Sofja Kovalevskaja Award 2010 - Award Winners (A-F)
The memories of plants
Negative environmental influence causes stress for plants, resulting in crop failures – a problem that is probably being aggravated by climate change. The immediate response of plants to such influence has been well researched, unlike their adaptation to lasting or recurrent stress, although it is of considerable importance in nature. Plants are quite capable of remembering stressful situations and will respond to the reoccurrence of such situations. The basic molecular mechanisms involved here are largely unknown. With the “memory” of Arabidopsis (Thale Cress), Isabel Bäurle wants to demonstrate how plants store environmental influences at molecular level and generally develop a cellular memory although they lack a nervous system. She is investigating how this memory changes in the course of evolution to make plants adaptable to different habitats. The insights she hopes to obtain will also be of economic importance and could provide new approaches to optimising crop yields.
Host Institute: University of Potsdam, Institute of Biochemistry and Biology
Host: Prof. Dr. Bernd Müller-Röber
- Dr. Isabel Bäurle,
born in Germany in 1974, first studied German and French, and then Biology and Chemistry at the University of Freiburg, where she obtained her doctorate in 2004. A research stay brought her to Bologna, Italy, from 1997 to 1998. In 2004, Bäurle transferred to the John Innes Centre in Norwich, Great Britain. Since 2009, she has been Project Head there at the Department of Disease and Stress Biology.
Solid-state Physics and Chemistry
Magnets the size of a molecule
Nanomaterials of very small size, in which merely a few thousand atoms are linked to one another, are increasingly being employed in medicine, sensor engineering and electronics. Lapo Bogani is dealing with the synthesis and characterisation of nanomagnets and the use of carbon nanostructures as measuring instruments and electronic components. He has managed to produce the first hybrid nanostructures made out of tiny carbon nanotubes and single-molecule magnets. Bogani now aims to develop highly sensitive apparatus enabling the observation of the magnetisation processes of an individual molecule or atom. His project is to answer fundamental questions regarding the behaviour of individual magnetic atoms and measurement engineering. In future, it could be possible to use nanomagnets to build computer hard discs with a particularly high storage density, and they could also become important building bricks for quantum computers.
Host Institute: Universität Stuttgart, 1. Physikalisches Institut
Host: Prof. Dr. Martin Dressel
- Dr. Lapo Bogani,
born in Italy in 1978, studied Chemistry at the Università degli Studi di Firenze, where he obtained his doctorate in 2006. From 2006 to 2008, a Marie Curie individual project led him to a research stay at the Institut Néel of the Centre national de la recherche scientifique in Grenoble, France. Since 2009, he has been conducting research at the University of Stuttgart, where he will also be working as a Sofja Kovalevskaja Award Winner.
Synapses in perfect balance
The brain is the body’s most complex organ. Thousands of millions of nerve cells and trillions of links, the synapses, allow the control of vital functions ranging from breathing to the performance of multilayered mental tasks. The brain has to respond constantly to changes in the environment. One key to this is synaptic plasticity, the ability of the synapses to adapt and adjust the strength of the signals they are transmitting. However, if signal strength grows too much, this may result in damage or epileptic fits. Camin Dean is examining the mechanisms keeping the synapses in perfect balance so that the brain can work. She has found out which protein adjusts the strength of the synapses to a sensible range by controlling the release of a neurotrophine, a signal substance that not only responds to synaptic plasticity but also influences the formation of new synapses. Dean aims to study the basic mechanisms involved here and thus contribute to developing improved methods of treating diseases such as Alzheimer, Morbus Parkinson and epilepsy.
Host Institute: University of Göttingen, European Neuroscience Institute
Host: Prof. Dr. Walter Stühmer
- Dr. Camin Dean,
born in the USA in1971, studied Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of Arizona, Tucson, and the University of California, Berkeley, where she obtained her doctorate in 2003. Research stays brought her to Livermore in California and to New York. Since 2004, she has been conducting research at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.
Kingship and Religion in Tibet
From the seventh to the ninth century, Tibet was ruled by a dynasty of kings whose divine right to rule was based both on their sacred nature and on their just form of governance. With the royal conversion to Buddhism in the middle of the 8th century, the king’s divine nature underwent significant changes. Like other Buddhist kings, he came to be seen as a universal Buddhist monarch. Brandon Dotson is examining the Buddhist transformation of Tibetan kingship, both in its sacred and political aspects, from the early contacts with Buddhism in the 7th century through to its dominance from the 11th century onward. Employing comparative anthropological models and considering similar examples of sacred kingship in China, Southeast Asia, and Central Eurasia, the project will contribute to relevant debates concerning the age old and universal question of the relationship between spiritual and temporal power.
Host Institute: LMU Munich, Institut für Indologie und Tibetologie
Host: Prof. Dr. Franz-Karl Ehrhard
- Dr. Brandon Dotson,
born in the USA in 1978, he studied Religion at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and Tibetan and Himalayan Studies at the University of Oxford, Great Britain, where he obtained a doctorate in 2006. Research stays brought him to Chengdu, China, and Lhasa, Tibet. From 2006 to 2008, he lectured at the University of London, Great Britain, and then returned to Oxford. In 2010, he held a visiting professorship at the University of California in Santa Barbara, USA.
Gustavo Fernández Huertas
The secret plan of the molecules
Molecules react to one another, for example by bonding or repelling each other. Sometimes, this may happen in such a meaningful way that one might suspect a secret plan guiding their actions. Whether a systematic concept is at the root of their "behaviour", what sort of concept this could be, and how it might possibly be controlled, is being examined by Gustavo Fernández Huertas in oligomers. These are molecules composed of several structurally identical or similar units. Fernández Huertas, who in the past drew attention by inventing molecular tweezers, is examining how certain oligomers behave in water and how they respond to external stimuli such as metal ions or light. Intelligent materials whose properties – as planned in Fernández Huertas’ experiments – can be specially influenced are to enable new applications in areas ranging from sensor technology to biomedicine.
Host Institute: University of Würzburg, Institute of Organic Chemistry
Host: Prof. Dr. Frank Würthner
- Dr. Gustavo Fernández Huertas,
born in Ávila, Spain, in 1979, studied Chemistry at Universidad Complutense de Madrid, where he obtained a doctorate in 2009. In 2006, a research stay lasting several months brought him to Los Angeles, USA. Since May 2009, Fernández Huertas has been involved in research as a Humboldt Research Fellow at the University of Würzburg.
Sustainable development of traditional cultural landscapes
Rapid global change poses a serious threat to ecosystems and traditionally managed cultural landscapes, especially in poor countries. This is the focus of the transdisciplinary research programme led by Joern Fischer, which aims to examine and promote sustainable development in Eastern Europe. Particular emphasis will be placed on agricultural landscapes in Central Romania. This region may be poor in economic terms but has an unusual wealth of diversity in both natural and cultural heritage. Traditional farming methods without modern machinery or artificial fertilisers have conserved an unusually high level of biodiversity, ranging from rare plant species such as orchids to large mammals such as wolves and bears. Since Romania joined the European Union, the region now faces the difficult task of achieving a balance between material affluence and the conservation of its unique natural and cultural heritage. Joern Fischer’s research programme brings together natural scientists, social scientists, regional decision-makers and local people, to develop scenarios for the region’s sustainable development.
Host Institute: Leuphana University of Lüneburg, Institute of Ecology and Environmental Chemistry
Host: Prof. Dr. Stefan Schaltegger
- Dr. Joern Fischer,
born in Germany in 1976, studied Geography at the Australian National University in Canberra, Australia, where he obtained a doctorate in 2004 and is currently involved in research as an Australian Research Council Fellow. Stays abroad brought him to Stockholm, Sweden, and to Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, USA.
On the disappearance and survival of species
It was around 250 million years ago, during the transition from the Palaeozoic to the Mesozoic, that the greatest mass extinction took place ever to occur in the Earth’s history: An estimated 80 to 90 per cent of all species disappeared for ever. Fossil marine organisms have yielded most of the insights on this event. In contrast, only little is known about changes on land, and in particular among vertebrates. Jörg Fröbisch aims to bridge this gap with his research. He is examining the relationships, palaeobiology and diversification patterns of the synapsids, alongside the reptiles the second major group within the amniotes, which comprise all vertebrates completely adapted to terrestrial life. The mammals evolved from the synapsids, and today, the latter are solely represented by the mammals. In the course of the Earth’s history, however, there were a large number of successful synapsid groups that are only remotely related to mammals, such as the sail-backed lizard Dimetrodon. Fröbisch combines palaeontological fieldwork with modern methods such as 3D-image technologies in order to gain new insights into the initial diversification of the early relatives of the mammals. With a view to today’s disappearance of species and biodiversity, his work is also of contemporary significance.
Host Institute: Museum of Natural History, Leibniz Institute for Research on Evolution and Biodiversity at Humboldt University Berlin
Host: Dr. Johannes Müller
- Dr. Jörg Fröbisch,
born in Germany in 1977, studied Geology and Palaeontology at the University of Bonn as well as Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto, Canada, where he obtained a doctorate in 2008. Since 2009, he has been involved in research at the Field Museum’s Department of Geology in Chicago, USA.