DFG To Set Up 21 New Collaborative Research Centres

December 18, 1998

On 1 January 1999, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) will set up 21 new collaborative research centres, among them two cultural science research units. This was decided by the grants committee for collaborative research centres at its autumn meeting.

Cultural science research units are a variant of the traditional collaborative research centres. Their purpose is to overcome the isolation of disciplines and also involve natural and engineering sciences. Special research-related and project-based study programmes help to promote young scientists and scholars. Another objective of such cultural science research units is to support international co-operation; at first, the units will be funded on a trial basis.

Two cultural science research units and four collaborative research centres will be set up in the humanities and social sciences, while nine new collaborative research centres will be established in biology and medicine and three each in the natural sciences and engineering sciences. From January 1999 onwards, the DFG will fund a total of 268 collaborative research centres at 58 universities for which about DM 613 million have been appropriated.

While being strictly limited - usually to a period of twelve years - and subjected to regular stringent reviews, collaborative research centres and cultural science research units permit costly research projects to be conducted in the higher education sector. The scientists involved are free to co-operate with non-university research institutions and also with industry.

Humanities and social sciences

We are living in an era of new media and technical innovations, witnessing a revolution of knowledge. Our information is less and less derived from books or printed materials and increasingly obtained from electronic display and storage media. This recent experience gives rise to the diachronous issue tackled by the new cultural science research unit addressing the "Culture of knowledge and social change" to be established at the University of Frankfurt am Main. The scholars involved will look at the social dynamics of types of knowledge from the Stone Age to the present, studying the theoretical knowledge of philosophers and natural scientists and the practical know-how of craftsmen, the general knowledge of a society and the specialised expertise of particular groups of society, irrespective of whether this knowledge was handed down orally or in writing.

The change of media, especially the new media and their implications, will be in the focus of the new cultural science research unit entitled "Media and cultural communication" at the University of Cologne. This unit will study the rapid media development as well as the success of electronic storage, mass and entertainment media together with the changes in social culture they have spawned. Emphasis will be on the implications for literature and the humanities which are especially involved in, and affected by, the media change. Reactions by these disciplines run the whole gamut from strong irritation - there is talk about the corruption of language, the end of the culture of writing, disintegration of a cultural public or loss of the significance of literature - to the enthusiastic adoption of the new skills and techniques.

A new collaborative research centre at the University of Tübingen addressing the "Experience of war - war and society in modern times " will look into the perception, the collective memory and the resulting "images of war" that societies have. As political and military as well as the social history aspects of war and its cultural-historical dimension are still relatively isolated from each other, scholars will try to integrate hitherto separate areas of research by taking an approach based on the history of experience. Their work will centre on the Thirty Years' War, the French revolutionary wars and the national wars beginning at the same time as well as the World Wars which ushered in modern industrialised "total" war. They will also consider the respective post-war periods.

The self-image of cultures outside Europe and North America is mostly reflected in performative processes, i.e. rituals, ceremonies, festivals, games, contests and song recitals. Modern European and North American culture, on the other hand, has been seen as a culture expressing its self-image mainly in texts and monuments. Even though the significance of performative processes in this culture was repeatedly studied, it has never been explored systematically. The collaborative research centre to be established at the Free University of Berlin to deal with the "Cultures of the performative" will study the function and significance of performative processes and their relation to textuality at times of major changes in communication (in the Middle Ages, early modern age and modernity).

Increasing international cross-linking of communication and society has not automatically led to a loss of "regionality". On the contrary, running parallel to the intensified globalisation process there is a "renaissance of regions". Scholars co-operating at the collaborative research centre dealing with "Regional identification processes. The example of Saxony" which will be run at the University of Leipzig will study the way in which regional self-perception develops. Regional identity will not be considered to be static, but rather as an ongoing process and hence subject to historical change.

Scholars at the collaborative research centre entitled "Linguistic data structures: Theoretical and empirical foundations of grammar research" to be set up at the University of Tübingen intend to establish a link between theoretical linguistics and the various individual philologies by applying methods of computer linguistics. The research programme is divided into two project areas, "Method- and corpus-oriented studies" and "Phenomena-oriented studies", which will investigate the linguistic means of expression for central categories of human cognition, i.e. locality, temporality and modality.

Medicine and biology

In the field of oncogenesis and tumour development the rapidly growing body of knowledge of clinical and therapeutic strategies is implemented at a strikingly slow pace. This is why basic oncological research and clinically oriented oncological research activities are to be pooled at the Technical University of Munich. Scientists at the collaborative research centre addressing "Target structures for selective tumour intervention" aim at developing therapeutic strategies for certain types of cancer such as gynaecological tumours, tumours of the gastro-intestinal tract and of the blood system. To this end, they will identify oncogenic feedback systems in which molecules can be defined as potential target structures for selective therapeutic measures.

The collaborative research centre to be set up at the Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich to look into "Viral functions and immunomodulation" will address the integration of fundamental work and clinical research in those research areas which are essential for the success of gene therapy. Emphasis will be on viral vectors; the centre's scientists will study the biological characteristics of widely differing viruses with a view to using them as "gene vehicles" in gene therapy. In addition to virological studies, immunological work will also be of great importance. Attempts will be made specifically to modulate immunogenicity by varying the properties of cells and tissues.

The most common disease of the cardiovascular system is arteriosclerosis and its sequellae, i.e. stroke, myocardial infarction and cardiac failure, with "classical" risk factors - hypertension, diabetes and smoking - explaining only about 50% of the development of this disease. Most recently, there has been increasing interest in inflammatory processes that may be involved; epidemiological studies, for instance, suggest that there may be a link between chlamydia or cytomegalovirus infections and the development of arteriosclerosis. The collaborative research centre looking at "Lesion and repair of the cardiovascular system" which will be established at the University of Ulm is intended to study the inflammation-induced influences and repair mechanisms at vessel walls and explore the molecular mechanisms of tissue remodelling including programmed cell death (apoptosis) which might play a role in this context.

Membrane-bound receptors, i.e. proteins penetrating the cellular membrane, are highly specific sites of attack by endogenous regulators, light, olfactory substances and pathogens as well as the majority of medical drugs. The aim of the newly established collaborative research centre at the Free University of Berlin is to study the "Structure and function of membrane-bound receptors". Work will focus on processes taking place at the receptors between ligand (active substance) binding and the transmission of the signal into the interior of the cell. In the final analysis, the mechanism of signal transmission is based on the structure of the receptor proteins and the changes triggered by ligand binding. The scientists at the centre intend to study the structure and function of a wide range of receptor systems; it is expected that signal transmission is based on common principles.

The new collaborative research centre entitled "Membrane proteins: Functional dynamics and coupling to reaction chains" to be set up at the University of Osnabrück will focus on a similar theme. How does the structure of membrane proteins change during the transport of substances through the membrane or during signal transmission? The centre's scientists will investigate how receptors, ion channels and transport proteins are bound to cellular regulatory networks. By comparing monocellular and multicellular organisms they intend to enhance the understanding of central structural and functional elements.

45,000 patients suffering from renal failure are currently dialysed in Germany. Acute or chronic renal failure can be the result of multiple renal tissue lesions, and often there is a lack of knowledge of how to diagnose these lesions at an early stage and treat them effectively. This is why the collaborative research centre focusing on "Renal lesions: Pathogenesis and regenerative mechanisms" to be established at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg will look into development, preservation, damage and regeneration mechanisms of renal tissue with a view to identifying new approaches to diagnosing and treating renal diseases.

The newly established collaborative research centre at the Humboldt University in Berlin addressing the "Protective and pathological consequences of antigen processing" will look into central issues of immunology and defence against infections. It will focus on gaining a better understanding of the human immune system which in the course of evolution has learnt to recognise bacteria, viruses and parasites and develop appropriate defence mechanisms. But many of these mechanisms that occur at the cellular level during antigen processing and presentation are still unclear. Of particular interest are "errors" of the immune system which lead to autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis that are still not adequately understood today.

The collaborative research centre dealing with "Molecular physiology, energetics and regulation of primary metabolic processes in plants" to be set up at the Humboldt University in Berlin will address the vital processes in an intact plant cell. It intends to study primary metabolic processes in plants, i.e. processes directly associated with the plants' ability to convert solar energy into carbohydrates by means of photosynthesis. Research work will focus on energy conversion processes for the synthesis of carbohydrates and the regulation of the synthesis and transport of these carbohydrates within the plant.

Since spruce monocultures have suffered extensive damage it is intended to transform these forests into mixed deciduous forests with a high percentage of beeches. Beech forests are generally considered to be stable ecosystems with a high resistance to pests and air pollution. In spite of the increasing importance of beech forests for Central Europe the ecological consequences of these transformation schemes and the impact of different climate conditions and forest management methods have hardly been explored. The collaborative research centre looking into "Beech-dominated deciduous forests under the influences of climate and forest management: ecological, silvicultural and sociological analyses" at the University of Freiburg intends to contribute towards a sustainable design and management of deciduous forests on the basis of multidisciplinary analyses.

Natural sciences

The aim of the collaborative research centre exploring the "Many-particle structure of highly interactive systems" at the University of Mainz is to draw a more sophisticated picture of the atomic nucleus and its components by taking into account so-called residual interaction as well as relativistic corrections. Research will concentrate on studying the nature of hadrons which consist of quarks and gluons. Meson clusters which are another type of component will also play a crucial role in this work. The studies are expected to produce greater knowledge of the structure of the physical vacuum and of relativistic quantum mechanics in highly interactive systems. Experimental work which will be supported by a theoretical programme will be conducted on the Mainz Microton, MAMI, an electron accelerator of extremely high beam quality.

The formation of galaxies and galaxy clusters and their early development phases will be studied at the collaborative research centre addressing "Galaxies in the young universe" to be set up at the University of Heidelberg. Very recent galaxies appear to form high-density central black holes and active nuclei at an early stage. This is not only a result of the inner dynamics of individual galaxies, but is also crucially determined by interactive processes between the galaxies. A new generation of earth-based large telescopes and space telescopes allows scientists for the first time to observe and define in quantitative terms phenomena which took place during the earliest phase of the formation of the universe. It is thus possible to create a solid empirical basis for ideas which so far had largely remained speculations.

Using the example of industrialised and densely populated North Rhine-Westphalia, scientists at the new collaborative research centre dealing with "Environmental problems of an industrial conurbation: Scientific problem-solving strategies and socio-economic implications" at the University of Cologne intend to develop concrete strategies to reduce environmental problems. Based on an interdisciplinary approach, natural science analyses will also cover economic, social, legal and medical aspects in order to identify solutions that can also be applied to other regions. Research work will focus on the man-made impact on the atmosphere and the water balance, the drinking water supply and the pollution of groundwater by contaminated sites, fertilisation, pesticides and hormones.

Engineering sciences

A new collaborative research centre dealing with "Near-reality telepresence and teleoperation" will be established at the Technical University of Munich. Telepresence means that by using technical means a person achieves the subjective feeling of presence at a remote site; teleoperation means that this person can actively manipulate the remote environment. The aim of this collaborative research centre is to increase the sensation of telepresence for limited scenarios by using adequate combinations of sensor/actuator systems adapted to humans and thus open up new applications. Examples would be telemedicine and telesurgery, new machine tools as well as telerepair and teleassembly.

Interface effects dominate in nanoparticles as their surface is so much larger than their volume. This is why nanoparticles have interesting physical and chemical properties, thus providing a basis for novel materials such as new ceramics, catalysts, electrical and magnetic components and sensors. There are natural limits to producing nanoparticles by crushing larger bodies. A collaborative research centre to be established at the University/Comprehensive University of Duisburg will look at "Nanoparticles from the gaseous phase: Formation, structure, properties" and produce nanoparticles of technically interesting materials from the gaseous phase and characterise their shape and physical and chemical behaviour. In addition, formation and transport are to be simulated in theoretical models and computer simulations.

"Electromagnetic compatibility", the theme addressed by a new collaborative research centre at the Universities of Karlsruhe and Stuttgart, can be interpreted as the peaceful co-existence of sources and receivers of electromagnetic energy. This means that sources will reach only the matching receivers and receivers will respond only the signals of their choice, i.e. there will not be any undesirable mutual interference. But the electromagnetic spectrum is becoming more and more polluted; interactions may occur between "sources of interference" and "victims of interference" resulting in malfunctioning welding robots or the failure of medical diagnostic equipment due to the nearby use of cellular phones. The aim of the collaborative research centre is to study the electromagnetic compatibility of medical instrumentation (automated equipment in the operating theatre) and devices used in factories (problems of robot cells and control systems of production facilities) in order to suggest clear rules for a "compatible" system design.

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

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