Press releases


Sep 9 2019

Professor Luciano Rezzolla and his team, together with 347 researchers from the worldwide Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, have been awarded the Breakthrough Prize 2020 in recognition of their ground-breaking achievements

Black Hole: Important global award for astrophysicists at Goethe University

FRANKFURT. For their exceptional and fundamental achievements in capturing the first direct image of a black hole, researchers from the team headed by astrophysicist Professor Luciano Rezzolla of Goethe University, together with 347 scientists from the global Event Horizon Telescope Collaboration, will receive the Breakthrough Prize 2020, which comes with $ 3 million in prize money. With its 10 members, the Goethe University team is one of the largest in the entire collaboration, which comprises 140 institutions in total. 

With the aid of eight radio telescopes around the world, to which meanwhile another three have been added, the scientists succeeded in capturing the first direct visual evidence of the supermassive black hole at the centre of the galaxy Messier 87 in April 2019. The prize will be distributed equally among all the co-authors of the corresponding scientific publications, and will be awarded on 3rd November. 

Luciano Rezzolla's team made fundamental contributions to the theoretical interpretation of the results throughout all phases of the observations: using supercomputers, they simulated how material forms a ring-shaped disc as it orbits and is pulled into the black hole, and how the tremendous gravitation bends light rays around the black hole. It was also necessary to rule out various alternatives to black holes that are also compatible with the theory of relativity. “The confrontation of theory with observations is always a dramatic moment for a theoretical physicist. We were quite relieved, and also proud, that the observations matched our predictions so well," states Luciano Rezzolla. 

Goethe University President Professor Dr. Birgitta Wolff: “Together with Luciano Rezzolla and his team, we are delighted about this important global award. We warmly congratulate all of our colleagues who contributed to this achievement! We remember the enthusiasm of audience in the packed lecture hall on Campus Riedberg when Luciano Rezzolla and his colleagues from the European Consortium (Professor Michael Kramer from the Max Planck Institut für Radioastronomie in Bonn and Professor Heino Falcke from the Dutch Radboud University) first presented the results of their joint research at Goethe University on 17th  April 2019. It was a celebration of the power of fascination emanating even from abstract science. I hope that further ground-breaking research will be forthcoming from this great global collaboration." 

Goethe University Vice-President Professor Simone Fulda, who is responsible for research, said: “We are proud to have played such a prominent role as Goethe University in a true scientific breakthrough of global significance and congratulate Luciano Rezzolla and his team for the outstanding achievements that led to it. Physics is an important research focal point that has shaped Goethe University's research profile for many years." 

“It's a great honour and an enormous gratification to see that the work done at Goethe University has received the highest recognition and has contributed to pushing the limits of our understanding of fundamental physics. It is also a fair recognition of what has ultimately been a team effort and hence a shared burden and challenge of many scientists across the world," commented Luciano Rezzolla. 

As a collective, this year's Breakthrough Prize laureates probed the galaxies to capture the first image of a black hole. The jury has found remarkable the achievements by combining telescope after synchronizing them with atomic clocks, producing a virtual telescope as large as the Earth, to obtain unprecedented resolution. The image of the supermassive black hole at the centre of the Messier 87 galaxy was obtained after painstakingly analysing the data with novel algorithms and techniques, and reveals a bright ring marking the point where light orbits the black hole, surrounding a dark region where light cannot escape the black hole's gravitational pull. The black hole shadow matched the expectations of Einstein's theory of General Relativity. 

Collaboration Director Shep Doeleman of the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, who will accept the prize on behalf of the collaboration at the ceremony on 3rd November 2019, says: "We set out to see the unseeable, and we needed to build a telescope as large as the Earth to do it. It sounds like science fiction, but we assembled an incredible global team of experts and used the most advanced radio telescopes on the planet to make it a reality. This breakthrough prize celebrates a new beginning in our study of black holes."

The “Breakthrough Prize Foundation" has prominent backers. Its founding members are Sergey Brin, Priscilla Chan and Mark Zuckerberg, Ma Huateng, Yuri und Julia Milner, and Anne Wojcicki. 

Press release on the image of the black hole from 10th April 2019.  
Film material on the black hole (Simulations and background on the research at Goethe University) can be found here:
How we made the black hole visible. Short version 
How we made the black hole visible. Long version with personal statements
Simulations of the shadow of a black hole (English)
Simulations of the shadow of a black hole (Spanish) 

Further information: Prof. Luciano Rezzolla, Principal Investigator of the European Black Hole Cam Experiments, Institute for Theoretical Physcis, Faculty of Physics, Riedberg Campus, Telefon: +49 69 798 47871:,;


Sep 5 2019

Commemorates heyday period in the 1920s 

“Historic Site” Plaque for Frankfurt Physics 

FRANKFURT. The 1920s were the golden age of quantum mechanics. Brilliant theoreticians and young, innovative thinkers poured the theory into its modern mathematical form. Their predictions inspired new experiments. At the Physics Institute of Frankfurt University headed by Max Born, physicists Otto Stern and Walter Gerlach made important contributions using a new experimental method. This will be commemorated by a “historic site" plaque that was unveiled Tuesday in a ceremony in the historic auditorium of the Jügelhaus, formerly the main Goethe University building on Bockenheim Campus. Once the Historical Monument Department has approved, the plaque will be mounted onto the former physics building at Robert-Mayer-Straße 2. 

“Everyone is familiar with Goethe, but Nobel Prize winner Otto Stern is still largely unknown,“ comments University President Birgitta Wolff. “The university named its new auditorium complex on Riedberg Campus after Otto Stern a few years ago. I'm delighted that a Historic Site Plaque now marks the location where Otto Stern succeeded with his pioneering experiments." 

The “historic site" plaque is awarded by the European Physical Society to commemorate important discoveries in physics in laboratories, institutes or cities throughout Europe. The former Institute of Theoretical Physics building in Frankfurt is the fourth location in Germany to be distinguished with this plaque. 

“The year 2019 presents a two-fold opportunity to remember the pioneer of quantum physics and Nobel Laureate Otto Stern," explains physics professor Horst Schmidt-Böcking, who authored a biography of Otto Stern together with the historian Karin Reich. In 1919, Otto Stern developed the molecular beam method, for which he received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1943. In the iconic Stern-Gerlach experiment, completed in February 1922, the reality of space quantization of angular momentum had been demonstrated. The momentum resolution achieved corresponded to an energy resolution of a micro electron volt. In 1922, together with Walther Gerlach in the iconic Stern-Gerlach experiment, the reality of space quantization of angular momentum was demonstrated, also proving the angular momentum quantization in atoms for the first time. “At the same time, we commemorate the 50th anniversary of Otto Stern's death, who was forced to emigrate in 1933 because of his Jewish background," remarks Schmidt-Böcking. 

Otto Stern first settled in Pittsburgh and then Berkeley in 1945. In contrast to many other emigrants, he took every opportunity after the Second World War to meet with friends and colleagues at conferences in Europe. Horst Schmidt-Böcking has been in contact with Otto Stern's descendants in the United States in recent years and invited them to visit their uncle's old domain. Stern himself had no children. 

“The Historic Site Plaque also commemorates other important discoveries made at the Physics Institute," says Petra Rudolf, President of the European Physical Society. “In 1920 Max Born and Elisabeth Bormann first measured the free path of atoms in gases and the size of molecules. In 1921, the theoretician Alfred Landé postulated the coupling of angular momentum for the first time as the basis of intra-atomic electron dynamics." 

An international conference commemorating Otto Stern is taking place this week, as Wilhelm and Else Heraeus Seminar entitled “Otto Stern's Molecular Beam Research and its Impact on Science". Speakers include people who knew Stern such as his nephew Allen Templeton, scientific historians, and researchers whose experimental methods are based on the molecular beam method developed by Stern, such as magnetic resonance imaging, lasers and masers. The conference goes until 5th September. 

Today, the historical building is home to the Physical Association of Frankfurt. Founded in 1824, it is the oldest one in Germany and was already in existence in 1914 when the university opened. 

Further information: Dr. Horst Schmidt-Böcking, Institut für Kernphysik, Fachbereich Physik, Riedberg Campus, Tel.: +49 69 798 47002,


Aug 21 2019

Theoretical physicists at Goethe University discovered that cultural processes are accelerating

Music charts are increasingly short-lived

FRANKFURT. Cultural processes are increasingly short-lived, showing in addition a growing tendency toward self-organisation. As a result, success is now governed by a universal law. This was discovered by the physicists Professor Claudius Gros and Lukas Schneider from Goethe University. Their object of research: 50 years of music charts. 

Since the 1960s, music charts have been compiled using the same criteria - sales profits. Charts therefore provide sets of comparable data spanning many decades, a circumstance that makes them particularly well-suited for the investigation of the long-term development of cultural time scales. This approach is also relevant beyond the cultural domain, in particular with regard to the pace of political opinion formation, which affects the dynamical stability of liberal democracies. 

In a new article published today in Royal Society Open Science, Lukas Schneider and Professor Claudius Gros from the Institute for Theoretical Physics at Goethe University demonstrate that the statistical characteristics, the composition, and the dynamics of the US, UK, Dutch and German pop album charts have changed significantly since the beginning of the 1990s. On the one hand, the diversity of the charts has doubled, or even tripled: Now there are significantly more albums making it to the top 100 or top 40 in a year. On the other hand, we now see that an album either starts off immediately as number one – or never reaches the top. In contrast, from the 1960s to the 1980s, successful albums needed four to six weeks to work their way from their starting position to the top slot. 

 The nature of an album's “lifetime" - the number of weeks an album has been listed – was found to have changed profoundly. Before the 1990s, the statistics of album lifetimes were governed by a Gauss distribution with a logarithmic argument (log normal). Today, the distribution of album lifetimes is characterised in contrast by a power law. The distribution of lifetimes is therefore universal, i.e., independent of the specifics of the process, a key characteristic of the final state of a self-organising process. To explain this development, the authors propose an information-theoretical approach to human activities. The assumption of Schneider and Gros is that humans strive continuously to optimise the information content of their experience and perceptions. Mathematically, information is captured by the Shannon entropy. According to Schneider and Gros, one needs to consider furthermore the Weber-Fechner law, which states that time and other variables are represented and stored in the brain not in a one-to-one ratio, but in a greatly compressed way (on a logarithmic scale). In this view, optimization of the information content of compressed experiences explains the observed chart statistics. 

Overall, the study by Schneider and Gros shows that chart dynamics has accelerated, proceeding today substantially faster than several decades ago. The authors conjecture that a similar acceleration could also be at work for the underlying socio-cultural processes, such as social and political opinion formation. As an earlier work by Gros shows, this could threaten the dynamical stability of modern democracies, as the functioning of democracies is based on reliable temporal ties between electorate and political institutions. These temporal ties are threatened when the time scale of political opinion formation and that of the delayed decision processes drift increasingly apart. (Claudius Gros, Entrenched time delays versus accelerating opinion dynamics: Are advanced democracies inherently unstable? European Physical Journal B 90, 223 (2017). )

Publication: Lukas Schneider, Claudius Gros, Five decades of US, UK, German and Dutch music charts show that cultural processes are accelerating, Royal Society Open Science (2019) 

Further information: Professor Claudius Gros, Institute for Theoretical Physics, Riedberg Campus, telephone: +41 69 798 47818, E-mail


Aug 5 2019

Frankfurt researchers have explained the mechanism of regulator SidJ in detail / Accelerated publication in Nature

Surprising insight into Legionnaires’ disease

FRANKFURT. In order to control cellular processes and thwart the immune system, the bacterium Legionella pneumophilia, the cause of the notorious Legionnaires' disease, releases hundreds of enzymes. Biochemists at Goethe University have now elucidated important details in the interaction of bacterial effectors. They discovered how the regulatory enzyme SidJ keeps other dangerous virulence factors in check. 

The incidence of Legionnaires' disease has increased in the past two decades. The natural habitat of Legionella is freshwater biotopes, where they mainly reproduce in amoebae. In addition, Legionella can also colonize water tanks or pipes and spread, for example, via poorly maintained air-conditioning systems. Contaminated aerosols are released into the air and trigger the infection. The pathogens cause, among others, pneumonia, which is often fatal in elderly patients or individuals with a weak immune system. 

What makes Legionella so dangerous is its ability to multiply in phagocytes of the immune system by secreting virulence factors. Some of these effectors – the enzymes of what is known as the SidE family – are so toxic that without tight control they would instantly kill their host cells. However, since Legionella needs the host cells in order to multiply, it has developed a sophisticated mechanism for the precise metering of SidE enzyme activity. Details of this process are now reported by scientists at Goethe University and from Grenoble in the journal Nature. 

They have shown that the regulator SidJ also released by Legionella works as an antidote to SidE enzymes, thus ensuring accurate control of SidE activity. The SidJ regulator is a glutamylase, i.e. it has a rare enzyme activity that allows amino acid glutamates to be linked together to form chains. In this case, SidJ attacks the central glutamate of SidE enzymes and inhibits their activity. So far, little is known about glutamylases – so the scientists were all the more surprised when they discovered that it is precisely this type of enzyme which is important for the coordinated interaction of the virulence factors of Legionella. 

“This is a typical example of how completely unpredictable results drive research. Such discoveries are what make science such a fascinating and exciting profession," says Professor Ivan Dikic from the Institute of Biochemistry II and the Buchmann Institute for Molecular Life Sciences at Goethe University. “We can only gain a molecular understanding of the complex world of bacterial infections by working in interdisciplinary teams and combining methods from modern biochemistry and proteomics with cell and structural biology techniques." 

The researchers also revealed how SidJ is activated in host cells: It requires the calcium-binding protein calmodulin found in mammalian cells. Cryo-electron microscopy played an important role in explaining the structure of the calmodulin-SidJ complex. “Glutamylation as a protein modification is understudied. Our finding that Legionella pneumophilia uses exactly this mechanism to sustain the infection certainly argues for more research in this field. For example, the extent to which Legionella utilizes this modification to regulate other cellular processes is completely unclear," explains Dr. Sagar Bhogaraju, who led the microscopic examinations at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Grenoble. 

This so far unknown mechanism opens up new possibilities for research to inhibit the spread of Legionella in the host organism. “We're currently working on eliminating SidJ selectively by developing inhibitors for the glutamylase domain. In addition to the use of antibiotics, they could prevent the spread of Legionella pneumophilia in phagocytes," explains Dikic. 

Publication: Sagar Bhogaraju, Florian Bonn, Rukmini Mukherjee, Michael Adams, Moritz M. Pfleiderer, Wojciech P. Galej, Vigor Matkovic, Sissy Kalayil, Donghyuk Shin, Ivan Dikic: Inhibition of SidE ubiquitin ligases through SidJ/Calmodulin catalyzed glutamylation, in Nature 22. Juli 2019 DOI: 10.1038/s41586-019-1440-8 

Further information: Professor Ivan Dikic, Institute of Biochemistry II, Niederrad Campus, and Buchmann Institute for Molecular Life Sciences, Riedberg Campus, Tel.: +49(0)69-6301-5964, Email:


Jul 17 2019

New insights into ribosome recycling with enzyme ABCE1

Versatile recycling

Ribosomes are molecular machines that produce proteins in cells. Having finished the job, the ribosomes need regenerating. This process is important for the quality of the proteins produced and thus for the whole cell homeostasis as well as for developmental and biological processes. Biochemists from Goethe University Frankfurt together with biophysicists at LMU Munich have now watched one of the most important enzymes for ribosome recycling at work – ABCE1 – and shown that it is unexpectedly versatile in terms of structure.

Ribosomes decode the genetic information from the messenger RNAs and translate it into proteins. Once they have produced a protein, but also if defective proteins have come to a halt in the ribosome, the ribosomes have to be “recycled" so that they are in good working order for a new round of synthesis. In all organisms (except bacteria), the enzyme ABCE1 coordinates this process, in which the ribosome is split into its two subunits. Biochemist Robert Tampé and LMU biophysicist Thorben Cordes, in collaboration with researchers at the University of Groningen (Netherlands), have shown that ABCE1 adopts three structural conformations to boost recycling. Their results are presented in the current issue of the journal Cell Report.

The ABCE1 enzyme can split ATP, the energy currency of cells, and use the energy released to separate the two ribosomal subunits. “Recent structural and functional data have shown that a conformational change of the enzyme, that is, a change in its spatial structure, is essential within this process for the diverse functions of ABCE1," says Cordes. Using an integrated test approach – among others with the help of what is known as the single-molecule FRET method – his team has now observed at first hand the structural variability of ABCE1 at the level of single molecules.

In the course of this work, the researchers established that the two ATP binding sites of ABCE1 can adopt three conformations – open, intermediate and closed – which are in a state of dynamic equilibrium. Interaction of ABCE1 with both the ribosome and the ATP influences the structural dynamics of the two ATP binding sites. This results in a complex network of different states, in which ribosome and ATP shift the equilibrium in the direction of the closed conformation.

“We assume that the conformations perform functionally different roles in the dissociation of the ribosome as well as for the many other diverse functions of ABCE1," says Cordes. “Ribosome recycling is governed by an extraordinarily complex and conserved machinery, which has medical significance as yet unimagined," adds Robert Tampé.

Cell Reports 2019

Publication: Giorgos Gouridis, Bianca Hetzert, Kristin Kiosze-Becker, Marijn de Boer, Holger Heinemann, Elina Nürenberg-Goloub, Thorben Cordes, Robert Tampé: ACBE1 controls ribosome recycling by an asymmetric dynamic conformational equilibrium, in: Cell Reports 2019 DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2019.06.052

Further information: Professor Robert Tampé, Institute of Biochemistry, Faculty of Biochemistry, Chemistry and Pharmacy, Riedberg Campus, Tel.: +49(0)69-798-29475 , Email:,

Image material can be downloaded under:

Caption: Three states of nucleotide binding sites can be seen in the histogram: open, intermediate and closed. Image: T. Cordes, LMU Munich