The German Research Foundation (DFG) is the self-governing organisation for science and research in Germany and at the same time the country’s largest funding institution for basic research. It is responsible for awarding the funding provided by the federal government and the Länder to outstanding researchers and promising research projects.
Leipzig University is currently involved in 20 DFG-funded coordinated programmes. It is also involved in another twelve sub-projects. In increasingly interdisciplinary collaborative projects, such as the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) and the Obesity Mechanisms Collaborative Research Centre, the University is demonstrating its versatile research expertise. In addition, there are currently eleven early career research groups funded by the DFG under the Heisenberg Programme and the Emmy Noether Programme.
1. Research Centres
The DFG Research Centres are some of the German Research Foundation’s most comprehensive and exclusive collaborative projects. Unlike other projects and programmes, DFG Research Centres are set up in response to thematic calls issued by the DFG. The aim is to hone the fundamental orientation of the research profile of the universities that receive funding and to draw international attention to the relevant research foci. At present, the DFG is only funding four such Research Centres nationwide, providing a total of 29 million euros a year.
The German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig is a DFG Research Centre and a joint institution of Leipzig University, the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) and the Friedrich Schiller University Jena (FSU). It is run in collaboration with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ).
Cataloguing Biological Diversity: A Herculean Task?
We know that we are dramatically changing the planet’s biological diversity: species are becoming extinct, and genetic information and entire ecosystems being wiped out. At iDiv, researchers from 30 nations are working on understanding the extent of these changes, the underlying processes and the consequences for the human race. The clock is ticking – or, as Leipzig professor and head of iDiv Christian Wirth puts it:
“The central problem in understanding and measuring biological diversity is that we still have a lot of work to do. And while we are taking inventory, the shelves are already being cleared.”Professor Christian Wirth
2. Collaborative Research Centres and Transregios
Collaborative Research Centres (CRCs) and Transregios are made up of a number of sub-projects. They involve several different departments from universities and research institutions across the region working together. Running for a maximum of twelve years, they allow the participating researchers to devise and carry out challenging and complex research projects. Transregios differ from Collaborative Research Centres in that usually two or three universities submit a joint proposal and up to a third of the research is undertaken by non-university research institutions.
DFG Collaborative Research Centres and Transregios Hosted by Leipzig University:
The Obesity Mechanisms Collaborative Research Centre has been examining three main research foci since 2013: overeating, fat deposition and inflammation, and altered adipokine secretion. In cooperation with three partner institutions – the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences, the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (Israel) – the researchers aim to enhance our understanding of obesity as a multifactorial and socially relevant disease. Graduates of the Obesity Mechanisms Integrated Research Training Group can acquire the knowledge gained in obesity research as well as additional practical skills, thus equipping them for successful scientific careers.
Firstly, the Spatialization under the Global Condition Collaborative Research Centre investigates the emergence of spatial formats – the results of spatial action of individual stakeholder groups, such as territories, networks, chains, enclaves, corridors and (special) zones. Secondly, this Collaborative Research Centre aims to understand how these spatial formats are combined into complex spatial orders, and their evolution since the 18th century under the global condition. The collaborative project is also part of the interdisciplinary research programme of the Leipzig Research Centre Global Dynamics (ReCentGlobe) and includes an integrated Research Training Group, which acts as a link between academic education and interdisciplinary research.
Cells communicate with each other and their environment via receptors. G protein-coupled receptors (GPCRs) are the largest group of membrane receptors and found in almost all living organisms. In CRC 1423, “Structural Dynamics of GPCR Activation and Signal Transduction”, Leipzig University researchers from the life sciences, medicine, pharmacy and bioinformatics are investigating interactions between peptide receptors and adhesion receptors – GPCRs that have so far been the subject of little research. To this end, they are collaborating with partners at the Charité university hospital in Berlin, the Helmholtz Association’s Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine, and the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg. One of the CRC’s goals is to clarify the dynamic structural states of these GPCRs in order to understand their functions. This could lead to the development of novel therapeutics for this class of GPCRs. Doctoral candidates at this CRC are trained in its integrated Research Training Group.
With the CRC/Transregio 172, we are conducting systematic large-scale research in the field of Arctic climate change (AC)³ for the first time in Germany. Applying a variety of different methods, the aim of the wide-ranging research alliance with the University of Bremen, the University of Cologne, the Alfred Wegener Institute and the Leibniz Institute for Tropospheric Research is to observe climatic changes in the Arctic over long periods of time. On the basis of observations of measuring instruments on satellites, aircraft, airborne balloon platforms, research vessels and the results of selected ground-based monitoring stations, the researchers are developing models to reliably predict the warming already recorded in the Arctic.
Functional Biomaterials for Controlling Healing Processes in Bone and Skin – from Material Science to Clinical Application
In light of demographic developments in Germany and other industrialised nations, a drastic rise in the number of patients with bone defects and chronic wounds requires the development of novel functional biomaterials to improve bone and skin regeneration. To this end, CRC/Transregio 67, Functional Biomaterials, is pursuing the goal of developing and testing such materials on the basis of artificial extracellular matrices. A joint effort with the TU Dresden, the Transregio includes projects that deal predominantly with material science and chemistry (project area A), but also projects that focus on cell biology and clinical practice (project area B). The “T – Transfer” project area aims to promote development towards clinical translation. The Matrix Engineering Integrated Research Training Group forms part of the Transregio. With a structured postgraduate qualification programme, it offers the doctoral candidates advanced training modules to prepare them for their future independently work in research, and also acts as a bridge between the content and methodology of the individual sub-projects.
DFG Collaborative Research Centres and Transregios (Leipzig University as Applicant):
The CRC/Transregio 102, Polymers under Multiple Constraints, is a long-term basic research project in an alliance with the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, drawing on expertise in physics, chemistry and experimental and material sciences. Since 2011, the participating researchers have been investigating processes of structure formation and self-assembly in macromolecular systems, in which, apart from connectivity, molecular structure and dynamics are strongly influenced by additional constraints. Examples of such constraints are specific internal interactions, external forces, geometric constraints, high concentrations and topological interactions. These processes include the crystallisation of synthetic polymers and amyloid formation in biopolymers, which are central topics in this Collaborative Research Centre. In addition to the 18 sub-projects, the Transregio also includes the Integrated Research Training Group Polymers: Random Coils and Beyond, which offers a structured doctoral programme for further qualification and to foster doctoral candidates’ own scientific independence.
DFG Collaborative Research Centres and Transregios (Leipzig University as Project Partner):
Chemical mediators play a key role in many habitats of species communities. Coordinated by the University of Jena, Collaborative Research Centre 1127 investigates fundamental control mechanisms in complex biosystems in order to elucidate the effects and effective sites of mediators, with the long-term aim of being able to manipulate complex biosystems.
Dr Severin Sasso from Leipzig University’s Institute of Biology is co-head of a sub-project focusing on identifying secondary metabolites with roles in interaction between Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and other microorganisms.
With the concept of invectivity, the research network aims to develop a new perspective in cultural studies research in order to describe, across epochs and cultures, the conditions and effects of destructive communication, such as verbal and non-verbal vituperation and humiliation. The project involves 13 different disciplines and is based at the TU Dresden.
In her sub-project, Professor Katja Kanzler from the Institute of American Studies at Leipzig University examines the forms and functions of popular invective cultures, questioning the role of disparagement in American popular culture.
As the European population ages rapidly, the social and socio-economic relevance of regenerative therapies is steadily increasing. The research project ELAINE, which is led by the University of Rostock, concentrates on novel, electrically active implants for use in the regeneration of bone and cartilage.
Professor Angelika Richter from Leipzig University’s Institute of Pharmacology, Pharmacy and Toxicology is co-head of a sub-project focusing on deep brain simulation in models of dystonia.
Transient receptor potential (TRP) channels form a complex protein family with many important functions as cellular sensors and effectors. TRP proteins thus regulate an extraordinarily broad range of physiological homeostatic functions. CRC/Transregio 152, Maintenance of Body Homeostasis by Transient Receptor Potential Channel Modules, is working on reclassifying and redefining the known TRP channels. This is leading to new approaches and tailored therapies for patients with diseases associated with dysfunctional TRP proteins.
Professor Michael Schäfer from Leipzig University’s Rudolf Boehm Institute of Pharmacology and Toxicology is supporting the lead institution, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München, in a sub-project investigating the influence of drug-like compounds on diseases involving TRP channels.
3. Research Training Groups
Research Training Group (RTGs) are thematic research programmes that serve the structured qualification of junior researchers. By integrating courses, the focus is on providing participants with further training. They prepare doctoral candidates for their everyday academic work and help them become independent.
Research Training Group Hosted by Leipzig University:
Research Training Group 2011, Interaction of Grammatical Building Blocks, focuses on the phonology, morphology and syntax of natural languages. The doctoral candidates conduct wide-ranging, systematic studies of the possible interactions of grammatical building blocks from a range of theoretical perspectives. The basis for this is a multitude of detailed empirical investigations of phonological, morphological and syntactic phenomena from typologically different languages.
Research Training Groups (Leipzig University as Applicant):
Research Training Group 1763, Quantitative Logics and Automata, was established with the aim of comprehensively investigating quantitative logics and automata and their connection with methods of theoretical computer science. The results of this research could potentially be applied to problems from the areas of verification, knowledge representation, and the solution of constraint satisfaction problems. The RTG is run in cooperation with the TU Dresden.
The International Research Training Group “TreeDi – Tree Diversity Interactions: The Role of Tree-Tree Interactions in Local Neighbourhoods in Chinese Subtropical Forests” led by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig together with the University of Chinese Academy of Sciences (UCAS) in China is investigating how tree-tree interactions in local neighbourhoods translate into the observed positive tree species richness effects on key ecosystem functions at the community level. The international qualification programme provides for intensive Chinese-German cultural exchange during a six-month research stay in the partner country. There is also a joint doctoral candidate advisory committee with Chinese and German project leaders and close cooperation with leading figures of biodiversity research.
The aim of Research Training Group 2522, “Strong Dynamics and Criticality in Quantum and Gravitational Systems”, is to investigate and calculate the emergence of complexity in gravitational and quantum field theories based on basic building blocks. The teams focus on examples of topicality or conceptual relevance, such as gravitational wave phenomena and black holes on the gravitational side and dynamics and criticality of near phase transitions on the quantum side. The Research Training Group is conducted in collaboration with the Friedrich Schiller University Jena.
Research Training Group (Leipzig University as Project Partner):
Research Training Group 2247, Quantum Mechanical Materials Modelling (QM³) combines the most important approaches in quantum mechanical material modelling from the interdisciplinary natural sciences in a structured doctoral programme.
Dr Agnieszka Kuc from the Wilhelm Ostwald Institute of Physical and Theoretical Chemistry at Leipzig University is co-head of the sub-project “P11: Electronic Structure and Charge Transport in Defective and Doped TMDCs”. This sub-project investigates how defects (e.g. grain boundaries, vacancies and line defects) and impurities affect the electronic structure of 2D transition-metal chalcogenides (TMDC).
Integrated Research Training Groups in Collaborative Research Centres and Research Centres:
The Matrix Engineering Integrated Research Training Group is part of CRC/Transregio 67, Functional Biomaterials for Controlling Healing Processes in Bone and Skin – from Material Science to Clinical Application, and is integrated into the Graduate Schools: It therefore forms a separate class at both the Research Academy Leipzig and the TU Dresden’s Graduate Academy. The Research Training Group concentrates the scientific training of doctoral candidates in CRC/Transregio 67. The qualification programme includes seminars, workshops, summer schools and lab rotations as well as courses for additional qualifications.
The CRC/Transregio 102, Polymers under Multiple Constraints, hosts the Integrated Research Training Group Polymers: Random Coils and Beyond. This offers doctoral researchers a structured doctoral program focusing on advanced skills and developing scientific independence.
4. Research Units
The DFG-funded Research Units are teams of researchers working together on a research project, offering a high degree of flexibility in the composition of programme modules and the selection of research institutions. This lets the Research Units intensify symbiotic collaboration with non-university institutions and international partners. Funding is usually provided for eight years. Centres for Advanced Studies are a special funding format in the humanities and social sciences. In addition to supporting the activities of the participating researchers, there is also a fellow programme for guests from Germany and abroad, who are invited for periods of up to two years.
Research Units Hosted by Leipzig University:
The Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies “Multiple Secularities – Beyond the West, Beyond Modernities” examines different arrangements of secularity, or the distinction between religious and other social spheres in cultures outside the Western modern world. In this way, the researchers aim to both shed light on the mechanisms of this differentiation and understand the associated conflicts surrounding the power of interpretation and claims to validity in different world regions. In the first funding period, the researchers will concentrate on regions of the Islamic world and the wider Asian region.
The Integrated Chemical Micro Laboratories (InCheM) Research Unit aims to build a synergetic bridge between chemical synthesis and analytics in microreaction systems. Based on lab-on-a-chip technology, the researchers conduct fundamental work in the fields of on-chip microsynthesis and in flow-through reactors, integrating analytical concepts for the inline characterisation of chemical processes in real time. The resulting micro laboratories will be applied in various fields, including drug development, building substance libraries, controlling catalytic reactions, and in studies to elucidate reaction mechanisms.
Adhesion-type G protein-coupled receptors form a large class of seven-transmembrane-spanning (7TM) receptors. In the past, these receptors have been shown to be essential components of countless physiological functions, and a veritable treasure trove for modern pharmacological intervention. Unlike other 7TM receptors, we know comparatively little about adhesion GPCRs as a receptor class. The work conducted by the “Elucidation of Adhesion-GPCR Signalling” Research Unit focuses on unresolved fundamental questions about the biology of adhesion GPCRs, with special attention paid to the physiological and pharmacological properties of their signalling behaviour.
Copper iodide is a unique p-conductive, wide-gap semiconductor, uniting high transparency in the visible spectral range with unsurpassed hole conductivity. In its first funding period, the “Copper Iodide as Multifunctional Semiconductor” Research Unit will tackle fundamental chemical and physical problems from an experimental and theoretical perspective. In the second funding period, the focus of the Research Unit will shift to practical issues, such as device applications and integration of devices, making use of the multifunctional properties of copper iodide as a contact material, in integrate circuits, for thermoelectric powering of such circuits, and in temperature sensors.
The central aim of Research Unit 5000 – Biotic Interactions, Community Assembly, and Eco-Evolutionary Dynamics as Drivers of Long-Term Biodiversity–Ecosystem Functioning Relationships – is to find out which mechanisms influence biodiversity–ecosystem functioning in the short and long term. To this end, it applies new experimental and analytical methods in one of the world’s longest-running biodiversity experiments: the Jena Experiment. Professor Nico Eisenhauer from the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv) Halle-Jena-Leipzig leitet die Forschungsgruppe, in der Wissenschaftlerinnen und Wissenschaftler aus den Bereichen Ökologie, Biochemie und Mikrobiologie interdisziplinär zusammenarbeiten.
Research Units (Leipzig University as Applicant):
Research Unit 3004, “Synaptic Physiology of Autoimmune Encephalitis (SYNABS)”, is an initiative that brings together clinical researchers in the field of antibody-mediated disorders with basic scientists in the fields of neurophysiology, neurobiology and neuroimmunology to collectively investigate antibody-mediated pathology in the central nervous system. The aim of SYNABS is to elucidate the pathophysiology of autoimmune encephalitis in which autoantibodies are directed at synaptic targets. The expected results of the proposed projects will improve our understanding of immune-mediated dysfunction of synapses. The Research Unit is coordinated at the Friedrich Schiller University Jena; Professor Stefan Hallermann from Leipzig University’s Carl Ludwig Institute for Physiology is co-spokesperson and involved in two sub-projects.
Leipzig University is involved in the following Research Units with individual sub-projects:
Research Unit 2433, Switchable Metal-Organic Frameworks (MOF Switches), investigates the fundamental aspects of porosity switching in porous coordination polymers. Flexible coordination polymers have the unique property of gradually changing their porosity during the adsorption of a gas. This cooperative process has great potential for application in catalysis, filtration and sensor technology. A combined use of preparation, characterisation and modelling aims to analyse the interaction of structure, dynamics and adsorption behaviour of flexible coordination polymers and to achieve a better understanding of dynamics in porous solids.
Professor Katja Werthmann from Leipzig University’s Institute of African Studies heads the sub-project “Local Self-Governance for the Provision of Security: Vigilantes in Burkina Faso”, which is part of the Research Unit “Local Self-Governance in the Context of Weak Statehood in Antiquity and the Modern Era”. The aim is to use empirical case studies to explore a differentiated understanding of the causes, forms and legitimations of the state’s local self-governance and self-organisation.
Professor Daniel Huster from Leipzig University’s Institute for Medical Physics and Biophysics heads the sub-project “Investigation of Molecular Dynamics of Substrate Transmembrane alpha-Helices by Solution and Solid-State NMR Spectroscopy”. Liquid and solid-state NMR spectroscopy are currently the only experimental techniques for the study of biomolecular dynamics at atomic detail. The resulting protocols and experiments will be applied on selected novel substrates identified in the other sub-projects.
Professor Nina Kolleck of the Institute of Political Science at Leipzig University is heading the sub-project “CONNECT: Connections and Levels of Influence of Treaty Secretariats in International Environmental and Disability Policy over Time”, which is part of the Research Unit “International Public Administration. The Emergence and Development of Administrative Patterns and Their Effects on International Policy-Making (IPA)”. Using a mixed methods design, the project aims to systematically analyse the influence of international treaty secretariats.
Professor Johannes Quaas of the Institute for Meteorology at Leipzig University and Professor Corinna Hoose from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology are leading the sub-project “Cloud Response to Volcanic Eruptions (VolCloud)” as part of the Research Unit “Revisiting the Volcanic Impact on Atmosphere and Climate – Preparations for the Next Big Volcanic Eruption”. They investigate three different types of past volcanic eruptions and perform model simulations with a detailed cloud and aerosol representation, resolving cloud systems in combination with satellite observation from passive and active remote sensing. The aim is to quantify cloud reaction appropriately in order to investigate agro-cloud-precipitation interactions and to assess its impact on the climate.
5. Priority Programmes Coordinated by Leipzig University
As a rule, a Priority Programme (SPP) receives funding for a period of six years. Researchers submit corresponding applications for research grants in a specific subject area for which an invitation to tender has been issued. A particular feature of the Priority Programme is the nationwide collaboration between its participating researchers.
The Infrastructure Priority Programme 1294, Atmospheric and Earth System Research with the “High Altitude and Long Range Research Aircraft” (HALO), has received DFG funding since 2017. One of the project coordinators is Professor Manfred Wendisch of Leipzig University’s Institute for Meteorology. The HALO research aircraft is used to study atmospheric and geophysical processes. The focus is on answering questions of climate and environmental science.
Transottomanica: Eastern European-Ottoman-Persian Mobility Dynamics
The Priority Programme 1981 concentrates on processes of migration, travel, knowledge circulation, trade and mobility of entire societies between the Tsarist Empire, Poland-Lithuania, the Ottoman Empire and Persia in relational social spaces, each with a very different scope. The period under study begins in the early 16th century and traces the transitions up to the 20th century. Professor Stefan Rohdewald from the Department of History coordinates the priority program. In its first phase (2017–2020) 15 mostly post-doctoral research projects as well as a number of associated projects located at 13 universities and research institutions in Germany were involved. In its second phase running until 2023, 14 projects, eight of them new, will collaborate at ten universities and research institutions.
Epithelial Intercellular Junctions as Dynamic Hubs to Integrate Forces, Signals and Cell Behaviour
This Priority Programme, which is coordinated by Professor Thomas Magin at Leipzig University’s Institute of Biology, is to investigate intercellular connections between epithelial cells. These junctions sense exogenous influences as mechanical or chemical signals, transmit them into the cell and thus trigger a cellular response. The researchers in the project network are developing universal principles according to which cell junctions are involved in signal transduction.
6. Emmy Noether Junior Research Groups
The Emmy Noether Programme gives exceptionally qualified early career researchers the chance to qualify for the post of professor at a university by leading an independent junior research group for a period of six years.
Early career researchers currently head the following Emmy Noether Junior Research Groups at Leipzig University:
Dr Eva Zimmermann heads the “Grammatical Strength in Prosodic Morphology: Typology and Theory” Emmy Noether Junior Research Group at the Institute of Linguistics. The aim is to examine whether and to what extent the phonetic representations that encode our linguistic knowledge are gradient. The research programme is founded on the hypothesis that asymmetries where apparently identical phonological elements behave differently is due to differences in their gradient strength.
This Emmy Noether project aims to investigate the role, structure and properties of the stress-energy tensor in quantum field theories with self-interaction. The main question is whether quantum energy inequalities (QEIs) can exist in these areas. Dr Daniela Cadamuro heads the Junior Research Group at the Institute of Theoretical Physics.
The project at the Institute of Anatomy, led by Dr Robert Fledrich, investigates the pathological mechanisms of neurological diseases, including those based on disturbed interactions between nerve cells and Schwann cells. For example, long-term therapeutic strategies are to be developed for Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease, which is currently incurable.
The “Establishment of Spatio-Temporal Multiscale Multispecies Liver Tissue Models by Analysis of Experimental Images for Systems Medicine” Junior Research Group, which is headed by Dr Stefan Höhme at the Institute of Computer Science, tries to understand the physiological function of the human body as an integrated system by analysing and modelling its structure and the function of tissues, cells and proteins. The broad application of spatio-temporal tissue models has great potential and is of direct clinical relevance for patient therapy. Since the manual construction of such tissue models is very difficult, the group is working on automated generation processes based on the example of three-dimensional liver models using machine learning methods.
The “Ritual Design for the Stage: Constructions of Popular Culture in European Theatrical Dance, 1650–1760” Emmy Noether Junior Research Group deals with European dance culture of the 17th and 18th centuries. Led by Dr Hanna Walsdorf, the project team at the Institute of Theatre Studies is examining the political role and social function of theatrical dance both within the respective society and in the European context.
Led by Dr Christiane Schnabel, this Junior Research Group at Leipzig University’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine what causes severe asthma in horses. The name of the project is ”Antigen Identification and Characterization of Adaptive Immune Responses in Severe Equine Asthma.“ It focuses on the one hand on anitgen identification. On the other, the researchers are seeking adaptive immune responses to specific components from hay dust for the pathogenesis of severe equine asthma.
7. Heisenberg Programme
The German Research Foundation's Heisenberg Programme is designed to support those researchers who have achieved their habilitation or an equivalent qualification and thus already qualified for professorship. Leipzig University currently hosts Heisenberg fellowships, Heisenberg positions and Heisenberg professorships:
- PD Dr. Markus Dreßler at the Institute for the Studz of Religion: “Modern Turkology”
- Professor Christian Etz at the Faculty of Medicine: “Transregional Diagnostics and Therapy of Common Aortic Pathologies: I Bicuspid Aortic Valve Associated Aortic Wall Disease: Altered Flow Architecture vs Genomics a Novel Large Animal Model II Collateral Network Based Non-Invasive Perfusion Monitoring and Ischemic Preconditioning of the Spinal Cord”
- Dr Claudia Lang at the Department of Anthropology: “Digitisation and Mental Health”
- Dr David Weiss at the Institute of Psychology: “Stepping Up and Stepping Down: A Life-Span Approach to Social Status”
- Professor Isa Wortelkamp at the Institute of Theatre Studies: “1) Aesthetic of Modern Dance Photography 2) Analysis of Movement in Dance, Theatre and Performance 3) Interferences of Artistic and Academic Procedures of Dance and Theatre”