The new recipients of the most important prize for early-career researchers in Germany have been announced. The selection committee, appointed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), has chosen three young men and three young women to receive the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize 2012. The winners are:
Dr. Denis Gebauer, Chemistry, University of Constance
Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger, Physics, Max Planck Institute of Astronomy, Heidelberg
Dr. Katrin Paeschke, Biochemistry, University of Würzburg
Dr. Stefan Roth, Computer Science, Technical University of Darmstadt
Dr. Pieter Samyn, Production Engineering, University of Freiburg
Dr. Yee Lee Shing, Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin
A total of 125 candidates from all areas of research were nominated for the 2012 awards. "This year, the internationality of the prizewinners was particularly impressive. This was apparent not only in the individuals themselves, but also their scientific careers and research focuses," said the chair of the selection committee, DFG Vice President Dorothea Wagner, following the decision. She was also pleased to note that there were three male and three female prizewinners. "Overall, the quality of the nominations was so high that ten prizes could have been awarded," Wagner emphasised.
The 2012 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prizes will be awarded at 2 pm on 23 May in the Landesvertretung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Berlin.
This year's prizewinners:
Dr. Denis Gebauer (33), Chemistry, University of Constance
Denis Gebauer has been awarded the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz prize for his outstanding research in the field of physical chemistry. His pioneering work on the calcium carbonate system resulted in ground-breaking discoveries which revolutionised the scientific perspective of nucleation and crystallisation and which are just as crucial for technical processes. Although young, his name is already synonymous with prenucleation clusters. In collaboration with an Australian-English research unit, Gebauer is working on the hypotheses he developed during his dissertation on crystallisation processes. Currently working on his habilitation at the University of Constance, Gebauer is now setting up his own working group. His research results provide, among other things, a tool for controlling crystal structures, something which is of tremendous significance in pharmaceutics.
Dr. Lisa Kaltenegger (34), Physics, Max Planck Institute of Astronomy, Heidelberg
Astrophysicist Lisa Kaltenegger's work focuses on the characterisation of the atmospheres surrounding Earth-like planets. Since 2010, the successful researcher has headed an Emmy Noether Group at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg and, simultaneously, served as a research associate at the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics. Kaltenegger, who also has a comprehensive knowledge of engineering, is shaping international development in modelling the atmospheres surrounding Earth-like planets and their interactions with the planets' surface. She uses one of the most important tools for analysing astronomical spectrums of extrasolar planets and has become a sought-after point of contact for groups all over the world. She is considered one of the most productive young researchers in modern astrophysics.
Dr. Katrin Paeschke (31), Biochemistry, University of Würzburg
Biochemist Katrin Paeschke has received funding from the DFG's Emmy Noether Programme since 2011. She is currently setting up her own working group at the Biocenter at the University of Würzburg. During her doctorate, which focused on four-stranded DNA and RNA structures known as "G-Quadruplex" structures, Paeschke proved herself as a scientist with tremendous potential, and the results of her dissertation represented a milestone in G-Quadruplex research. In her postdoctoral studies at Princeton University (USA), Paeschke focused on the significance of four-stranded DNA structures for eukaryotic replication in baker's yeast models. With her own working group, she now plans to continue this exceptionally successful research with the aim of transferring the knowledge she acquired through working with yeast models to humans and placing it in a disease-relevant context.
Dr. Stefan Roth (34), Computer Science, Technical University of Darmstadt
At just 30 years of age, computer scientist Stefan Roth was appointed a junior professor at the TU Darmstadt. His appointment immediately followed his doctorate, which he completed at the Department of Computer Science at Brown University (USA). His dissertation was nominated by the department there for the ACM Doctoral Dissertation Award 2007, the highest award for computer science doctoral dissertations in the United States. Although still at an early stage in his career, Roth has established an internationally visible scientific profile in computer vision. The discoveries he has made have considerably advanced image processing and pattern recognition. In particular, the processes he developed are characterised by a solid mathematical and statistical basis and have proven themselves robust in realistic scenarios.
Dr. Pieter Samyn (33), Production Engineering, University of Freiburg
Pieter Samyn's current work focuses on the sustainable use of natural materials. In his academic career to date, the production engineer has carried out successful research in the fields of biobased polymers and fibre technology. This work involved combining elements of mechanical and chemical sciences, as well as macromolecular nanotechnology. Samyn has been a junior professor at the Faculty of Forest and Environmental Sciences at the University of Freiburg since 2011. Here, he is developing a new research programme which focuses on the sustainable usage of biomaterials from forestry as nano-scaled components for functional, bio-based composites. In this way, Samyn aims to define new application areas for renewable, bio-based raw materials, for example in textile coatings or the sensor industry,
Dr. Yee Lee Shing (31), Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin
The developmental psychologist Yee Lee Shing is researching the development of episodic memory over a person's lifetime. Her direct comparisons of children and older adults proved for the first time that components of episodic memory develop differently throughout our lives. These results are of lasting importance for developmental psychological research. As early as her doctoral thesis, Shing, who is known as an exceptionally ambitious and creative researcher, was able to make a substantial contribution to memory research and thus lay the foundations for her own research project. At the age of 31, Shing is an internationally recognised expert. She was offered a W2 Minerva position at the Max Planck Institute for Human Development, which she took up at the beginning of 2012.
The Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize has been awarded annually since 1977. The DFG considers the award both as recognition for scientific achievements to date and as incentive for early-career researchers to continue to pursue a scientific career. As such, it enjoys a high standing. In a survey carried out by the "bild der wissenschaft" magazine, the most prominent research institutions named the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize Germany's third most significant scientific prize, after the DFG's Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize and the German Federal President's Deutscher Zukunftspreis. The award includes prize money of 16,000 euros for each winner, which is provided by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF).
The prize's patron, Professor Heinz Maier-Leibnitz, was a physicist who served as President of the DFG from 1974 to 1979. The prize named in his honour was established and awarded for the first time during his term as head of the DFG.