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Millionenförderung der EU für innovative Forschung: drei neue ERC Starting Grants an der LUH

Over 1 million € of EU funding for innovative research: Three new ERC Starting Grants at LUH

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Porträtfotos: Prof. Dr. Natalia Tschowri, Prof. Dr. Marius Lindauer, Ass. Prof. Dr. Catherine Herfeld Porträtfotos: Prof. Dr. Natalia Tschowri, Prof. Dr. Marius Lindauer, Ass. Prof. Dr. Catherine Herfeld Porträtfotos: Prof. Dr. Natalia Tschowri, Prof. Dr. Marius Lindauer, Ass. Prof. Dr. Catherine Herfeld
© Marie-Luise Kolb / Mirja Mack / Patrice Sager
[Translate to English:] Prof. Dr. Natalia Tschowri, Prof. Dr. Marius Lindauer, Ass. Prof. Dr. Catherine Herfeld

Three young professors at Leibniz University Hannover awarded prestigious EU grants

Projects on signal molecules, artificial intelligence and philosophy of science: This year, three young researchers at Leibniz University Hannover (LUH) have received the internationally coveted ERC Starting Grant. The European Research Council awards Starting Grants of up to 1.5 million euros each to outstanding early-career researchers with excellent and visionary project ideas. The aim is to foster scientific independence by enabling them to establish their own research group over a period of up to five years. Researchers with two to seven years of experience since completion of their doctoral degree are eligible to apply.

The following LUH researchers have been awarded funding: Prof. Dr. Natalia Tschowri (Institute of Microbiology), Prof. Dr. Marius Lindauer (Institute of Information Processing), Ass. Prof. Dr. Catherine Herfeld (currently University of Zurich; at LUH: Institute of Philosophy).

"The award of three Starting Grants is an excellent outcome. I would like to congratulate the award winners on this achievement", says Björn Thümler, Minister of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony. "The fact that researchers in Lower Saxony have acquired a total of seven grants demonstrates that our research policy focusing on Europe paves the way into the future. We will continue to support researchers based in Lower Saxony with acquiring EU funding."

Signal molecule research: Interactions between living cells and their environment

Within the scope of the project SecMessFunctions, Prof. Dr. Natalia Tschowri will focus on the function and regulation of novel second messengers. "They are important signal generators in the interaction of all living cells with their environment, yet we still know very little about the way they work", says Professor Tschowri. By using streptomyces bacteria that produce antibiotics as a model, the project will investigate how these signal molecules control complex cellular differentiations during the transition from unicellularity to multicellularity, as well as modifications of the cell wall in bacteria. In collaboration with Prof. Dr. Russell Cox from the Centre of Biomolecular Drug Research (BMWZ) of LUH, Professor Tschowri intends to find out whether the synthesis of biologically active natural substances can be optimised via these messengers. "Overall, SecMessFunctions will not only result in the discovery of fundamentally new signal transmission principles, but also identify new goals for drug design as well as tools for modelling the biosynthesis of antibiotics", explains Professor Tschowri, who has held a professorship in cellular microbiology at LUH since 2020.

AI development: Focusing on people

The development of modern applications of artificial intelligence (AI) gains momentum and can be made available for amateurs via automated machine learning technology (AutoML). "However, this largely excludes human beings as experts, both with regard to technology and its application", says Prof. Dr Marius Lindauer, whose ERC Starting Grant project "ixAutoML" is therefore aiming to reinstate people into the focus of development. In this context, both the expertise and the preferences of AI application developers are taken into account. Moreover, new insights with regard to AI development are shared with them. "Therefore, the experience of human beings and machines complement each other in the best possible way in order to find efficient solutions to multifaceted problems", says Professor Lindauer, who has held a professorship in machine learning at LUH since 2019.

Questions relating to philosophy of science: Overcoming boundaries between disciplines

The project "Model Transfer" of Ass.-Prof. Dr. Catherine Herfeld focuses on the question whether and under which conditions scientific models can be used across disciplines in order to produce findings on fundamentally different phenomena. "The fact that the well-known Lotka-Volterra model not only illustrates predator-prey relationships in biology, but is also used to explain business cycles in economics as well as the growth of cancer cells in medicine reveals new perspectives on the nature and function of scientific models", says Assistant Professor Herfeld. Furthermore, the project addresses questions relating to philosophy of science and the relationship between scientific modelling and progress in science. It combines quantitative empirical methods of social sciences and traditional approaches from the disciplines history of science and philosophy of science in order to examine examples of model transfer empirically, systematically and conceptually. Catherine Herfeld has been an assistant professor at University of Zurich since 2017 and will now use the ERC Grant to establish a research group at LUH.

In addition to the three new grant holders, seven other researchers that have been awarded an ERC Starting Grant currently conduct research at Leibniz University Hannover, as well as one researcher with an ERC Consolidator Grant (funding for researchers with seven to twelve years of experience since completion of their doctoral degree) and one researcher with an ERC Advanced Grant (funding for researchers with many years of experience and an outstanding scientific career). Due to the tough selection process, ERC Grants are considered the highest accolade awarded by the European Research Council. Important selection criteria include visionary research topics as well as excellent achievements that the applicants have accomplished to date.


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