DFG To Fund Six New Research Units

May 15, 1998

At its spring meeting, the Grants Committee of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) decided to fund six new research units. In these units several researchers - usually based at the same university - cooperate to solve a shared scientific problem. Research units are set up when a small, but highly significant scientific theme requires interdisciplinary cooperation. The programme is designed to help establish new lines of research work which as yet have not, or only insufficiently, been pursued in Germany.

What is the role played in our society by norms, what is considered normal? This is the question nine scientists at Dortmund University are asking themselves who have joined forces in the research unit Life in trend curves. Flexible normalism in working and everyday life, the media, elementary literature and fiction. They intend to point out differences between valid norms and what is considered "normal". The object of the planned investigations will be human behavioural patterns which are described in literary texts and films and looked into in reality by sociologists.

In Halle-Wittenberg, the research unit on Self-Enlightenment of Enlightenment. Concepts for the individual, society and humanity at the anthropological turning point in the late Age of Enlightenment will look into the late phase of the Age of Enlightenment. By drawing on historical sources, historians, philosophers, political scientists as well as scholars of Romance and Germanic languages and literatures will study the fundamental change that occurred around 1750 in the concepts for society and humanity.

How do living creatures perceive their environment and how does newly acquired knowledge guide their spatial action? This is the question that neurobiologists at Tübingen University intend to look into in the research unit Perception and action in space: neurobiological and theoretical basis. Clinical studies, an analysis of the spatial perception of humans, monkeys and bats as well as complementary theoretical studies will try to explain the mechanisms involved in acquiring and using spatial information. The work planned also promises to stimulate the optimisation of technical systems (robots) and the rehabilitation of people with neurological deficits (e.g. after suffering a stroke).

To ensure that new structures like high-rise buildings and bridges are erected on solid ground building engineers like to draw on experience. The historical example of the Leaning Tower of Pisa shows that this approach is not always successful. In the research unit Modelling cohesive friction materials engineers and physicists in Stuttgart now want to embark on a scientific investigation into the load-bearing capacity of different types of soil and other granular materials such as concrete. Their aim is to develop models permitting to predict, among other things, subsoil stability even before ground-breaking.

Close to absolute zero many metals and metal-based compounds display an amazing physical property: They conduct electric current without any resistance and hence without any losses due to heat radiation. Helium, which is gaseous at room temperature, becomes superfluid at extremely low temperatures so that it flows up container walls and out of the container without any frictional loss. In the research unit Transport phenomena in superconductors and superfluids experimental and theoretical physicists at Bayreuth University intend to investigate these effects, described as superconduction and superfluidity. In the long run the project is meant to provide new impetus for research into superconduction and extremely sensitive particle detectors.

As yet, electromagnetic radiation in the sub-millimetre wave range has hardly been used in technology. High-frequency engineers and semi-conductor technologists from Hamburg, Erlangen and Darmstadt will get together in the supraregional research unit on Submillimetre wave circuit engineering to gain access to this frequency range. By generating high transmission power using semi-conductor elements they aim at creating the basis for a broader technical utilisation of this wavelength range. Potential applications are in atmospheric measuring technology, spectroscopy and inter-satellite communications.

The six new research units will now begin their activities. The DFG will fund their work by providing a total of about DM 7.3 million for an initial period of two years. Another DM 3.1 million were tentatively budgeted for the third year. As a rule, the total term of such programmes is six years.

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
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