DFG announces establishment of twelve research units

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The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has established nine new Research Units and three Clinical Research Units. The decision was made by the Joint Committee of Germany's central research funding organisation at its October meeting in Bonn. The establishment of the Units will enable researchers to explore topical research questions using innovative methods and approaches. As all DFG-funded Research Units, the new units will implement interdisciplinary research programmes and operate across several sites. The Clinical Research Units combine the areas of clinical, applied and basic research.

These newly established institutions will cover a broad spectrum of research areas; one Research Unit aims to enhance the accuracy of global space-time reference systems, which can be used, for example, to improve the precision of satellite navigation. Other units will study the formation of ice nuclei in clouds and the impact of knowledge on political decision-making. Among other things, the Clinical Research Units will focus on new forms of therapy for chronic bowel disease and specialised psychotherapeutic approaches to treating the mental disorder BPD.

The nine new Research Units will receive approximately 15.3 million euros in funding, and will raise the number of Research Units funded through the DFG to 201. The three new Clinical Research Units will receive approximately 8.2 million euros in funding during the first four-year funding period. The DFG currently supports 31 Clinical Research Units in total.

The new Research Units (listed in alphabetical order of coordinating university):

Research Units

The Research Unit "Active Drag Reduction by Transversal Surface Waves" aims to lower fuel consumption in transportation and reduce environmental impacts in the process. Researchers from the fields of fluid mechanics, mathematics, structural mechanics, control engineering, electronics and materials science will work together within the Research Unit to identify a simple and energy efficient method of controlling air flows. Building on insights gained through the observation of flows over a flat surface, the Research Unit will seek to develop an innovative concept with the capacity to significantly reduce drag through the use of surface motion. (Spokesperson: Prof. Wolfgang Schröder, Aachen University of Technology)

A new Research Unit comprised of experts from the fields of construction materials science, solid structure engineering, and mechanics will seek to improve our understanding of key processes occurring prior to and during alkali-silica reactions in concrete construction elements. Studies conducted by the Unit will contribute to the development of scientifically proven procedures for evaluating and selecting concrete constituents and specifying concrete compositions. The researchers also hope to develop easy, practical measures for safeguarding against associated hazards during the use of concrete. Studies conducted by the Research Unit will focus primarily on the marginal conditions of transportation surfaces. (Spokesperson: Prof. Rolf Breitenbücher, Ruhr University of Bochum)

High precision space-time reference systems play a crucial role in many scientific applications. An example is in studying global environmental changes: Data on changes in sea levels have only been approximate to date. Precise reference systems are also necessary to estimate the mass of other planets and to navigate satellites in space. The work of the Research Unit "Space-Time Reference Systems for Monitoring Global Change and for Precise Navigation in Space" is therefore particularly relevant to the wider scientific community. Uniting researchers from the fields of geodetics, astronomy and space studies, the Unit will seek to develop an interdisciplinary approach to processing data from compatible reference systems and to attain a previously unseen degree of accuracy. (Spokesperson: Dr.-Ing. Axel Nothnagel, University of Bonn)

The Research Unit "Mapping on Demand" plans to develop and trial processes that will facilitate rapid three dimensional identification and mapping of inaccessible objects. A lightweight drone capable of autonomous flight will serve as the main instrument and sensory platform in the Unit's studies. The drone will use visual information captured by cameras to navigate, avoid obstacles, explore, and map objects. Researchers from the fields of geodetics, photogrammetry, geo-informatics, and computer science will develop the necessary models and processes as well as trialling prototypes in outlying suburban areas, where they will map building structures, vegetation, and stationary traffic. (Spokesperson: Prof. Wolfgang Förstner, University of Bonn)

The extent to which local situations shape the role of available knowledge in political decision-making processes is the subject of a new Research Unit which will bring together researchers from the social and engineering sciences. The researchers will seek to unravel how patterns of knowledge relevant to decision-making processes are generated. Empirical studies conducted by the Unit will focus on Frankfurt, Munich and Stuttgart, and the strategies implemented to address global climate change in the areas of local transportation planning and development, land development and improving energy efficiency in private buildings. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Hubert Heinelt, TU Darmstadt)

The "INUIT - Ice Nuclei Research UnIT" will seek to explain how ice forms in the atmosphere. Mixed-phase clouds contain both supercooled liquid particles and ice crystals, with the latter influencing both the atmospheric radiation budget and the development of precipitation. While researchers are aware that so-called ice nuclei trigger the formation of ice in clouds, many aspects of atmospheric ice nuclei remain unclear, including the frequency of their occurrence, size, and chemical composition. Drawing on research findings, the researchers want to simulate cloud processes to identify the roles of different types of ice nuclei and freezing modes. (Spokesperson: Prof. Joachim Curtius, Johann Wolfgang Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main)

Classical approaches to describing plasticity have proven inadequate in the increasingly important area of micro-scale components in micro-systems technology. The Research Unit "Dislocation-based Plasticity" will seek to bridge the divide between the various approaches to describing plasticity which has existed for decades. The Unit hopes to develop a new theory that will enable researchers to reliably predict the micro-plasticity of mono- and polycrystalline materials. Studies conducted by the Unit will combine a range of simulation processes with targeted experiments on nano-structured materials and thin layers. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr.-Ing. Peter Gumbsch, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)

"INTERNANO" is the name of a new Research Unit which aims to assess the behaviour of nano-particles in soil and their interaction with sediments by studying four anorganic, synthetic nano-particles. The Unit hopes to identify processes that affect the flow of nano-particles in the aquatic-terrestrial ecosystem interface, and its research findings are expected to offer insights into the ecological impacts and potential contamination risks of nano-particles. Researchers from the fields of water science, soil research, ecology and microbiology will participate in research carried out by the Unit. (Spokesperson: Prof. Gabriele Schaumann, University of Koblenz-Landau)

The Research Unit "Unravelling the Prokaryotic Immune System" will bring together experts from the fields of microbiology, bio-informatics, structural biology, and mass spectrometry. The researchers aim to advance our understanding of the recently discovered prokaryotic immune system, which is based on "Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats" (CRISPR). CRISPR are segments of nucleic acid sequences containing multiple repeats; found in the genetic material of many bacteria and archaea, they comprise a mechanism which confers resistance to exogenous elements such as viruses. (Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Anita Marchfelder, University of Ulm)

Clinical Research Units

A Clinical Research Unit comprised of working groups from the fields of molecular biology and clinical immunology will study the molecular pathogenesis of chronic inflammatory bowel disease in an effort to optimise therapeutic approaches to its treatment. Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis are autoimmune diseases of the gastrointestinal tract, and have proven very difficult to treat in spite of the development of new immuno-suppressive forms of medication. Improving our understanding of their pathogenesis is key to the development of more efficient and targeted forms of therapy. (Spokesperson: Prof. Markus F. Neurath, Friedrich-Alexander University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)

Borderline personality disorder, commonly abbreviated as BPD, is a widespread and complex mental and psychological disorder. If left untreated, BPD can develop into a chronic and seriously debilitating condition. Individuals with BPD may become suicidal, inflict self-harm, or display aggressive impulses. The new Clinical Research Unit aims to analyse the individual role of emotional disorders and social interaction within BPD. Together, researchers from the fields of neuropsychology, neuro-imaging and psychosomatic medicine plan to promote the development of psychotherapeutic approaches to treating BPD and to lay the foundations for future research efforts focussing on the disorder's molecular aspects. (Spokesperson: Prof. Martin Bohus, Central Institute of Mental Health in Mannheim, Department of Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy)

Platelets (also known as thrombocytes) contribute to wound healing and help to repair damaged organs. Their uncontrolled activation can lead to disorders that affect the heart and circulation system. A new Clinical Research Unit aims to improve our understanding of platelet function, platelet interaction with inflammatory reactions, their role in thrombosis and relevant cardiovascular illnesses such as myocardial infarction, strokes, and heart failure. The Unit's research findings will facilitate the development and evaluation of new therapeutic treatments and diagnostic approaches, and close gaps in the current treatment regime. (Spokesperson: Prof. Meinrad Paul Gawaz, Eberhard-Karl University of Tübingen, University Hospital and Faculty of Medicine)


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