Promising research: From employment issues to virology

May 21, 2004

The twelve new Priority Programmes to be funded by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG) from the beginning of 2005 onwards cover such topics as the use of concrete, cultures in the Middle Ages, astrophysics and the kinships of animals. The Senate of the DFG selected them from among 80 applications and will provide a total of € 32.6 million to support them during the first two years. This raises the number of Priority Programmes funded in the year 2005 to a total of 109. The DFG uses Priority Programmes to bring together researchers from different research institutions on certain projects in develop-ing fields of research. As a rule, Priority Programmes run for six years.

The new Priority Programmes are:

Life Sciences

The Priority Programme "Membranes Enveloping Virus Particles and Cellular Struc-tures" unites the fields of cell biology and virology. It deals with viruses and cell organelles and examines the joint mechanisms that cause organelles and viruses to be enveloped by membranes. The basic researchers also focus on the application. Understanding the principles of envelopment could lead to the development of new intervention strategies. This priority is meant to unite virologists, cell biologists, biochemists, structural biologists and biophysicists. The viruses being examined include important aetiological agents that infest humans, such as HI, Ebola, hepatitis C or herpes viruses.
(Coordinator: Professor Dr. Hans-Georg Kräußlich, University of Heidelberg)

The aim of the Priority Programme "Phylogeny of Animals - Deep Metazoan Phylogeny" is to clarify whether the classification of animals, including sea sponges and arthropods, such as insects, and coelom animals, was previously misguided because the only possible means of sorting them was according to the shape of their body and their internal characteristics. It could be that a methodically critical view of both morphological as well as molecular data is required to produce the correct kinships between the species. The researchers are to close the gaps in our knowledge caused by ambiguous interpretations of data, a lack of examinations and insufficient descriptions.
(Coordinator: Professor Dr. Johann-Wolfgang Wägele, University of Bochum)

Humanities and Social Sciences

Many companies offer older employees the possibility of early retirement, enabling younger and supposedly more productive employees to move up. The combination of an extended life expectancy and constantly decreasing employment is one reason for the crisis in Germany's social security systems. The researchers involved in the new Priority Programme "Age-Differentiated Work Systems" want to develop strategies on how to deploy employees in a company according to their age so that they remain employed for a longer period of time. So-called life span models are meant to give concrete information on how to optimise work sys-tems and what measures can be used to provide adequate working conditions for different age groups.
(Coordinator: Professor Dr. Ekkehart Frieling, University of Kassel)

In the wake of European unification, the question of Europe's cultural identity is being dis-cussed intensively. In the new Priority Programme "Integration and De-integration of Cul-tures in the European Middle Ages", researchers are questioning the theory of Europe's uniform Christian culture, which was previously accepted in research. Even before the Middle Ages, Latin-Christian Europe experienced constant interaction with the Greek-Orthodox, Jew-ish and Islamic cultures. However, this confrontation did not lead to a mutual delimitation, but rather to the adaptation and exchange of different religious beliefs. The participating histori-ans, Islamic researchers, economists and theologians hope to achieve a better understanding of the historical development of Europe by studying transcultural relationships.
(Coordinators: Professor Dr. Michael Borgolte, Humboldt University of Berlin and Dr. Bernd Schneidmüller, University of Heidelberg)

Engineering Sciences

In the future, demands will be made of materials that can only be achieved by intervening on micro and nano levels. In addition, building components are becoming increasingly smaller. Therefore, material researchers in the Priority Programme "Nanoscaled Inorganic Materials by Means of Molecular Design: New Materials for Future Technologies" are working together with molecular and solid-state chemists to develop concepts for manufacturing new materials with a customized structure. (Coordinators: Professor Dr. Ralf Riedel, Technical University of Darmstadt, Professor Dr. Peter Greil, University of Erlangen-Nürnberg)

The Priority Programme "Lasting Construction with Ultra-High Power Concrete" focuses on ultra-high power concrete that, due to its composition and manufacturing method, resem-bles steel rather than normal concrete in terms of load-bearing capacity. The researchers plan to use the programme to lay the technically scientific foundations for using ultra-high power concrete. They believe that this material can be used not only to construct more filigreed building components and constructions and, therefore, a more appealing architecture, but also, because of its much smaller proportion of cement, that it will lead to a distinct reduction in the amount of energy required to produce cement, thereby also reducing the emission of carbon dioxide.
(Coordinator: Professor Dr.-Ing. Michael Schmidt, University of Kassel)

In the Priority Programme "Prognosis and Influence on the Interactions of Structures and Processes", mechanics, thermodynamicists, mathematicians, material and production re-searchers are working on the systematic investigation of interactions at the interface between structures and processes of technical systems. Across the boundaries of their individual fields of research, these scientists are searching for methods and approaches with which to specifi-cally influence the production mechanisms in the run-up to the process, thereby improving the result.
(Coordinator: Professor Dr.-Ing. Berend Denkena, University of Hannover)

The focus of the Priority Programme "Organic Computing" is on computer systems that can organise, optimise, repair, protect and adapt themselves to their surrounding conditions. Or-ganic computer systems were inspired by ideas from the field of biology. However, they are based on normal silicon technology. Their characteristics, similar to those in real life, have an effect at the level of the compound system, as well as on the build-up and interaction of their components. The objective of this research is to create user-friendly and safe information in-frastructures under conditions that are becoming ever more complex.
(Coordinator: Professor Dr. Hartmut Schmeck, University of Karlsruhe)

Natural Sciences

Astrophysics is presently focusing on the development of galaxies and superheavy black holes. Joining the phenomena on both the tiniest and extremely large scales has led to a new era in extra-galactic astronomy. New telescopes make it possible to get a better view of the universe. The purpose of the Priority Programme "Witnesses of Cosmic History: the Crea-tion and Development of Galaxies, Black Holes and Their Environment" is to link re-searchers who draw positive results from the latest developments in this field.
(Coordinator: Professor Dr. Peter Schneider, University of Bonn)

The Priority Programme "Climate and Weather in the Solar-terrestrial System" focuses on the interaction between the sun and the earth's atmosphere. Solar physicists, environmental physicists, chemists, meteorologists and climatologists work together to quantify the influence of fluctuations in solar radiation on the earth. The sun "flickers", so that different amounts of radiation reach the earth's surface at different times. The interdisciplinary research on these processes and the coupling between solar radiation, high and low atmosphere should lead to a better understanding of the principles of climatic changes.
(Coordinator: Professor Dr. Franz-Josef Lübken, Leibniz Institute for Atmospheric Physics, Kühlungsborn)

Enzymes are nature's catalysts, which carry out chemical conversions in a highly-efficient and selective manner. For a long time, chemists have attempted to find artificial counterparts with similar characteristics. The Priority Programme "Organocatalysis" is based on the con-cept that small organic molecules could take over the task of enzymes. These organocatalysts are so attractive because, contrary to the metal catalysts previously used most often, they are not poisonous and are robust, inexpensive and relatively easy to manufacture. In this Priority Programme, the researchers will develop new organocatalyst processes, elucidate how they function and apply them to different syntheses that are also industrially relevant.
(Coordinator: Professor Dr. Benjamin List, Max Planck Institute for Coal Research, Mülheim)

Atoms and electrons behave like bricks and mortar. It is the electrons which enable a bonded compound. In addition, the distribution of electrons among the atoms determines all of the chemical characteristics of a material. The new Priority Programme "Experimental Electron Density as the Key to Understanding Chemical Interaction" deals with determining the distribution of electron density in different chemical compounds. In particular, the new re-search reactor in Garching supplies the necessary industrial conditions to expand into new fields of precision. For example, exact knowledge of electron density would enable the spe-cific design of new materials with predetermined characteristics, or make it possible to under-stand organisational processes in biologically relevant structures. The researchers involved in this project hope to obtain a new insight into the world of atoms, thereby providing an impor-tant impulse in the field of theoretical and synthetic chemistry.
(Coordinator: Professor Dr. Dietmar Stalke, University of Würzburg)
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