News Release

DFG to fund nine new research units and one new Centre for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences

Topics range from agroforestry to the automation of social communication / A total of approx-imately €41.3 million for the first funding period

Grant and Award Announcement

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

Research Units enable researchers to pursue current and pressing issues in their areas of research and take innovative directions in their work. They are funded for up to eight years. In total, the DFG is currently funding 196 Research Units, 13 Clinical Research Units and 16 Centres for Ad-vanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences. Clinical Research Units are also characterised by the close connection between research and clinical work, while Centres for Advanced Studies in Humanities and Social Sciences are specifically tailored to forms of work in the humanities and social sciences.

The new research networks in detail
(in alphabetical order of the spokespersons’ HEIs)

Social inequality is a widespread problem that has long preoccupied researchers, policymakers and society, and it will continue to do so in the future. Developments in the financial markets are a key factor in this connection. The Centre of Advanced Studies Finance and Inequality aims to show how and through which channels the financial sector itself has had strengthening or lessening im-pact on inequality since the 19th century. It will also address how financial markets not only influ-ence long-term trends in inequality but also how they are shaped by such trends themselves. Questions to be pursued by the researchers include the following: whenever economic resources were distributed fundamentally differently in the past, how did this affect the development of the financial sector? And: how have such changes influenced banking over time? (Spokesperson: Pro-fessor Dr. Carsten Burhop, University of Bonn)

In particle physics, the quantity that establishes the link between theory and experiment in a scat-tering process is known as the scattering amplitude. The Research Unit Modern Foundations of Scattering Amplitudes will seek to investigate various aspects of these amplitudes with the aim of uncovering new fundamental mathematical and physical principles and developing new meth-ods for their calculation. In future, this will enable more precise calculation of scattering processes at particle accelerators and also of the gravitational waves that are created when black holes or neutron stars merge. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Claude Duhr, University of Bonn)

Voice assistants that receive our orders, social bots that influence debate and machines that gener-ate texts: these phenomena and public debate about them illustrate the extent to which artificial intelligence is advancing in the field of communication, while such developments are simultane-ously perceived as a challenge. But how does this change communication between people or be-tween people and machines in the social sphere? These are the central questions that will be pur-sued by the Research Unit Communicative AI: The Automation of Societal Communica-tion, which is being funded jointly with the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). (Spokesperson: Profes-sor Dr. Andreas Hepp, University of Bremen)

In Germany, Sinti and Roma are a highly differentiated minority of a few hundred thousand members. The designations they use to refer to themselves are as follows: Sinti*zze (male singular: Sinto; female singular: Sintez(z)a or Sintiz(z)a; female plural: Sintez(z)e or Sinti(z)ze) and Rom*nja (male plural: Rom; female singular: Romni; female plural: Romnja). The Research Unit Antigypsy-ism and Ambivalence in Europe (1850-1950) aims to analyse the historical development of these groups’ self-image as well as that of others in European society. The researchers will be con-sidering the perspectives of the Sinti*zze and Rom*nja as well as that of the majority population. The Research Unit will be involving representatives of Sinti*zze and Rom*nja in its investigative work at various points. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Iulia-Karin Patrut, University of Flensburg)

Agroforestry systems are a traditional form of land use involving the integration of trees or shrubs into arable crops and/or livestock farming. They can be ecologically and economically beneficial. In view of current challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss, this regenerative land use is once again becoming the focus of research. The Research Unit Agroforestry for sustainable multifunctional agriculture (FORMULA) has set itself the objective of shedding light on the hitherto little-studied synergies of agroforestry systems in connection with the ecosystem and their benefits to humans. Trial plots of land in Hesse and Brandenburg are to be analysed for this pur-pose – two sites which are well suited to this purpose due to their differing climatic conditions, soil types and landscape structures. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Lutz Breuer, University of Giessen )

The Research Unit Big Structural Change will focus on three key phenomena: globalisation, cli-mate change and mass migration. The aim is to analyse the conditions under which the legitimacy of political rules and institutional bodies is undermined and when this can result in their advance-ment or else to far-reaching social upheaval. Jointly funded by the Austrian Science Fund (FWF), the Research Unit will be concerned both with empirical investigation of the relevant driving forc-es from a micro-perspective and developing a broader-based theory of such change. (Spokesper-son: Professor Dr. Lydia Mechtenberg, University of Hamburg)

If we are going to optimise renewable energy sources from the technological point of view and use them more sustainably, one of the things we need is more knowledge about material fatigue of the components subject to cyclical stress, i.e. their wear and tear during use. This includes ball bear-ings in e-scooters and large gearboxes in wind turbines. In the case of high-strength steels, the forces acting on the material cause certain changes beneath the running surfaces of bearings which can lead to premature failure of the components. Getting to the bottom of this question is the aim of the Research Unit Identification of the formation mechanisms of white etching cracks and fine granular dark areas during fatigue loading – parallels and differences (White and Dark). (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Eberhard Kerscher, RPTU Kaiserslautern-Landau).

Hydrogen peroxide is used as a bleaching agent in households, industry and medicine, and it is also a component of disinfectants and sterilising agents. Thermocatalytic and electrocatalytic hydrogen peroxide synthesis is a promising method of producing it. There are various processes for sustaina-ble hydrogen peroxide production, and the Research Unit Bridging Concepts in Thermo- and Electro-Hydrogen Peroxide Catalysis (HyPerCat) aims to investigate them systematically and comparatively: from consideration of the reaction mechanisms at the atomic level through to the design of the reactor. The industrial value chain will also be the subject of analysis. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Silke Behrens, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)

Much is already known about the molecular mechanisms underlying the interactions between host plants and the fungi that attack them. However, there is as yet a poor understanding of how fungi adapt to a specific niche of their host plant – i.e. the part that the fungus colonises. This ques-tion will be investigated by the Research Unit Mechanisms of adaptation to the host niche in plant-colonizing fungi. The researchers will focus on the competition between fungi and other types of microorganisms within the plant niche. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Gunther Döhle-mann, University of Cologne)

There is increasing evidence in ecological research that the forms of interaction between species in species communities – such as predator-prey relationships, competition, and mutually beneficial relationships – are not predetermined, as was previously assumed. Rather, they seem to be influ-enced by the prevailing environmental conditions and changing population densities. It is not yet known how this actually works, however. The Research Unit Density dependent symbiosis in planktonic systems – DynaSym aims to close this gap by investigating the interactions between organisms in aquatic systems, thereby contributing to our understanding of the complex dynamics at work in biotic communities. (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Lutz Becks, University of Konstanz)

The research networks extended for a second funding period (in alphabetical order of the spokes-persons’ HEIs and with references to the project descriptions in the DFG’s online database GE-PRIS):

Research Unit The Materials Science of Teeth in Function: Principles of Durable, Dynamic Dental Interphases (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Paul Zaslansky, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin) 

Research Unit exRNA: Plant-microbe communication through extracellular RNA (Spokes-person: Professor Dr. Julia Kehr, University of Hamburg) 

Research Unit Self-regulation as a resource in coping with developmental demands – a prospective analysis from middle childhood to adolescence (Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Petra Warschburger, University of Potsdam) 

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