DFG to launch 21 new priority programmes

May 15, 2000

Early next year, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) will be setting up 21 new priority programmes. This was decided at the DFG Senate's spring session. The new priority programmes were selected from 54 applications and are to be supported with an overall funding volume of around 104 million marks, raising the total number of promoted priority projects to 129. The priority programmes aim at bringing together scientists and scholars from various research institutions and research areas. As a rule, a priority programme is promoted for a period of six years.

The new programmes in detail:

HUMANITIES

In the priority programme Executive Functions, psychologists and medical scientists look at how human cognitive processing is controlled and co-ordinated. Executive processes are key characteristics of intelligent systems and are involved whenever a system processing information has to switch from one cognitive requirement to another at short notice or when processes of perception and action control need preparing.

Population research was of strategic importance to politics in National Socialism. How could not only individual scientists but an entire branch of research become embroiled in the machinations of the Third Reich? Just how population research altered its theoretical foundations and abused methods as pseudo-scientific "proof" of ideological positions is what the priority programme Causes, Types and Consequences of the Construct "Population" before, during and after the Third Reich looks at. It involves historians, social scientists and demographers.

BIOLOGY AND MEDICINE

Patients with a diseased organ or even an organ failure require transplants. However, modern medicine is still faced with a lack of donor tissue and donor organs. Stem cells that scientists of the priority programme Embryonal and Tissue-specific Stem Cells: Regenerative Cell Systems for Cell and Tissue Replacement deal with are opening up new prospects for cell and tissue replacement. The researchers want to examine fundamental aspects of the biology of stem cells to create a basis for making use of the potential stem cells offer regarding their therapeutic application in medicine. A work group on ethical issues is to back up the programme.

In order to ensure optimum growth and perfect development, plants have to transport a wide variety of substances, including sugar, amino acids, hormones and water, over long distances and distribute them among their individual cells. Transport is catalysed by protein molecules in the cell membranes. The priority programme The Role of Dynamics and Regulation of Membrane Transport in Plants in Forming Characteristics of Cells and Organs looks at the distribution of these proteins and their control among various types of cell.

Advanced organisms are born with biological structures that are responsible for spotting pathogenes at an early stage. This defensive response, which is also known as "innate immunity", sees to it, for example, that micro-organisms are tackled during the first hours and days of an infection. In the priority programme Innate Immunity, researchers study the cellular and molecular mechanisms of innate immune defence. The researchers involved in the project hope that its results will yield new approaches in the treatment of infectious diseases or the therapy of tumours.

Many cells in animals and humans have two "poles", rather like a battery. This is, for example, required in cell division if the process is to lead to a complete development of an organism, and it also enables nerve cells to transmit signals correctly. The mechanisms and components that are needed to maintained the polarised organisation of the cell are examined in the new priority programme Cell Polarity.

For around 20 years, biologists have divided the Earth's organisms into three domains: bacteria, multicellular organisms and archae. The priority programme Gene Regulation and Genome Organisation in Archae has a look at how the "activation" of genes in archae is regulated by eco-physiologically relevant environmental factors. Using new genome research technologies, the scientists involved in the project also want to analyse the molecular mechanisms that lead to the formation of proteins. Understanding these molecular biology processes has a considerable biotechnological potential, since archae can even survive in extreme environmental conditions such as high temperatures or high pressure.

NATURAL SCIENCES

Many organisms can form mineral solids. For example, there are the eggshells of birds' eggs, mussel or snail houses and the bones and teeth of vertebrates. These bio-minerals consist of relatively simple compounds and are optimally suited to their respective purposes, such as protection, defence or skeletal structure. The goal of the priority programme Principles of Bio-mineralisation is to synthesise these biological processes in artificial ones. In close collaboration, chemists and biologists will attempt to understand how organisms form minerals.

Frequently, catalysis reactions in technical chemistry are less efficient than the biochemical patterns they have been modelled on. For example, with the aid of enzymes, plants can turn atmospheric nitrogen into organic nitrogen compounds. In comparison, synthesis of ammonia under technical conditions requires high temperatures and pressures, which in turn implies a high consumption of energy and a considerable technical effort. The great differences in efficiency and selectivity of catalysis reactions are examined in the priority programme Secondary Interaction as a Control Principle in Oriented Use of Low Reactivity Substrates. The focus is on the design and dynamics of molecular catalysts, which are supposed to be able to make hydrocarbons, nitrogen, oxygen and hydrogen specifically reactive. This will provide further insights into the natural functional principles of such reactions.

Methods of time series analysis and digital image processing are employed in several areas of science and also in practical contexts. For example, these methods are used in medical diagnostics to analyse long-term ECG data. The automatic classification of paint coatings during the manufacture of components represents a very different kind of application. Since increasingly large amounts of data have to be handled, the development of new methods has become necessary to evaluate the flood of data. Scientists working in the priority programme Mathematical Models of Time Series Analysis and Digital Image Processing are going to combine methods to this end that have been developed in various scientific areas and compile new mathematically based algorithms.

Ultra-cold gases are characterised by a very low temperature, low density and weak interaction. In the priority programme Interaction in Ultra-cold Atomic and Molecular Gases, scientists examine how ultra-cold atoms and molecules interact and how their inner and outer degrees of freedom can be specifically manipulated. Some examples of application areas are atom lasers, atomic clocks or instruments with which the Earth's gravity can be accurately measured.

Thanks to a number of space missions that have been planned for the next few years, Mars is going to become a focal point of interest internationally. The priority programme Mars and the Terrestrial Planets represents a German contribution to international research on Mars. The programme aims at acquiring an understanding of spatial and temporal aspects in the creation of planets and the development of planetary bodies.

ENGINEERING SCIENCES

In future, new materials with tailor-made properties will be required for a number of applications in mechanical engineering, nanotechnology, information processing and power engineering. In the priority programme Creating Inorganic Materials by Gas Phase Synthesis. Interdisciplinary Approaches in the Development, Understanding and Control of CVD Methods, chemists, process engineers and materials scientists co-operate in optimising a versatile synthesis method and manufacturing specified metallic, oxide or nitride coatings with defined material properties.

In the semiconductor industry, nearly all conventional electronic components, such as those used in silicon electronics, consist of inorganic materials. The priority programme Organic Field Effect Transistors. Structural and Dynamic Properties gives an impulse for pure research in the area of organic polymer electronics. Physicists, chemists, materials scientists and electrical engineers want to establish the scientific foundations of the function, manufacture and characterisation of these new components, which are regarded as key elements of tomorrow's chip cards and displays.

It is not only people who get old. Buildings do, too. The reason for this is that many of the materials used in building have a porous microstructure. In the course of time, gases and liquids can penetrate the mineral substance and damage or even destroy the material through physical and chemical interactions. In the priority programme Forecasting the Temporal Progression of Physical and Chemical Damage Processes in Mineral Materials, new, reliable methods are developed to be able to predict and influence these processes in a better way.

In the course of evolution, structures have developed in nature, for example among plants, that make them very light and, at the same time, very stable and robust. In the priority programme Textile Compound Construction Methods and Processing Technologies for Lightweight Structures in Machine and Vehicle Construction, scientists examine how such biological architectural principles can be implemented with the aid of three-dimensional fabric-enhanced structures. One of the areas these structures are of considerable interest to is vehicle manufacture, for example in the context of the "two-litre car".

Costly processes are required for the manufacture of most metallic materials. The smelting and casting processes are particularly expensive. The aim of the priority programme Phase Conversion in Multi-Component Melts is to gain an understanding of the transition from the liquid to the solid phase in multi-component systems. This would contribute to saving processing steps and shortening the production routes from the blank to the final product.

Networks are abstract structures that model binary structures. In today's society, complex network connections are important. Information processing, communication, mobility and transport are based on networking, and so is social and political action of persons and organisations. In the priority programme Algorithmics of Large Complex Networks, computer scientists, mathematicians and engineers attempt to understand and master the processes and modes of functioning within networks. This requires efficient algorithmic solutions to fundamental problems in networks as well as their structural analysis and appropriate visualisation.

Robots that play football are at the centre of the priority programme Co-operating Teams of Mobile Robots in Dynamic Environments. The goal of the project is to develop autonomous, fast robots with complex, co-operative behaviour. The robots serve as a model for fast-moving mechanical systems which are employed in industry, for example, in services, in production or in automation engineering.

Over the last few years, computer-aided methods of image analysis have been employed mainly in diagnosing. Scientists of the priority programme Medical Navigation and Robotics examine how image analysis methods can also be used in medical therapy. Medical scientists, computer scientists and engineering scientists co-operate in developing new navigation methods that can be used in neuro-surgery, radiation therapy, surgical oncology, orthopaedics and traumatology.
-end-


Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

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