DFG To Set Up 14 New Collaborative Research Centres

June 19, 1998

On 1 July 1998 the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) will set up 14 new collaborative research centres and two new transfer centres. This was decided by the grants committee for these centres at its summer meeting. From July 1998 onwards, the DFG will fund a total of 266 collaborative research centres at 58 universities with about DM 548 million. One of the new collaborative research centres will be in the humanities and social sciences, while three will be set up in biology/medicine and five each in natural sciences and engineering sciences. The large number of initiatives to set up collaborative research centres has remained unchanged. Equally high is the number of applications rejected after very strict review and assessment. In the last round of decision-making, for instance, seven out of a total of 21 applications were unsuccessful.

Collaborative research centres are centres of outstanding research performance which, while having a strictly limited term - typically twelve years - and being subjected to scrupulous periodical reviews, enable costly long-term research projects to be conducted at universities. Scientists may cooperate with non-university research institutions and also with industry. Young scientists are to be given a greater opportunity to manage their own sub-projects. In its comment on the development of the collaborative research centre programme the Science Council pronounced this 30-year-old funding instrument highly successful and indispensable for university research and emphatically recommended that it should be continued.

Humanities and social sciences

The new collaborative research centre "The Weimar-Jena event, culture around 1800" to be set up at Jena University will explore - from the perspectives of history, aesthetics and natural sciences - this unique cultural synthesis where Enlightenment and Classicism, Idealism and Romanticism overlapped. Under the umbrella of a new conception of cultural studies arts scholars and natural scientists will cooperate to study the material and immaterial bases, the social structures and the interaction of politics, industry, science and the arts in Weimar-Jena in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and identify their importance for today's cultural discussion.

Biology and medicine

Like wild plants crop plants also compete for light, nutrients and water. In this process strongly growing, highly competitive plants often seem to be more susceptible to parasitic infestation than plants with a weak growth. The individual plant finds itself in a dilemma: Internal resource allocation favours either growth processes and efficient competition with neighbouring plants or resistance to parasites. In the collaborative research centre "Growth or resistance to parasites? Competition for resources in agricultural and forestry crop plants " to be established at Munich's Ludwig Maximilian University scientists, including working groups of Munich Technical University and the Environmental and Health Research Centre, will use biochemical and eco-physiological methods to look into the cost-benefit situation of resource allocation within and between crop plants and review biological validity based on a broad spectrum of samples from the areas of forestry, fruit growing, grassland farming and agriculture. They will aim at identifying laws and regularities underlying the ecological fitness of crop plants.

Cells have specific receptors enabling them to respond to external stimuli such as hormones, growth factors or other messenger substances. These receptors are membrane proteins which in the cell trigger a cascade of processes whose last link consists of so-called transcription factors regulating the "reading" of genes. Thus these signal pathways control central functions such as cell growth and differentiation as well as the individual cell's behaviour within the cell aggregate of organs. Defective links in the signal chain can result in a cell dysfunction and thus cause diseases; this is why their study is of particular interest to basic medical science. Against the backdrop of clinically relevant disease models such as cancer, atherosclerosis, psoriasis or multiple sclerosis which are the result of dysregulated or defective signal pathways the new collaborative research centre to be set up at Kiel University will explore the "Specificity and pathophysiology of signal transduction pathways".

Even though the incidence of pancreatic diseases is increasing, there has been no possibility to date to manage and influence the chronic inflammatory process and stop the development of fibrosis resulting in severe chronic pain, pancreatic insufficiency and secondary diabetes mellitus. At the same time, chronic pancreatitis constitutes a cancer risk. This is why scientists at the collaborative research centre "Inflammation, regeneration and transformation of the pancreas " at Ulm University plan to investigate the mechanisms of inflammation, monitor repair and regeneration processes in changed pancreatic tissue and focus on the complex molecular mechanisms of pancreatic carcinoma. This may provide the basis for a potential immunotherapy.

Natural sciences

Non-linear processes are common in nature and technology, but are mainly related to lowdimensional systems. There is still a considerable need for research into real - typically highdimensional - systems. The collaborative research centre "Complex non-linear processes. Analysis - simulation - control - optimisation" to be set up at Berlin's Humboldt University will focus on the analysis of space-time structures from the perspectives of theoretical and experimental physics as well as applied mathematics, e.g. with regard to processes in many-particle systems, in chemically reactive systems, especially in surfaces or in dynamic structures in semiconductors. The scientists intend to identify commonalities and explore to what extent these structures and processes can be influenced, controlled, optimised and perhaps utilised.

At the collaborative research centre "Analysis and control of ultrafast photo-induced reactions" physicists and chemists of Berlin Free University intend to characterise nuclear movements triggered by optical excitation. Experimental investigations combines with theoretical simulations and computations are to help understand the molecular dynamics of optically excited systems and create the possibility of controlling these systems through the exciting field of light. The scientists intend not only to study simple model systems, but in the long term will also strive to control relevant chemical and biological processes.

Producing complex molecular systems with defined structures in the range between 5 and 500 billionth of a millimetre is a great challenge for chemistry, physics and materials research. The collaborative research centre "Complex macromolecular and hybrid systems in internal and external fields " to be established at Bayreuth University plans to organise and characterise such nano-structures on different scales of length by means of molecular interaction as well as mechanical, electric and magnetic fields. One of the goals of this exercise is to produce thin, organic, high-purity films with a defined order to gain a better understanding of the electronic and optical processes occurring in these materials by defining the relationship between morphology and physical properties and examine these materials for their suitability as components for light-emitting diodes, photodetectors or solar cells.

Being Germany's largest inland lake, Lake Constance is of supraregional importance as a drinking water reservoir and fishery. Since so far research has been limited to the deep-water areas of lakes, scientists at the collaborative research centre "Littoral zones of Lake Constance" at Constance University now want to study the biological, chemical and physical processes occurring in the shallow-water reaches (littoral zone). These include transport, mixing and sedimentation processes, interactions between shallow-water reaches and deep-water areas as well as the role of the littoral zone as a habitat which may have a controlling effect on the entire lake.

Processes of collective molecular organisation form the basis for the function of biological systems and are responsible for material properties. They involve molecular interactions which, on their own, are usually weak, but due to the combined action of the components, lead to new functions and properties. To conduct experimental studies of these interactions in terms of their energetics, dynamics and spatial alignment with the help of simple model systems and to describe them in terms of suitable models is the objective of a new collaborative research centre named "Collective molecular organisational processes in chemistry. Development, structure, dynamics and properties of highly organised systems". It will be set up at Essen University/Comprehensive University and Bochum University. The aim is to gain a better understanding of highly organised systems and to provide a basis for the specific development of artificial enzymes or new materials with customised properties.

Engineering sciences

The phenomenon of friction is ubiquitous in technology, from heavy-machine construction to medical engineering and microtechnology, but so far it has not been possible to describe it in a satisfactory manner. This is why at the collaborative research centre "Elementary friction phenomena" at Berlin Technical University engineers, materials scientists and physicists intend to analyse these complex processes in order to gain a consistent understanding of friction, covering phenomena from nuclear friction to friction processes occurring in brake linings. This will eventually provide the possibility to design friction linings for brakes and clutches with potentially improved properties.

A new collaborative research centre at Berlin Technical University will address the subject of "Influencing complex turbulent shear flows". The scientists plan systematically to explore possibilities of controlling such flows with a view to reducing the noise development and increasing the efficiency of fluidic configurations. These include aircraft wings as well as equipment used in chemical engineering and environmental technology.

The collaborative research centre "Design and production of active microsystems" at Braunschweig Technical University has set itself the task of providing method- and component-related basic knowledge for the production of active microsystems. Such systems are actuator systems with integrated sensors, power electronics and control systems which are embedded in a mechanical carrier structure. The usefulness of the newly developed methods will then be demonstrated in a prototype model. The objective - which is also of great interest to industry - is to develop a systematic design process for active microsystems based on modular systems with standardised components.

Not least due to the globalisation trend, large logistic networks - chain stores, forwarding agents, parcel and express courier services as well as freight transport systems - have grown enormously in recent years and have developed into an important economic factor. Especially in the manufacturing sector, which today requires flexibility, customer focus and a variable product range, functional deficiencies of current logistic systems are most conspicuous when it comes to transporting the right objects to the right places at the right time. This is why Dortmund University intends to look into the "Modelling of large logistic networks", taking into account technical, economic and ecological aspects. Scientists will develop methods for systematically designing, testing and improving large distributed technical systems.

The new collaborative research centre "High-temperature resistant, open-cell, cooled multi-layer systems for combined power stations" at Aachen Technical University (RWTH) will focus on optimising energy generation in power plants. Such power plants of the 'next generation but one' which consist of gas turbines combined with steam circuits and steam turbines, are designed to achieve an efficiency of about 65 per cent when burning natural gas and of approximately 55 per cent when burning coal from about 2025 onwards. In order to operate at the necessary temperatures new materials need to be developed on the basis of open-cell structures such as bored structures, perforated sheet metal or open-cell metal foams. In combination with a novel cooling process called transpiration cooling, these materials will be used to produce components to be exposed to maximum operating temperatures.

Under the umbrella of existing collaborative research centres the DFG will also set up two transfer centres to support the cooperative partnership of academic researchers and industrial users. The aim of transfer centres is to develop results and prototypes in precompetitive projects. In this way the cooperating industrial user will benefit from the transfer of scientific innovations, paying only for the cost he incurs himself.

The transfer centre "Stereoselective synthesis of active substances" was spawned by the collaborative research centre " Asymmetrical synthesis using chemical and biological methods" at Aachen Technical University. The scientists involved and the cooperating pharmaceutical company are aiming at optimising existing cost-effective processes for the production of active substances and at developing new ones as well as at determining their biological activity.

At the transfer centre "Components made from metal-ceramic composites" scientists from Dortmund University and Ruhr University in Bochum cooperating with industrial companies will develop coatings, tools and components consisting of new materials. They will take advantage of basic knowledge generated by a collaborative research centre to be terminated by the end of the year and use the results for the precompetitive development of new products and manufacturing processes for the aerospace industry, automotive and mechanical engineering as well as the tool-making industry.

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Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

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