Humboldtians in Focus

Five Years in Research Paradise

What Humboldt Professors make of their great opportunity

The Resistance Fighter

Hidenori Takagi
Hidenori Takagi
Hidenori Takagi
Photo: Carmen-M. Müller /
MPG

If the day ever comes when power can be transmitted with minimum effort and without loss we could well have Hidenori Takagi to thank. From 2014, the 52 year-old Japanese physicist will set out to find materials with as yet unknown properties at the University of Stuttgart and the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research. The Humboldt Professor is considered one of the most original thinkers in his field. He came to fame a few years ago when he tracked down a new class of material which has no electrical resistance. Unlike standard superconductors which have to be cooled down almost to absolute zero (minus 273 degrees Celsius), Takagi’s materials are satisfied with around minus 150 degrees. In Stuttgart, the researcher will now focus on discovering other advanced materials.

The Microbe Chaser

Emmanuelle Charpentier
Emmanuelle Charpentier
Emmanuelle Charpentier
Photo: HZI

How are bacteria managing to resist ever more antibiotics? And what methods could be used to outsmart the pathogens? These are the questions that interest the new Humboldt Professor, Emmanuelle Charpentier. At the Hannover Medical School (MHH) and the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in Braunschweig, the 45 year-old French microbiologist is investigating the interaction between our genetic makeup and bacterial proteins. She wants to be able to control all the biological processes in the pathogens. At TWINCORE, a centre established by MHH and HZI, the aim is to translate this new knowledge into therapies faster than before. From 2014, Charpentier will be involved in intensive collaboration there between fundamental researchers and medical scientists.

The Robot Animator

Oliver Brock
Oliver Brock
Oliver Brock 
Photo: TU Berlin / Ulrich Dahl

Oliver Brock has a vision: he wants to develop robots that are almost as intelligent as humans but can operate much more precisely. Today’s robots can only carry out the same tasks in the same environment. The autonomous helpers the 44-year old Humboldt Professor is working on at TU Berlin are supposed to master complicated reactions and sequences of movement enabling them to carry out valuable services in medicine and space travel, or at nuclear disaster sites. For this purpose, the computer scientist, who spent 15 years working in the USA before returning to his home city in 2009, equips them with cameras and delicate gripper arms and develops computer programmes for them. The software is effectively the robots’ brains: they can thus learn to make their own decisions.

The Cyber Classicist

Gregory Crane
Gregory Crane
Gregory Crane
Photo: Sven Müller

Gregory Ralph Crane is a wanderer between two worlds. As a classicist, the 56 year-old first and foremost wants to understand classical culture better. What is unusual are the methods the US researcher uses: Crane develops software which helps to record in detail the cultural history of humankind. One of his showcase projects is the Perseus Digital Library, located at Tufts University in Medford, USA, where he set up a digital collection of all available classical texts, including a translation facility into modern languages and numerous text analysis tools. Crane, who was made a Humboldt Professor in 2013, wants to use his chair in digital humanities at the University of Leipzig to exploit the potential of cyberspace further still. In the future, this will mean that any student can be involved in the translation and analysis of previously neglected writings.

published in Humboldt Kosmos 101/2013

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