Press releases

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Nov 11 2019

Scientists from Goethe University and Senckenberg Society for Nature Research are developing maps on the Zika virus infection risk

How the Zika virus can spread

How the Zika virus can spread 

Scientists from Goethe University and Senckenberg Society for Nature Research are developing maps on the Zika virus infection risk 

FRANKFURT. The spread of infectious diseases such as Zika depends on many different factors. Environmental factors play a role, as do socioeconomic factors. Recently, several attempts have be made to predict the transmission risk of the Zika virus at a global and local level, but the spatial and temporal patterns of transmission are still not well understood. Researchers from Goethe University and the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research in Frankfurt were now able to generate reliable maps for the transmission risk of the Zika virus in South America. 

The results have been published in the scientific journal “PeerJ". Based on the models for South America, they will use the method to determine the Zika risk for Europe as well. In most cases, mosquitoes of the genus Aedes transmit the Zika virus to humans. Primary vectors are the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus). Both mosquito species are widespread in South America. Whereas the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes albopictus) is nearly absent in Europe, the Asian tiger mosquito is widespread in the Mediterranean region. 

“With our new modelling approaches we can illustrate the risk areas for Zika infections in Latin America," says Sven Klimpel Professor for Parasitology and Infection Biology at Goethe University in Frankfurt and the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre. “The models additionally allow us to illustrate Zika risk areas for Europe. For example, our models indicate the two autochthonous cases in southern France in Département Var (see illustration)." At the end of October, French authorities announced the first Zika case in Europe; about a week later, a second case was made public. 

According to the researcher's calculations, the Zika infection risk in South America is highest along the Brazilian East Coast and in Central America. The risk is moderate in the Amazon region and lowest in the southern areas of the continent. The following countries are especially affected according to the model: Brazil, Columbia, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Puerto Rico and Venezuela. In Europe, a risk of infection exists mainly in the Mediterranean region, but also in the inland regions of France and in the Rhine areas of Baden-Württemberg. 

To determine the infection risk of a specific area, the researchers Dr Sarah Cunze and Professor Sven Klimpel modelled the potential spread of the two species of mosquito, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus. Since the mosquitoes can only transmit the Zika virus in regions where the virus is present in the first place, the researchers included an Evidence Consensus Map in their risk model. This map categorises the number of reported Zika illnesses at the regional level. The average temperature of the warmest quarter was also incorporated in the model, since temperature has a significant influence on whether the virus can survive and multiply in the mosquito. Finally, the scientists added socioeconomic factors such as population density and gross domestic product to their risk model 

Publication: Cunze S, Kochmann J, Koch LK, Genthner E, Klimpel S. 2019. Vector distribution and transmission risk of the Zika virus in South and Central America. PeerJ 7:e7920 DOI 10.7717/peerj.7920 

An image maybe downloaded here: 

Illustration 1: Correlative modelling approach for regions with increased Zika infection risk in South America. In addition to the modelled expansion of the two main vector types (Aedes aegypti a1 and Ae. albopictus a2), the model incorporates the average temperature of the warmest quarter (b), the occurrence of the Zika virus (c) and the Dengue virus (e), population density (f) and the gross domestic product.
Illustration 2: Zika infection risk modelled for South America.
Illustration 3: Regions where an autochthonous transmission of the Zika virus through the bite of an infected tiger mosquito is possible, since the temperature conditions are suitable (red areas) and the tiger mosquito is already present as vector species (hatched areas). 

Further information: Professor Sven Klimpel, Institute for Ecology, Evolution and Diversity, Faculty 15 (Biosciences), Riedberg Campus, phone +49 69 798-42237, E-Mail


Nov 7 2019

Study at Goethe University shows: ECB communication strongly affects financial markets

How the ECB’s word choice influences the financial market

FRANKFURT. Eight times a year, the European Central Bank (ECB) sets the key interest rate and announces it through press releases and press conferences. A study by Professor Christian Wagner (Vienna University of Economics and Business) and Professor Maik Schmeling (Goethe University Frankfurt) shows that not only the key interest rate but also the way the ECB communicates it has an impact on financial markets. 

The ECB's most important job is to ensure price stability in the euro area, avoiding major fluctuations in the value of money and maintaining an inflation rate of around 2%. One important instrument for this is the key interest rate, which forms the basis both for financial market transactions and for the conditions applied to savings and loans. If the ECB lowers the key interest rate, saving money become less attractive, while loans become more affordable. Approximately every six weeks, the ECB sets the current key interest rate and publishes its decision at 1:45 pm in a short announcement. At 2:15 pm this is followed by a press conference in which the central bank explains the rationale behind its interest rate decision and gives its assessment of further economic developments. 

In a current research project, Christian Wagner (Vienna University of Economics and Business) and Maik Schmeling from Goethe University investigated whether the way in which the ECB communicates it monetary policies is also reflected in asset prices such as stocks. The result: a change in the ECB's tone has a significant effect on the prices of financial instruments. If the ECB's word choice is more positive, then stock prices rise, while derivatives used to hedge risks become cheaper. “A positive word choice seems to increase market participants' willingness to take risks, leading to rising stock prices," says Maik Schmeling from Goethe University. The authors were also able to show that a more optimistic tone on the part of the ECB is an indicator of more favourable economic developments. Future interest rate changes can be predicted based on the tone of the ECB's communications. In other words, the way in which the ECB communicates with the market allows conclusions to be drawn about its future interest rate policy. 

The results of this study are particularly relevant with regard to central banks' capacity to act, because they show that through their choice of words, central banks can influence market participants' expectations and willingness to take risks. The communication strategy of a central bank therefore represents an instrument of money policy on its own. For market participants, the results of the study mean that listening closely to the tone of the ECB will provide additional clues for making investment and financing decisions. The authors of the study analysed the ECB's tone and generated a time series of changes in tone from one press conference to the next. This makes it possible to observe how stock prices and other financial instruments changed depending on the ECB's tone. For their analysis, Wagner and Schmeling used high-frequency financial data, which is available at one-minute intervals, allowing them to track price developments right from the start of the press conference. In their analysis, the researchers also controlled for the level of interest rate changes and other “hard facts" published during the press conference, such as growth and inflation forecasts. 

Maik Schmeling has been professor for finance at the Faculty of Business and Economics at Goethe University since May 2018. From 2013 to 2018, he was professor of finance at the Cass Business School, City, University of London. In his research, Maik Schmeling focuses on various issues in the field of international financial markets, such as risk premiums on currency and money markets, the connection between monetary policies and asset prices, and the formation of expectations on financial markets. Schmeling has published in such internationally renowned publications as the “Journal of Finance," the “Journal of Financial Economics" and the “Review of Financial Studies." 

Publication: Schmeling, Maik and Wagner, Christian, Does Central Bank Tone Move Asset Prices? (October 23, 2019). Available at: or 

Further information: Maik Schmeling, Professor für Finance, Finances Department, Faculty of Business and Economics, Westend Campus,


Oct 14 2019

Brain imaging study investigates why cognitive abilities differ between individuals 

Wired for intelligence: brain networks more stable in individuals with higher cognitive abilities

FRANKFURT. The interconnections and communication between different regions of the human brain influence our behaviour in many ways. This is also true for individual differences in higher cognitive abilities. The brains of more intelligent individuals are characterised by temporally more stable interactions in neural networks. This is the result of a recent study conducted by Dr Kirsten Hilger and Professor Christian Fiebach from the Department of Psychology and Brain Imaging Center of Goethe University Frankfurt in collaboration with Dr Makoto Fukushima and Professor Olaf Sporns from Indiana University Bloomington, USA. The study was published online in the scientific journal 'Human Brain Mapping' on 6th October. 

Intelligence and its neurobiological basis 
Various theories have been proposed to explain the differences in different individuals' cognitive abilities, including neurobiological models. For instance, it has been proposed that more intelligent individuals make stronger use of certain brain areas, that their brains generally operate more efficiently, or that certain brain systems are better wired in smarter people. Only recently have methodological advances made it possible to also investigate the temporal dynamics of human brain networks, using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). An international team of researchers from Goethe University and Indiana University Bloomington analysed fMRI scans of 281 participants to investigate how dynamic network characteristics of the human brain relate to general intelligence. 

Stability of brain networks as general advantage
The human brain has a modular organisation - it can be subdivided into different networks that serve different functions such as vision, hearing, or the control of voluntary behaviour. In their current study, Kirsten Hilger and colleagues investigated whether this modular organisation of the human brain changes over time, and whether or not these changes relate to individual differences in the scores that study participants achieved in an intelligence test. The results of the study show that the modular brain network organisation of more intelligent persons exhibited less fluctuations during the fMRI measurement session. This increased stability of brain network organisation was primarily found in brain systems that are important for the control of attention. 

Attention plays a key role
“The study of the temporal dynamics of human brain networks using fMRI is a relatively new field of research" says Hilger. She speculates: “The temporally more stable network organisation in more intelligent individuals could be a protective mechanism of the brain against falling into maladaptive network states in which major networks disconnect and communication may be hampered." She also stresses that it remains an open question how exactly these network properties influence cognitive ability: “At present, we do not know whether the temporally more stable brain connections are a source or a consequence of higher intelligence. However, our results suggest that processes of controlled attention – that is, the ability to stay focused and to concentrate on a task – may play an important role for general intelligence." 

Publication: Hilger, K., Fukushima, M., Sporns, O., & Fiebach, C. F. (2019). Temporal Stability of Functional Brain Modules Associated with Human Intelligence. Human Brain Mapping. (DOI:

Further information: Dr Kirsten Hilger, Department of Psychology, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 6, D-60323 Frankfurt, Germany., Tel. +49 (0)160-3391686; see also the webpage of the Laboratory for Cognitive Neuroscience at Goethe University:


Oct 11 2019

The Goethe University physics professor to be Andrews Professor of Astronomy at Dublin Trinity College

Luciano Rezzolla awarded prestigious honorary professorship

FRANKFURT. For his outstanding contributions in the field of astrophysics, Luciano Rezzolla, Professor for Astrophysics at Goethe University, will be appointed Andrews Professor of Astronomy at Trinity College in Dublin. Previously combined with the leadership of the Irish Dunsink Observatory, today the title is a prestigious honorary chair. The appointment of Luciano Rezzolla represents the first time the professorship will be given to a non-Irish person. 

“The Andrews Professor for Astronomy is a tremendous recognition of the excellence achieved in astrophysics research at Goethe University," says Luciano Rezzolla. “It's simultaneously a recognition of a paradigm change that has also taken place in Frankfurt, in which theoretical astrophysics and theoretical physics are being combined more and more in the quest for a deeper understanding of the universe. I am very happy that together with my team and many other colleagues in Frankfurt and Dublin, I have been able to use this potential to continue improving our research. 

“This title is a great honour, both for Luciano Rezzolla and for his team at the Institute for Theoretical Physics", says Simone Fulda, Vice President for Research and Academic Infrastructure at Goethe University. “The award illustrates the high value placed on physics within Goethe University research. We are quite proud of this and extend Luciano Rezzolla our warmest congratulations." 

The Andrews Professor for Astrophysics was established in 1774. The politician and provost of Trinity College, Francis Andrews, bequeathed £3,000 to build a new observatory in Dunsink. The first Andrews Professor was the mathematician and astronomer Henry Ussher, who was appointed in 1783. Between 1791 and 1921 the holder of the chair was also the “Royal Astronomer of Ireland". After remaining vacant between 1921 and 1984, the position was subsequently re-established as an honorary chair. With this appointment, Rezzolla follows in the footsteps of Sir William Rowan Hamilton, who held the position from 1827 to 1865, and after whom Hamiltonian mechanics was named. 

In addition to this honour, Rezzolla gained worldwide media attention in April of this year. As principal investigator of the “Black Hole Cam Project" (BHC Project), he and his colleagues made the observation of the hot plasma ring surrounding the black hole in the centre of the Galaxy M87 visible for the first time. The National Science Foundation, the US government agency for research funding, recognized the first image of black hole with a new prize: in 2019, the Diamond Achievement Award was given to the international team of the Event Horizon Telescope collaboration, of which Professor Rezzolla is also a member. Rezzolla and his team at the Institute for Theoretical Physics were also awarded the Frankfurt Physics Science Prize. 


An image can be downloaded here:
Credit: Jürgen Lecher, Goethe University 

Further information: Professor Luciano Rezzolla, Institute for Theoretical Physics, Faculty of Physics, Riedberg Campus, Telephone: +49 69 798 47871,;


Oct 1 2019

Physicists at Goethe University measure miniscule effect with new super COLTRIMS apparatus / Publication in Nature Physics

Beyond Einstein: Mystery surrounding photon momentum solved

FRANKFURT. Albert Einstein received the Nobel Prize for explaining the photoelectric effect: in its most intuitive form, a single atom is irradiated with light. According to Einstein, light consists of particles (photons) that transfer only quantised energy to the electron of the atom. If the photon's energy is sufficient, it knocks the electrons out of the atom. But what happens to the photon's momentum in this process? Physicists at Goethe University are now able to answer this question. To do so, they developed and constructed and new spectrometer with previously unattainable resolution. 

Doctoral student Alexander Hartung became a father twice during the construction of the apparatus. The device, which is three meters long and 2.5 meters high, contains approximately as many parts as an automobile. It sits in the experiment hall of the Physics building on Riedberg Campus, surrounded by an opaque, black tent inside which is an extremely high performing laser. Its photons collide with individual argon atoms in the apparatus, and thereby remove one electron from each of the atoms. The momentum of these electrons at the time of their appearance is measured with extreme precision in a long tube of the apparatus. 

The device is a further development of the COLTRIMS principle that was invented in Frankfurt and has meanwhile spread across the world: it consists of ionising individual atoms, or breaking up molecules, and then precisely determining the momentum of the particles. However, the transfer of the photon momentum to electrons predicted by theoretic calculations is so tiny that it was previously not possible to measure it. And this is why Hartung built the “super COLTRIMS". 

When numerous photons from a laser pulse bombard an argon atom, they ionise it. Breaking up the atom partially consumes the photon's energy. The remaining energy is transferred to the released electron. The question of which reaction partner (electron or atom nucleus) conserves the momentum of the photon has occupied physicists for over 30 years. “The simplest idea is this: as long as the electron is attached to the nucleus, the momentum is transferred to the heavier particle, i.e., the atom nucleus. As soon as it breaks free, the photon momentum is transferred to the electron," explains Hartung's supervisor, Professor Reinhard Dörner from the Institute for Nuclear Physics. This would be analogous to wind transferring its momentum to the sail of a boat. As long as the sail is firmly attached, the wind's momentum propels the boat forward. The instant the ropes tear, however, the wind's momentum is transferred to the sail alone. 

However, the answer that Alexander Hartung discovered through his experiment is – as is typical for quantum mechanics - more surprising. The electron not only receives the expected momentum, but additionally one third of the photon momentum that actually should have gone to the atom nucleus. The sail of the boat therefore “knows" of the impending accident before the cords tear and steals a bit of the boat's momentum. To explain the result more precisely, 

Hartung uses the concept of light as an electro-magnetic wave: “We know that the electrons tunnel through a small energy barrier. In doing so, they are pulled away from the nucleus by the strong electric field of the laser, while the magnetic field transfers this additional momentum to the electrons." Hartung used a clever measuring setup for the experiment. To ensure that the small additional momentum of the electron was not caused accidentally by an asymmetry in the apparatus, he had the laser pulse hit the gas from two sides: either from the right or the left, and then from both directions simultaneously, which was the biggest challenge for the measuring technique. This new method of precision measurement promises deeper understanding of the previously unexplored role of the magnetic components of laser light in atomic physics.

Images may be downloaded here:
Image 1: Photo of the COLTRIMS reaction microscope built by Alexander Hartung as part of his doctoral research in the experiment hall of the Faculty of Physics. Credit: Alexander Hartung
Image 2:Technical drawing of the newly constructed COLTRIMS reaction microscope. The drawing shows an intersection of the experimental construction. Individual gas atoms, which fly down through the vertical tube in the picture, are ionised by a highly intensive laser. The beam path of the laser is illustrated on the table in the back. The momenta of the electrons and ions that are produced in the reaction are measured with extreme precision by the horizontally depicted bronze-coloured spectrometer in the vacuum chamber. In this way, the effect of the miniscule momentum of the ionised laser light on the electrons can be studied precisely. Credit: Alexander Hartung 

Publication: A. Hartung, S. Eckart, S. Brennecke, J. Rist, D. Trabert, K. Fehre, M. Richter, H. Sann, S. Zeller, K. Henrichs, G. Kastirke, J. Hoehl, A. Kalinin, M. S. Schöffler, T. Jahnke, L. Ph. H. Schmidt, M. Lein, M. Kunitski, R. Dörner: Magnetic fields alter tunneling in strong-field ionization, in: Nature Physics, doi: 10.1038/s41567-019-0653-y. 

Further information: Professor Reinhard Dörner, Alexander Hartung, Institute for Nuclear Physics, Faculty of Physics, Riedberg Campus, Phone.: +49 69 798-47003 or -47019; Email: doerner[at] or hartung[at]