteria. He investigates, for example, the connections between changes in gut bacteria in the ageing process and the development of cancer, diabetes and inflammatory bowel disease. Using the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, Jasper has been able to trace a biochemical stress response which influences the fly’s lifespan – an approach that has attracted major international attention and promises much follow-up research. Heinrich Jasper is now set to become a Humboldt Professor in Jena where he will drive the field of ageing research, especially at the intersection of fundamental research and applied clinical research.

Nominating University: Friedrich Schiller University Jena in conjunction with the Leibniz Institute on Aging – Fritz Lipmann Institute, Jena

  • Heinrich Jasper
    Photo: Buck Institute for
    Research on Aging

    Professor Dr Heinrich Jasper,
    Born in Germany in 1974, Heinrich Jasper moved to the USA in 2001 after completing his doctorate in Heidelberg at the university and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory. He was initially a researcher and later an associate professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York, USA. In 2012, Heinrich Jasper became a professor at the Buck Institute for Research on Aging in Novato, California. He has received many honours including the Senior Scholar in Aging Award from the Ellison Medical Foundation and the Glenn/AFAR Breakthroughs in Gerontology Award.

Tiffany Knight


What is the impact of invasive species on the original biodiversity of the habitats they invade? Why do invasions increase biodiversity in some cases and reduce it in others? Invasion processes, as they are known, are one of the core research interests of the world-renowned ecologist Tiffany Knight. The American environmental researcher focusses in particular on the interaction between plants, microorganisms, pollinators and herbivores. She uses a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches deriving from population biology and evolutionary research. A special feature of her research is that she studies these interactions across different ecosystems as well. Her work on the connections between fish populations in ponds and the stocks of plant-pollinating insects on land are seen as a breakthrough in biodiversity research. She discovered, for example, that plant pollinators tend to avoid ponds where there are no fish; instead, these ponds attract a larger number of dragonflies, which feed on insects. Knight’s task at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig will be to create a focus for content generated by the various areas of ecological research, from molecular research to green corridors. In her role as an Alexander von Humboldt Professor, she will also address general issues in her field such as plant rarity or plant invasiveness.

Nominating University: Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in conjunction with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research – UFZ Leipzig

  • Tiffany Knight
    Photo: Helmholtz Centre
    for Environmental
    André Künzelmann

    Prof. Dr. Tiffany Knight,
    born in the USA in 1975, is currently an Associate Professor and Director of the Environmental Studies Program at Washington University in St Louis, USA. She read biology at Florida State University, Tallahassee, and holds a PhD from the University of Pittsburgh. Having worked as a Postdoctoral Research Associate at the University of Florida, Gainesville, and the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis at the University of California in Santa Barbara, Knight moved to Washington University in 2005, initially as an Assistant Professor. In 2012, she was a visiting researcher at the University of Hawai‘i, Honolulu, and in 2014/2015 she conducted research at the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig. She is a member of the Botanical Society of America and the Ecological Society of America.

Katrin Kogman-Appel

Jewish Studies

What do the illustrations in mediaeval Jewish manuscripts tell us about the life of Jewish communities at the time? What interaction existed between Jewish pictorial and book culture and that of Christian and Islamic cultures? Jewish scholar Katrin Kogman-Appel is widely regarded as a world authority on the Jewish Art of the Middle Ages. She understands art history in terms of cultural history and always relates both to aspects of social and religious history. A typical example of Kogman-Appel’s approach is her work on the so-called Leipzig Mahzor, a collection of prayers for Jewish holidays and one of the most famous examples of Hebrew illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages. The prayer book was produced in southwestern Germany around 1310 and is known to have been kept at Worms in the 16th century. Kogman-Appel directs her attention to the role of the Mahzor and the rites of late-mediaeval Jewish community life depicted; she also focusses on social cohesion within the Jewish community in Worms, which was then a centre of Judaism in Germany. By embracing the broader cultural context, Kogman-Appel has an impact beyond the confines of Jewish Studies on Mediaeval Studies in general. She is expected to drive interdisciplinary research in the Humanities at the University of Münster. In particular, the Alexander von Humboldt Professor will seek to establish Jewish Studies to complement existing research on Christianity and Islam at Münster.

Nominating University: University of Münster

  • Katrin Kogman-Appel
    Photo: "Religion and
    Politics" -
    Cluster of Excellence/
    Sarah Batelka

    Prof. Dr. Katrin Kogman-Appel,
    born in Austria in 1958, is a Full Professor, Vice-Dean and holder of the Evelyn Metz Memorial Research Chair at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beer-Sheva, Israel. After completing her studies and PhD in Vienna, Katrin Kogman-Appel originally moved to Israel in the 1980s, working at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. After interludes at the University of Pittsburgh, USA, and the Universidad Hebraica, Mexico, she returned in 1996, initially as a lecturer at Ben-Gurion University. Katrin Kogman-Appel has also been a visiting researcher at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton University, USA. She sits on the board of various journals, including Ars Judaica, und is a member of the European Association of Jewish Studies and the Medieval Academy of America.

Judith Pfeiffer

Islamic Studies

What does it mean for a religious community to accept new members? What processes are initiated by a change of faith and religious conversion? Questions like this are more relevant today than ever, and the extent to which they are a recurrent theme in the history of humankind is illustrated by the work of the Islamic scholar Judith Pfeiffer. She has a global reputation as an expert on the history of the Mongols from the 13th to the 16th centuries as well as the intellectual history of the Mongolian Empire in the Islamic East, from Iran via Syria and Anatolia to Iraq. Pfeiffer focusses, amongst other things, on the conversion of migrant Mongols and leaders to Islam, analysing Persian, Arab and Ottoman sources and setting them in the greater historical and social context of their time. Her research is not restricted to asking how the conversion to Islam changed the Mongols’ way of life but also investigates how the converts influenced their new religion and introduced ideas into Islamic theology that had ripple effects even on politics and the law. By gaining an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship for Judith Pfeiffer the University of Bonn would like to continue strengthening its research focus in historical Islamic studies and extend it to embrace Iran and Central Asia.

Nominating University: University of Bonn

  • Judith Pfeiffer
    Photo: private

    Prof. Dr. Judith Pfeiffer,
    born in Germany in 1964, studied at the University of Cologne. She subsequently moved to the University of Chicago, USA, where she was awarded a PhD in 2003 after a sojourn as a doctoral researcher at the German Orient Institute in Istanbul, Turkey. From Chicago Judith Pfeiffer relocated to the University of Oxford, UK, where she is currently an Associate Professor. She has received many awards and honours such as a European Research Council Starting Grant and a Research Fellowship from the City of Paris at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris, France.

Wolfgang Wernsdorfer

Solid State Physics

Wolfgang Wernsdorfer’s specialism is experimental solid state physics at the interface with chemistry and material science. He is one of the world’s leading experts on nanomagnets and their use in quantum spintronics. Already as a doctoral researcher at the Low Temperature Laboratory in Grenoble, he developed the nano-SQUID, a breakthrough device allowing him to measure the magnetic properties of single nanostructures and molecules. Wernsdorfer discovered the role played by quantum laws in molecular magnetism and was thus able to build electronic circuits in which the electric current is controlled by the magnetism in the molecule. One of his most recent ambitions is to integrate tiny, molecular quantum processors in the state-of-the-art CMOS technology used in microelectronics. This could lead to nanomagnets being used in future quantum computers.

Nominating University: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

  • Wolfgang Wernsdorfer
    Photo: Eric Lichtenscheidt

    Professor Dr Wolfgang Wernsdorfer,
    Born in Germany in 1966, Wolfgang Wernsdorfer initially trained as an electrician, then proceeded to study physics at the University of Würzburg and completed his education at the elite École normale supérieure in Lyon, France. In 1993, he became a doctoral researcher at the Low Temperature Laboratory and the Laboratoire de Magnetism in Grenoble, France – two of the institutes that formed today's Institut NEEL where he has held the position of Directeur de recherche 1ère classe since 2008. The honours and awards he has received include the Agilent Europhysics Prize granted by the European Physical Society, the Olivier Kahn International Award, granted by the European Institute of Molecular Magnetism, a European Research Council Advanced Grant and the Prix Spécial from the Société Française de Physique.


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