Sofja Kovalevskaja Award 2012 - Award Winners
Faster computing, greater insight: enhanced analysis of experiments with particle accelerators
One of the great open questions of particle physics is why there is more matter than antimatter in the universe. Experiments of the type conducted at the Large Hadron Collider at CERN in Geneva are supposed to find the answers. Pavel Buividovich’s research helps to interpret the results of such experiments. He works in Lattice Gauge Theory which makes it possible to solve the fundamental equations of, for example, Quantum Chromodynamics (QCD) – the theory of quarks, gluons and their interactions – using some of the most powerful computers in the world. Buividovich is working on drastically reducing computer time by developing novel algorithms as well as on investigating the impact of very strong magnetic fields, which can be created in heavy-ion collisions - at CERN particle accelerator for example - on the QCD phase transition.
Host Institute: University of Regensburg, Institute of Physics I, Theoretical Physics
Host: Prof. Dr. Andreas Schäfer
- Dr. Pavel Buividovich
born in Belarus in 1985, studied theoretical physics in Moscow/Russia and Minsk/Belarus. As a student and doctoral candidate he was a visiting scientist at various universities in Germany, the USA, Russia and Belarus. To take up his position as a Kovalevskaja award winner at the University of Regensburg he is leaving the Institute for Theoretical and Experimental Physics in Moscow.
Dmitry A. Fedosov
Blood flow in tumours: paths to new therapies
Blood supplies our bodies with a host of important nutrients and plays a central role in fighting infection, but it also facilitates tumour growth and metastasis in cancers. Thus understanding microcirculation, that is, the blood supply via the tiniest blood vessels, like capillaries, is a key to cancer treatment. Blood circulation is not only vital for tumour growth and proliferation but for diagnosis and treatment, too, because the blood vessels also transport imaging agents and drugs. Dmitry Fedosov has developed a computer simulation technique to predict blood flow under diverse conditions. He wants to use this method to investigate blood flow in healthy tissue and in tumours in order to discover, for example, the impact of the more tortuous and leaky blood vessels in tumours on drug delivery. The ultimate aim is to find new strategies for treating cancer.
Host Institute: Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ), Institute of Complex Systems (ICS), Theory of soft matter and biophysics (ICS-2)
Host: Prof. Dr. Gerhard Gompper
- Dr. Dmitry A. Fedosov
born in Russia in 1981, studied mathematics in Novosibirsk/Russia, transferred to Pennsylvania State University/USA after his Bachelor’s degree and from there to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island/USA where he completed his doctorate in 2010. His research focuses on fluid research, fluid dynamics, applied mathematics and biophysics. He has received various honours, including the Nicholas Metropolis Award and the David Gottlieb Memorial Award. He commenced research at his host institute in Jülich in 2010.
A building block for all applications: new pathways in active ingredient synthesis
Substances dervied from plants and microorganisms have played an important part in the development of new drugs and pharmaceuticals since time immemorial. But these substances often have to be modified and optimised in order to meet the demands of medical applications. Tanja Gaich has developed an alternative to the complex standard procedures. Based on a single building block, she wants to develop a variety of different compounds and achieve a more efficient synthesis of biologically significant molecules. To do so, she recreates nature’s known, as well as hypothetical, biosynthetic pathways in the lab in order to answer fundamental questions about biosynthesis and broaden the spectrum of modern synthetic chemistry.
Host Institute: Leibniz Universität Hannover, Institute of Organic Chemistry
Host: Prof. Dr. Markus Kalesse
- Dr. Tanja Gaich
born in Austria in 1980, studied chemistry at the universities of Vienna and Salzburg and took a doctorate in organic chemistry at the University of Vienna. Following a research stay at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla/USA she is now preparing her Habilitation at Leibniz Universität Hannover where she will build up her own working group as a Kovalevsjaka award winner. Tanja Gaich received the GÖCH (Austrian Society of Chemists) Award for the Best Doctoral Thesis and the Laudimaxima Award for the promotion of women in sciences and mathematics from the University of Vienna.
Basic Research in Plant Biology
The evolution of flowers
The development of flowers is one of the most important developmental processes in plants. It is regulated by proteins known as transcription factors which control the spatial and time-dependent activity of myriads of other genes. The goal of Kerstin Kaufmann´s research is to unravel how one particular family of such master regulators, the so-called MADS-box factors, functions. For this purpose, she will extend her previous investigations of the model plant Thale Cress to examine other closely-related plant species. The combination of techniques she uses will enable her to compare the regulatory control mechanisms in flower development on the genome-wide level. Her research will provide new insights into the evolution of the master key regulators in flower development and the genes they control.
Host Institute: University of Potsdam, Institute of Biochemistry and Biology
Host: Prof. Dr. Bernd Müller-Röber
- Dr. Kerstin Kaufmann
born in Germany in 1977, studied biology in Braunschweig and Jena and completed her doctorate in 2005. After study visits to Sweden and the USA, she became a postdoc/assistant professor at the University & Research Centre in Wageningen/Netherlands in 2005. The honours she has received include the University of Jena’s Best Degree Award. She relocated to her host institute in Potsdam in December 2012.
Nano-optics for deep cell observation
The still young discipline of nanoplasmonics investigates the tiniest, electromagnetic waves generated by metal particles reacting to light. Na Liu wants to use this technology to observe biological and chemical processes at the level of individual particles. For this purpose she combines gold nanoparticles with cell membranes or DNA and uses modern laser technology and high-resolution microscopes to observe what is actually taking place within a cell or during a chemical reaction. Na Liu wants to use this method to gain new, precise insights in cell biology as well as catalytic chemistry.
Host Institute: Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, Stuttgart
Host: Prof. Dr. Joachim P. Spatz
- Dr. Na Liu
born in China in 1979, completed her doctorate at the University of Stuttgart in 2009 after studying physics at various universities in China. She worked as a postdoc in Stuttgart and at the University of California in Berkeley/USA and has been a visiting professor at Rice University in Houston/USA since 2011. She has received a number of awards including the AGeNT-D nanoscience award and the Hertha Sponer Award from the DPG (German Physical Society). Na Liu has been in residence at her host institute since August 2012.
Insights into the liver's immune system
The liver has multiple functions, not just in metabolism but also in immune response, which have hardly been investigated so far. Veronika Lukacs-Kornek wants to examine the composition and function of lymphatic tissue cells in the liver and elucidate their role in the development of inflammatory, chronic liver disease which often leads to cancer. Her research is extremely relevant because, apart from transplants, up to now, there are no known effective treatments for many types of chronic liver disease. Each year, more than 100,000 patients in Europe die of liver cirrhosis, the hepatocellular carcinoma of one of the most frequently diagnosed malignant cancers worldwide. Better understanding of the immunological functions as well as of autoimmune diseases of the liver could help to prevent the development and progression of chronic liver disease at an early stage.
Host Institute: Saarland University, Saarbrücken, University Hospital, Faculty of Internal Medicine II
Host: Prof. Dr. Frank Lammert
- Prof. Dr. Veronika Lukacs-Kornek
born in Hungary in 1976, studied medicine and completed her doctorate in Budapest in 2001. Studies in Germany led to a second doctorate in cell research/immunology at Bonn in 2007. She subsequently worked as a postdoc at the Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston/USA, moving to her host institute at Saarland University as a professor for molecular immunology and gastroenterology in August 2012.
Ulf A. Orom
How genes regulate protein production
For decades, it has been known that gene expression, the process of transcribing genetic information into proteins, relies on an intermediate step involving Ribonucleic Acids (RNA). Research in recent years has revealed that RNA does not only play an intermediate role in protein synthesis, but also an unexpectedly important role in directly regulating gene expression. Ulf A. Orom investigates long noncoding RNAs that are not directly involved in protein synthesis but, rather, function as enhancers of gene transcription. Achieving greater understanding of the properties and mechanisms of this special Type of RNA is an important aim of the research. This knowledge could be a key to regulating gene expression in vivo and potentially deriving therapeutic applications.
Host Institute: Max Planck Institute for Molekular Genetics, Berlin, Department of Computational Molecular Biology
Host: Prof. Dr. Martin Vingron
- Dr. Ulf A. Orom
born in Denmark in 1979, studied biochemistry at the University of Copenhagen/Denmark and completed his doctorate there in 2008. Various research visits abroad followed, such as in Milan and Barcelona. Since 2011, Ulf A. Orom has been a postdoc at Thomas Jefferson University, Philadelphia/USA and will relocate to his host institute in Berlin in July 2012.
Paths to greater justice in times of financial crisis
For a long time, the issue of justice had gone out of fashion, but since the international financial crisis and initiatives like the Occupy Movement it has come to the forefront once again. The same is true of research on theories of justice in political philosophy. In her discipline, Miriam Ronzoni has revitalised a discussion that, at some stage, was criticised for being unpolitical and of little relevance: she now re-connects theories of justice with themes like state regulatory capacity and the reform of international institutions. She campaigns for an original approach that focuses on the interdependence between national and supranational structures on the basis of which legitimate and effective protection and distribution mechanisms, such as the regulation of financial markets and international tax competition, can be developed.
Host Institute: Technische Universität Darmstadt, Institute of Political Science
Host: Prof. Dr. Peter Niesen
- Dr. Miriam Ronzoni
born in Italy in 1977, studied political theory at the Università degli Studi di Milano and the University of Oxford/Great Britain. She completed her doctorate in political theory in Oxford in 2009, supported by a grant from the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC). After working as a lecturer at various universities in the United Kingdom and as a Max Weber Fellow at the European University Institute in Florence she joined the faculty and the “Justitia Amplificata: Rethinking Justice – Applied and Global” research group at the University of Frankfurt. She relocates to her host institute in November 2012.
Storms in the universe throw light on the evolution of the first stars
Gamma-ray bursts are the most violent explosions known. For a few seconds they become the most luminous objects in the sky and can be seen out to the edge of the visible Universe. For astronomers they indicate the death of a massive star and the subsequent formation of a black hole. The interaction of the explosions’s blast wave with the surrounding interstellar material creates a multi-wavelength afterglow lasting days and up to weeks after the initial burst. However, in over a third of gamma-ray bursts the optical afterglow is not seen; the so-called “dark” bursts. Patricia Schady’s work has strengthened the view that dark bursts are hidden from sight by obscuring layers of interstellar dust. By statistically determining the properties of the dust in the immediate vicinity of the gamma-ray bursts she can infer the properties of the galaxies in which these explosions occur. Her approach will help to trace the formation of the first stars and galaxies in the early Universe.
Host Institute: Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics, Garching
Host: Prof. Dr. Kirpal Nandra
- Dr. Patricia Schady
born in the UK in 1978, studied mathematics and computer science at University College London and radio astronomy at Jodrell Bank Centre for Astrophysics at the University of Manchester/Great Britain. She completed her doctorate on gamma-ray bursts at Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London in 2007. She is currently working as a postdoc at the Max Planck Institute for Extraterrestrial Physics where she will continue her research as a Kovalevskaja award winner.
Seeking the fingerprint of the Big Bang
The origin of the elements has occupied mankind since time immemorial. The Big Bang brought forth hydrogen and helium, but what about the carbon on which life is based, the calcium in our bones and the iron in our blood? The answer lies deep in the interior of stars where thermonuclear reactions create new elements which are then ejected into the Galaxy when a star dies. The oldest surviving stars in our Galaxy are the direct descendants of the short-lived first generation of massive stars. Thus they preserve the chemical fingerprint of this first generation of stars which researchers in Galactic archaeology like Richard Stancliffe are now investigating. He computes detailed models of the evolution of the first stars which enable him to reconstruct the origin of the elements in the stars on today’s firmament.
Host Institute: University of Bonn, Argelander Institute for Astronomy
Host: Prof. Dr. Norbert Langer
- Dr. Richard Stancliffe
born in the UK in 1980, studied physics at the University of Oxford and took his doctorate in theoretical astrophysics at the Institute of Astronomy, University of Cambridge/Great Britain in 2006. In 2008, he relocated to Monash University, Melbourne/Australia upon receiving a research fellowship from the Australian Research Council. He is currently conducting research at the Australian National University, Canberra/Australia with a fellowship from its Research School of Astronomy and Astrophysics. Richard Stancliffe is a member of the Astronomical Society of Australia and will relocate to his host institute in October 2012.
Sensory organ and doorkeeper: the hidden functions of the bacterial envelope
In recent years, the sequencing of bacterial genomes has advanced in leaps and bounds. Yet, even in model bacteria, we still do not know the function of almost a third of their genes. Nassos Typas is developing large-scale approaches to understand gene function and map new genes to pathways. The focus of his work is the cell envelope with all its complex functions: it protects the bacterium, acting both as a sensor and a permeability barrier. Nassos Typas wants to unravel the network architecture of the envelope, and to shed light on its major processes, including those that impinge on antibiotic resistance and biofilm formation. His findings could help to develop new drugs, but he also aims to improve our understanding and use of the positive role of bacteria for health and the environment.
Host Institute: EMBL Heidelberg - European Molecular Biology Laboratory, Genome Biology
Host: Dr. Lars Steinmetz
- Dr. Athanasios Typas
born in Greece in 1978, studied Chemistry and Biochemistry in the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki and subsequently moved to FU Berlin for his doctorate, which he completed in 2006. After working as a postdoc at University of California, San Fransicso/USA, he took up an appointment as a group leader in the Department of Genome Biology at EMBL Heidelberg in September 2011, becoming a Kovalevskaja award winner there in July 2012. He has previously received the FU Berlin Ernst Reuter Award for an outstanding dissertation, an EMBO long-term postdoctoral fellowship, and a NIH K99 pathway to independence award.
A jab with an outcome: how bacterial injections work
Bacteria use an array of mechanisms to act on their environment. One such are type III secretion systems, a kind of bionanomachine with which the bacteria inject toxic proteins into their host cells. Using Salmonellae, microbiologist Samuel Wagner investigates how these bacterial injections function on the molecular level and how, for example, the proteins penetrate the inner bacterial membrane in order to be released in the host cell. Since Salmonellae and other bacteria are unable to infect without the action of these nanomachines, Samuel Wagner’s work holds great potential for developing novel antibiotics to inhibit these apparatus. If these mechanisms can be unravelled it might also be possible to convert and use them for the targeted transport of useful proteins within cells.
Host Institute: University of Tübingen, Institute of Medical Microbiology and Hygiene
Host: Prof. Dr. Ingo B. Autenrieth
- Prof. Dr. Samuel Wagner
born in Germany in 1978, studied in Marburg and at the Karolinska Institute/Sweden, where he took his Master’s and later his doctorate at Stockholm University (2008). He spent time on research at Cornell University, Ithaca/USA and was a postdoc at Yale University, New Haven/USA. In 2008, he founded the Xbrane Bioscience Company in Stockholm and has been working as a Kovalevskaja award winner at Tübingen since June 2012.
Nils B. Weidmann
The role of Web 2.0: from democratic revolution to ethnic propaganda
As the Arab Spring, at the latest, demonstrated, the Internet is now seen by many as an important tool for democratic change. Groups can communicate, constitute themselves and organise demonstrations. Amateur videos taken with mobile phones and posted online ensure publicity despite state controlled media. However, it has also become easier for anyone to disseminate their own propaganda and agitation. Nils B. Weidmann’s empirical research addresses the role of the Internet and social media in the fight for democratic reform, especially with regard to the interests of ethnic minorities. In the context of a field study in Bosnia he wants to investigate how the Internet influences inter-ethnic attitudes. Employing state-of-the-art methods from information and communication technology he will examine exactly how groups mobilise and constitute themselves for mass demonstrations online and how the size of the protests can be defined.
Host Institute: University of Konstanz, Department of Politics and Public Administration
Host: Prof. Dr. Gerald Schneider
- Dr. Nils B. Weidmann
born in Germany in 1976, studied computer science at the University of Freiburg as well as Comparative and International Studies at ETH Zurich/Switzerland where he completed his doctorate in political science in 2009. Following research stays in the USA he moved to the Peace Research Institute in Oslo/Norway in 2011. Awards he has received include the ETH Zurich Medal for outstanding doctoral theses.
New technology for the next generation of batteries
They have to be small and light; they have to be safe and store enormous amounts of energy; and they have to be long-lasting, too. More efficient high-capacity batteries are the dream of car manufacturers across the globe because they are the precondition for the advance of electromobility on a grand scale and, it is hoped, will also finally facilitate enhanced power storage in other areas. However, fulfilling all of these requirements has proved as difficult as squaring the circle. Yan Yu’s research on novel storage materials for lithium-based batteries could herald a breakthrough. She works with anodes made of tin nanoparticles embedded in conducting carbon fibres. The advantage of this constellation is that, in contrast to standard tin anodes which degrade over time, these anodes are connected electrochemically but de-coupled mechanically. The outcomes of this research could significantly improve the stability and storage behaviour of the next generation of batteries.
Host Institute: Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research, Department of Physical Chemistry, Stuttgart
Host: Prof. Dr. Joachim Maier
- Prof. Dr. Yan Yu
born in China in 1979, studied applied chemistry at Anhui University, Hefei, China and completed her doctorate in material sciences at the University of Science and Technology of China, Hefei in 2007, where she is currently working as a professor. Following a research stay at Florida International University, Miami/USA, Yan Yu became a Humboldt Research Fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research in Stuttgart from 2008 to 2011. It is here that she will now become an award winner.