Public Release: 

DFG announces recipients of 2015 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize

Ten researchers to receive most important early career prize, award ceremony on May 5 in Berlin

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

This news release is available in German.

This year's recipients of the most important prize for early career researchers in Germany have been announced. The selection committee, appointed by the Deutsche Forschungsge-meinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the German Federal Ministry of Edu-cation and Research (BMBF), has chosen ten researchers, five women and five men, to re-ceive the 2015 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prizes. The prizes of 20,000 euros each will be presented on 5 May in Berlin.

The 2015 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize recipients are:

  • Marian Burchardt, Empirical Social Research, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen

  • Jessica Burgner-Kahrs, Mechatronics, University of Hanover

  • Pavel Levkin, Polymer Chemistry, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

  • Soeren Lienkamp, Medicine, University of Freiburg Medical Center

  • Thomas Niendorf, Materials Engineering, TU Bergakademie Freiberg

  • Stephan Packard, Media Culture Studies, University of Freiburg

  • Susanne Paulus, Ancient Near Eastern Studies, University of Münster

  • Cynthia Sharma, Infection Biology, University of Würzburg

  • Sarah Weigelt, Psychology, University of Bochum

  • Xiaoxiang Zhu, Geodesics, Technical University of Munich

The Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize has been awarded annually to outstanding early career re-searchers since 1977 as both recognition and an incentive to continue pursuing a path of aca-demic and scientific excellence. Named after the atomic physicist and former DFG Presi-dent, and awarded for the first time during his term of office, the prize is regarded as the most important of its kind for early career researchers in Germany. In addition, in a survey carried out by the German magazine "bild der wissenschaft", the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize was vot-ed the third most important science prize in Germany by the leading research institutions - after the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, presented by the DFG, and the Deutscher Zukun-ftspreis, awarded by the German Federal President.

A total of 127 researchers representing all research areas were nominated for this year's prize; 24 of the nominees were then shortlisted. "The academic quality of the candidates and their research work was extraordinarily high, making it a difficult pleasure for the committee to select the prizewinners from the shortlist," said the chair of the committee, DFG Vice Pres-ident Professor Dr. Marlis Hochbruck, after the decisions were made.

This year's recipients:

Marian Burchardt (39), Empirical Social Research, Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity, Göttingen

How do state and religion interrelate and how does their relationship have an effect on social coexistence? Marian Burchardt, a sociologist of religion, has researched this issue in the USA, the Netherlands, South Africa and India and was able to use his ethnographic case studies to show that the borders between religion and politics come in many forms. As a re-sult, he refers to "multiple secularities" that are tailored to the respective social problems for study, but at the same time express an orientation towards the Western world. In his disserta-tion, the social researcher used investigations into religious initiatives in South Africa to exam-ine links between religion, sexuality and biomedicine concerning HIV/AIDS diseases. Bur-chardt is currently working on "Legal Regulations of Religious Pluralism" at the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen.

Jessica Burgner-Kahrs (34), Mechatronics, University of Hanover

As part of her Emmy Noether independent junior research group "Continuum Robots for Sur-gical Systems - CROSS" at the Hannover Centre for Mechatronics, Jessica Burgner-Kahrs is conducting research into how robots can be even better utilised for surgical applications. So-called continuum robots are fitted with tentacle-like arms made of several tiny superelastic tubes that can access difficult-to-reach spaces with minimal invasion, therefore creating new possibilities for surgery. The Emmy Noether Group is researching the principles of continuum robotics, e.g. path planning, sensor applications or space detection. In her doctoral thesis, Burgner-Kahrs was already able to develop a robotics system for automated bone cutting; as a postdoctoral researcher, she followed up with a highly esteemed system that was designed to drain haemorrhages from the cranium of stroke patients.

Pavel Levkin (34), Polymer Chemistry, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

Pavel Levkin, a polychemist, made his scientific breakthrough by synthesising new polymer systems that regulate the interaction between living cells and modified surface structures. Levkin developed molecular chip technology for this purpose which enables gene cells to be effectively manipulated. With his research, the Moscow-born scientist is working at the inter-face between polymer research, microtechnology and biomedical applications. He also uses his deep knowledge of chemical applications to find new approaches to biological issues. Levkin's research unit at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology works on strategies for modify-ing surfaces with porous biofilms on which living cells can grow.

Soeren Lienkamp (35), Medicine, University of Freiburg Medical Center

The nephrologist Soeren Lienkamp focuses on the small tubes in the kidneys - the tubules - in which urine is produced. If the tubules are destroyed by a cystic disease, molecular pro-cesses may take place that are very similar to those seen in embryonic development. Lien-kamp uses Xenopus laevis tadpoles as a model organism which he was able to analyse using confocal microscopy to see to what extent directional cell migration is responsible for tube formation. He presented the complex migration mechanism where cells in a rosette-based bond are used to narrow and elongate the tubes. Lienkamp has been part of a Clinical Re-search Unit on polycystic kidney disease since 2010. He also established a working group under the DFG's Emmy Noether Programme that, since 2014, has been investigating how kidney cells differentiate and reprogramme themselves.

Thomas Niendorf (35), Materials Engineering, TU Bergakademie Freiberg

Thomas Niendorf's specialist fields are materials science and materials engineering. In his work, he investigates how the manufacturing process and newly developed microstructures in materials create certain characteristics, e.g. resilience to damage. Niendorf already focused on how damage develops under cyclical and thermal stress in his dissertation in the DFG Re-search Unit "Mechanical Properties and Interfaces in Ultrafine Grained Materials". The cur-rent core research area as part of his Emmy Noether Group "Functionally Graded Structures from High Manganese Iron Based Alloys - From TWIP Effect to Superelasticity" is material fatigue in TWIP steel. Important aspects here include shape memory alloys and additive manufacturing (known as 3D printing).

Stephan Packard (36), Media Culture Studies, University of Freiburg

From quite elementary communication of feelings and emotions to the controlled use of sym-bols in propaganda to systems of symbols in fiction in media (e.g. film, television series or graphic novels): Stephan Packard focuses on symbolism and culturally constructed coding in social coexistence in his interdisciplinary works. He presented apparatus for psychosemiotic comic analysis in his dissertation on general and comparative literary studies. The researcher is now developing a historically ingrained semiotic theory of feelings and emotions that origi-nates from the early 18th century in his habilitation dissertation. Packard is involved in the "Factual and Fictional Narration" Research Training Group and in the "German-Russian Con-tacts in the European Context" International Research Training Group.

Susanne Paulus (32), Ancient Near Eastern Studies, University of Münster

How did humans co-exist in the second millennium before Christ? Ancient Near Eastern stud-ies rely on text sources such as clay tablets or stone inscriptions for answers to fundamental socio-historical issues. With her dissertation on Babylonian Kudurru inscriptions, philologist Susanne Paulus presented a highly regarded work in which she was the first person who was able to not only make the language of Akkadian texts accessible but also present an assess-ment from an economic historical and legal historical perspective. For example, the Kudurru inscriptions concern royal land grants and issuing property and sinecures in Mesopotamia, the modern-day Iraq. Based on her analysis of the text, Paulus was able to provide new insights into the social and administrative structures of Mesopotamia. The Münster-based researcher is currently exploring the chronology by which Babylonia and Elam established cultural rela-tions with one another.

Cynthia Sharma (35), Infection Biology, University of Würzburg

Cynthia Sharma combines biophysics and bioinformatics with infection research in a unique way in her work: once she was able to analyse genome sequences and identify structural RNA elements in her diploma thesis, she developed a new sequencing method - the differen-tial RNA-seq method - as part of her doctoral thesis at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin. As a member of the DFG-funded Priority Programme "Prokaryotic Small Regulatory RNAs", she applied this method using the example of the Helicobacter pylori mi-cro-organism, a rod-shaped bacterium which is blamed for some gastrointestinal diseases. Sharma's group is currently researching the gene-regulating function of bacteria using molec-ular-biological and biochemical approaches at the Research Center for Infectious Diseases of the University of Würzburg. This should help to improve understanding of the mechanisms used by pathogens to create an infection.

Sarah Weigelt (35), Psychology, University of Bochum

You could say that Sarah Weigelt sees the world through the eyes of a child. She uses behav-ioural experiments and modern brain-imaging techniques to examine how the human visual brain develops. Her specialist field of developmental neuropsychology is a cross-section of brain research and developmental psychology and is still relatively new to Germany. Weigelt wrote her diploma thesis in psychology at the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research, where she was introduced to functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in Wolf Singer's de-partment. She then used this in her dissertation to research conscious visual perception. As a postdoctoral fellow at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she acquired new insights in developmental psychology. In addition to visual development, junior professor Weigelt is also researching atypical vision in children with autism at the University of Bochum.

Xiaoxiang Zhu (30), Geodesics, Technical University of Munich

Current and future Earth observation missions depend on improved information gathering. Using new algorithms, geodesist Xiaoxiang Zhu plans to optimise remote sensing data and provide the foundations needed to design new satellite sensors. As a group leader at the German Aerospace Center, she develops modern signal processing methods, e.g. recon-structing poor signal strengths to improve resolution, reducing noise using non-local filters or reconstructing objects using robust estimators. Zhu travelled to Munich for the "Earth Oriented Space Science and Technology" international master's degree course and also obtained her doctorate there. After her habilitation, she became an honorary professor at the Technical University of Munich.


Further Information

The 2015 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize award ceremony will be held on 5 May at 2pm in the Magnus-Haus, Am Kupfergraben 7, 10117 Berlin.

Representatives from the media are cordially invited to attend the award ceremony. Please register in advance with the DFG Press and Public Relations Office: Tel. +49 228 885-2443,

More information about the prize and previous winners is available at:

DFG programme contact:

Annette Lessenich, Quality Assurance and Programme Development, Tel. +49 228 885-2835,

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