Public Release: 

14 new Research Units, 1 new Clinical Research Unit

Topics range from organized creativity and complex sugar structures to tolerance management; total of €35 million for first funding period

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

This news release is available in German.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) will set up 14 new Research Units and one new Clinical Research Unit. This was decided by the DFG Senate in Bonn. The research collaborations will offer researchers the possibility of pursuing current and pressing issues in their research areas and establishing innovative work directions. Clinical Research Units are also characterised by the close connection between research and clinical work. The maximum funding duration of Research Units and Clinical Research Units is two periods of three years. In the initial funding period, the 15 new groups will receive approximately 35 million euros in total. As a result, the DFG will be funding a total of 189 Research Units and 16 Clinical Research Units.

The new Research Units
(in alphabetical order by host university)

Over the last 20 years the physics of neutrinos has developed into an important field of research in particle physics. For example, neutrino research was distinguished in 2015 when the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded for the discovery that neutrinos have mass. However, at present it is only possible to say very approximately how large this mass might be. Research still has to be done into many other parameters which describe the behaviour of neutrinos, because these particles have properties that cannot be explained with the standard model of particle physics. The Research Unit "Determination of the Neutrino Mass Hierarchy with the JUNO Experiment" will address the unanswered question, of vital importance in neutrino physics, of the so-called hierarchy of neutrino masses, which describes the ratio of masses of the different types of neutrinos.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Achim Stahl, Host University: RWTH Aachen University)

The contention surrounding the authority of the past and the right of the new has been frequently cited in humanities and cultural studies research as a watershed between the premodern and the modern. However, numerous individual studies have demonstrated that, rather than a radical severance, it is necessary to think in terms of longer periods and more complex mediations. The Research Unit "Discursification of the New. Tradition and Novation in Texts of the Middle Ages and Early Modern Period" aims to place previous individual research on a systematic foundation. In analysis of primarily literary texts from different European linguistic and cultural spaces from the 12th to the 18th centuries, the group intends to show how these texts shape the relationship between old and new in theoretical and practical terms. On this basis, the aim is to develop a redefinition of cultural dynamics beyond the theoretical opposition of continuity and severance.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Bernhard Huss, Host University: Free University of Berlin)

The term "organised creativity" seems contradictory: creative processes are inherently uncertain and cannot be intentionally controlled. Nevertheless, they take place within networks of actors in different spatial-temporal contexts that exhibit a certain degree of organisation. The Research Unit "Organised Creativity - Practices for Inducing and Coping with Uncertainty" intends to investigate the social structures and practices within and with which uncertainty in the creative process is encouraged, channelled or hindered. It will study these dynamics using the examples of the music industry and the pharmaceutical industry.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Jörg Sydow, Host University: Free University of Berlin)

The Research Unit "Rough Paths, Stochastic Partial Differential Equations and Related Topics" intends to apply the mathematical theory of so-called "rough paths" to stochastic partial differential equations (SPDEs) and will focus on the investigation of regularity structures, which represent a multidimensional extension of rough path theory. The theory of rough paths allows the gap between conventional and stochastic differential equations to be bridged. Equations like this are needed in the modelling of time-dependent processes which are subject to random influences and in which special smoothness requirements no longer apply, not only in the natural sciences and engineering sciences, but also in economics and social sciences. The qualitative characteristics of SPDEs with rough noise, their dynamics and their numerics are still largely unknown. This opens up new questions, which the members of the Research Unit will address.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Peter Karl Friz, Host University: Technical University of Berlin)

G protein-coupled receptors are proteins which play a key role in the transmission of signals from the outside to the inside of a cell. On the inner side of the cell membrane, their function is associated with interaction with so-called G proteins. So far little research has been carried out to find out exactly how the interaction between receptors and G proteins works. This question is what interests the Research Unit "G Protein Signal Cascades: Using New Molecular Probes and Active Substances to Develop New Pharmacological Concepts". The researchers, whose backgrounds are in chemistry, pharmacy, pharmacology and physiology, will focus their investigations on a new approach to G proteins and not on receptors, which have already been extensively studied. They will pursue the objective of selectively investigating the role of individual G proteins in signal transmission. In the medium term the aim is to find out whether G proteins are suitable targets for medication-based therapies.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Evi Kostenis, Host University: University of Bonn)

The Research Unit "Process-Oriented Tolerance Management with Virtual Validation Methods" will study the definition, coordination and testing of tolerances in product development processes. The aim is to provide methods and tools to control geometric and functional deviations. The team intends to investigate the close interlinking of product development and manufacturing and the available simulation techniques and develop production-, test- and function-adequate tolerances for all stages of production. The members of the Research Unit theorise that this approach will make it possible to identify all production- and assembly-related causes of later functional and quality impairments and therefore take them into account in early phases of virtual product and process development.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr.-Ing. Sandro Wartzack, Host University: University of Erlangen-Nuremberg)

Denitrification is the microbial conversion of nitrogen bound in nitrate to gaseous nitrogen and nitrogen oxides. Despite decades of intensive research, it is still not possible to confidently predict the significance of denitrification in climate change owing to the complexity of the overall process and the marked variability between different times and places. The Research Unit "Denitrification in Agricultural Soils: Integrated Control and Modelling at Various Scales (DASIM)" will use analytical and molecular biological methods as well as mesocosm experiments and various model approaches to study the process of denitrification from microscale to field scale.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Christoph Müller, Host University: University of Giessen)

Primary sclerosing cholangitis, or PSC, is a rare, chronic, scarring disease of the bile ducts inside and outside the liver. It is often associated with chronic inflammatory bowel disease. It mainly affects young adults and leads to cirrhosis of the liver within 10 to 20 years. Although the disease is frequently fatal, its progress is largely unresearched. To change this situation, the YAEL Centre for Autoimmune Liver Diseases was established in Hamburg as part of the Martin Zeitz Centre for Rare Diseases. Over 200 patients with PSC are treated here every year. These individuals form the patient cohorts for clinical trials, which the Clinical Research Unit "Primary Sclerosing Cholangitis" will use to study the disease.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Ansgar W. Lohse, Host University: University of Hamburg)

The Research Unit "Recording and Control of Dynamic Local Process Statuses in Microreactors with New In-situ Sensors" links organic chemistry with engineering, online analytical methods and process self-optimisation in order to describe and understand multiphase processes. The goal of developing a new in-situ analysis and of not only recording but controlling process statuses will be tested using four different applied examples: evaporation processes, a heterogeneous catalytic multiphase reaction, photochemistry and the synthesis of nanoparticles. Through these individual projects, the Research Unit will map the multistage process from modelling to customised manufacturing with microsensors.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr.-Ing. Roland Dittmeyer, Host University: Karlsruhe Institute of Technology)

What are the social and ecological impacts of the growth of cities, for instance as a result of migration from rural areas? Taking the example of the Indian metropolis of Bangalore, the Research Unit "Social-Ecological Systems in the Indian Rural-Urban Interface: Functions, Scales, and Dynamics of Transition" will study transition processes at the rural-urban interface from an agricultural perspective. Working closely with Indian partners, the researchers, whose backgrounds are in soil physics, crop production, landscape ecology, human geography, forest sciences, agricultural economics and animal production, will apply social ecology theory to analyse various aspects of resource use in agricultural production systems. They will also study eating habits and service decisions in Indian households.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Andreas Bürkert, Host University: University of Kassel)

Why do we ask questions? Often, the significance of a question does not lie solely in the filling of a gap in factual knowledge, because questions offer a wide range of potentials for interaction. The Research Unit "Questions at the Interfaces" will use theoretical-linguistic approaches and experimental methods to address utterances such as rhetorical questions, echo questions ("You did what?") and questions we direct at ourselves ("Right, how did it go again?"). In the various projects the researchers will describe and analyse form and meaning in terms of syntactic, prosodic and pragmatic aspects. The Research Unit hypothesises that the building blocks of grammar - from choice of words to sentence structure and emphasis - determine the meaning of a question in a compositional manner.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Miriam Butt, Host University: University of Konstanz)

The new Research Unit "Interactions at the Neurovascular Interface" will work at the interface between vascular biology and neurobiology. It will study the vascular system and the nervous system, which are in close contact with each other through their markedly branching networks. Blood vessels and neurons also react to similar navigational pointers and instructive signals. However, the close interlinking of the vascular and nervous systems also means that defects within this neurovascular unit are involved in neurodegenerative diseases. By studying the formation and maintenance of the neurovascular unit, the participating researchers ultimately aim to contribute to a better understanding of these diseases.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Ralf H. Adams, Host Institutions: University of Münster and Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine, Münster)

Osteoarthritis, also known as arthrosis, is the most common joint disease in adult humans worldwide. It is a degenerative joint disease associated with pain and functional impairment, and may affect all the joints. The Research Unit "Exploring Articular Cartilage and Subchondral Bone Degeneration and Regeneration in Osteoarthritis (ExCarBon)" will use a combination of basic research and clinical approaches to study cell-based degeneration and regeneration processes in the joint under biomechanical load. The participating researchers have backgrounds in cell biology, mouse genetics, neurophysiology, trauma surgery and nanotechnology.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Susanne Grässel, Host University: University of Regensburg)

In immunological questions it is becoming increasingly important to understand the significance of sugar structures. The Research Unit "VIROCARB: Glycans Controlling Non-Enveloped Virus Infections", in the emerging field of glycovirology, will study the structure of the complex sugar structures known as glycans. These dock on the surface of protein or lipid cells and provide certain viruses with a target structure to which to attach themselves, giving them entry to the cell so that they can infect it. In addition to the structural description of glycan structures, the interdisciplinary Research Unit - representing virology, cell biology, structural biology and synthetic chemistry - will also clarify the mechanisms of interaction, for example the function of glycans in cell-virus interaction, with the aid of mass spectrometry and NMR spectroscopy.
(Spokesperson: Professor Dr. Thilo Stehle, Host University: University of Tübingen)

In physics there is currently an interesting situation with regard to scientific theory: while some physicists anticipate the abandonment of the standard model in favour of a more comprehensive and fundamental theory of nature, the systems and processes of current experimental research are characterised by extreme complexity. Given this situation, how can theoretical progress be made through experimental research? Experts in the philosophy, sociology and history of science and physics will attempt to find answers to this question in the Research Unit "The Epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider". The concentrated research activity surrounding the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN in Geneva provides them with observation material to address metascientific questions relating to model and theory development.
(Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Gregor Schiemann, Host University: University of Wuppertal)


Further Information

Media contact: DFG Press and Public Relations, Tel. +49 228 885-2443,

Further information will be provided by the spokespersons of the established units.

For information on the Research Units and Clinical Research Units see:

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