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Economist with a broad range of interests
FRANKFURT. Economist Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln, Professor of Macroeconomics and Development at Goethe University Frankfurt, has been awarded the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize 2018 worth € 2.5 million. This was announced by the Joint Committee of the German Research Foundation (DFG) on 14 December in Bonn. Expressing her congratulations, Professor Birgitta Wolff, President of Goethe University Frankfurt, said: “This is a tremendous and deserved recognition of Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln’s extraordinarily successful scientific work. She plays a prominent role in Germany’s economics landscape and can already look back on an impressive international career. Her innovative research approach unites microeconomics and macroeconomics and she tackles topics and research objects which are at times rather unexpected for economists. Professor Fuchs-Schündeln is a real inspiration for many.”
How do the values of people who were socialized in the GDR differ from those of their fellow countrymen in the west? For example, years after the end of socialism, former GDR citizens still believed that the state should look after families, the elderly and the sick. Peoples’ preferences in the east and west of Germany are only gradually becoming aligned. The “Endogeneity of Preferences” is one of the research priorities of Professor Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln, 45. Her paper on different values in east and west met with considerable international acclaim – especially because it has refuted the traditional assumption that economic preferences are innate and unchangeable, regardless of the economic system. Her work has triggered many other studies in this area and consolidated her reputation as a leading international expert. She is one of the most frequently cited researchers in this field.
Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln’s research style is broad and interdisciplinary in her other areas of specialization too. For example, she is also dealing in depth with the saving, consumption and labour market behaviour of private households, where she is conducting empirical work to put the assumptions and predictions of fundamental economic theories to the test. One of the topics she has investigated in this context is what compels people to save money. Here she was able to use the situation that evolved following German reunification as the basis for her research: The dramatic economic upheaval in the east of the country allowed her to make clear theoretical forecasts and test them with data. Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln succeeded in corroborating a mostly rational consumption and saving behaviour over the entire lifespan, even in the face of major economic upheaval. Her recent work explores the question of why Europeans work less hours per year than US Americans and points to the tax system, which in her view plays a key role. Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln has also made significant contributions to analysing inequality trends in Germany as well as to the study of inner-European and inner-German migration and the long-term effects of a socialist school education on the labour market.
Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln has been Professor of Macroeconomics and Development at Goethe University Frankfurt since 2009. She is engaged as Principal Investigator in the Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders” and as Programme Director at the LOEWE Centre “Sustainable Architecture for Finance in Europe”. In 2015/16 she spent a year at Stanford University, California, as visiting professor. Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln worked as an assistant professor at Harvard before joining Goethe University Frankfurt. She studied Latin American Studies and Economics in Cologne and earned her doctoral degree at Yale University.
The Leibniz Prize is not the first award for Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln: Last year she received the most important prize for German economists, the Gossen Award of the Verein für Socialpolitik, one of the largest professional economics associations in Europe. This award goes to German-speaking researchers whose work has earned an international reputation. The main benchmark here is publications in internationally recognized journals. She also received a Starting Grant from the European Research Council in 2010, one of the European Union’s most highly endowed research awards.
The financial support that the Leibniz Prize brings with it will allow Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln to further advance and expand her innovative research projects and bring more junior researchers to Goethe University Frankfurt.
Award winners can draw on the € 2.5 million in funding over a period of seven years and are flexible in how they use it. The objective of the Leibniz Programme, which was established in 1985, is to improve working conditions for outstanding researchers, enhance their research opportunities, relieve them of administrative tasks and help them employ particularly qualified junior researchers.
Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln is the 17th researcher from Goethe University Frankfurt to receive the Leibniz Prize: In 1986, both philosopher Jürgen Habermas as well as the later Nobel Prize laureate and biochemist Hartmut Michel received the coveted award. They were followed by historian Lothar Gall (1988), physicist Reinhard Stock (1989), legal historian Michael Stolleis (1991), mathematician Claus-Peter Schnorr (1993), physicist Theo Geisel (1994), chemist Christian Griesinger (1998), palaeontologist Volker Mosbrugger (1999), biologist Stefanie Dimmeler (2005), historian Bernhard Jussen (2007), economist Roman Inderst (2010), philosopher and political scientist Rainer Forst (2012), biochemist and physician Ivan Dikic (2013), jurist Armin von Bogdandy (2014) and ancient history scholar Hartmut Leppin (2015).
Further information: Professor Nicola Fuchs-Schündeln, Chair of Macroeconomics and Development, Faculty of Economics and Business Administration, Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 3, Westend Campus, Tel.: +49(0)69/798-33815, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt unveil the secret of the Blue Hole stalactite
FRANKFURT. In 1970, a team led by French ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau recovered an unusual stalactite from the depths of the famous Blue Hole in the Caribbean Sea. In the current issue of the “Journal of Sedimentary Research”, geoscientist Eberhard Gischler of Goethe University Frankfurt explains what it reveals about our climate since the last ice age.
At the time, Jacques Cousteau’s divers did not find any visible traces of living organisms in the mysterious Blue Hole. They did, however, find a large number of stalactites such as are known from karst caves. These are formed through the dissolution of limestone. Today the 125-metre-deep Blue Hole off the coast of Belize is flooded by the sea.
Frankfurt geoscientist Eberhard Gischler has been researching in Belize for over 25 years. He was given the unusual sample two years ago by Professor Robert Ginsburg at the University of Miami, with whom he worked in the 1990s as a postdoctoral researcher. Robert Ginsburg had in turn been given the stalactite by Jacques Cousteau immediately after it was found. Back then, he had the sample sawn into pieces and began to examine it together with marine geologist Bob Dill. Work did not, however, progress beyond a preliminary analysis. Added to this, the largest pieces of the stalactite went missing when the Ginsburg laboratory moved premises.
The cross section now being examined is the last specimen from Cousteau’s stalactite. After almost 50 years, when the Blue Hole stalactite was in danger of being forgotten, Gischler, together with physicists from Goethe University Frankfurt and colleagues from the universities of Mainz, Hamburg and El Paso (USA) as well as GEOMAR in Kiel, has unveiled its secret.
By contrast to most stalactites, the outer layers of the Blue Hole stalactite are composed of marine deposits. Its concentric layers allow a detailed reconstruction of the climate in the late Pleistocene and the Holocene (the period from about 20,000 years ago to the present day). For example, the core formed during freshwater influx indicates surprisingly dry conditions during the Last Glacial Maximum and the following period (approximately 20,000 to 12,000 years before our time). The marine layers formed when the karst cave and the stalactite were flooded after the ice age by rising sea levels, i.e. over the last 11,000 years.
“Detailed climate reconstruction is, however, rendered difficult by the fact that the stalactite layers formed both on land as well as in seawater developed under the influence of microbial activity,” explains Eberhard Gischler. The researchers are now decoding the types of microbial activity that influenced calcium precipitation during the stalactite’s formation. On the basis of this study, it will be possible in future to make better use of the potential that stalactites with a complex formation history offer for the reconstruction of paleo-environmental conditions.
Together with doctoral researcher Dominik Schmitt, Gischler is currently working on other deposits in the shape of sediment drill cores up to 9 metres long, which were extracted from the floor of the Blue Hole in August. The sludge-like bottom sediment from the Blue Hole shows fine annual layering and will be used as a high-resolution storm and climate archive.
Shown in the picture is a cross section of the remarkable “Cousteau Stalactite”, which was originally 2.84 metres long and weighed about a ton. It can meanwhile be found at the Department of Geosciences of Goethe University Frankfurt.
A picture as well as the cover of the “Journal of Sedimentary Research” with an aerial photograph of the Blue Hole can be downloaded from: www.uni-frankfurt.de/69629053
Caption: Professor Eberhard Gischler and his doctoral researcher Dominik Schmitt with the last piece of the stalactite recovered from the Blue Hole by Jacques Cousteau in 1970. Photo: Daniel Parwareschnia.
Film about Jacques Cousteau’s recovery of the stalactite from the Blue Hole: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hM9pa5JQmz0
Publication: E. Gischler et al.: A giant underwater, encrusted stalactite from the Blue Hole, Lighthouse Reef, Belize, revisited: A complex history of biologically induced carbonite accretion under changing meteoric and marine conditions, in Journal of Sedimentary Research, 2017, Vol. 87, 1260-1284.
Further information: Professor Dr. Eberhard Gischler, Department of Geosciences, Faculty of Geosciences and Geography, Riedberg Campus, Tel.: +49(0)69-798-40183, email@example.com.
Design and biotechnological production of new peptide-based active ingredients
FRANKFURT. Microorganisms often produce natural products in a step-by-step manner similar to an assembly line. Examples of such enzymes are non-ribosomal peptide synthetases (NRPS). Researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt have now succeeded in designing these enzymes in such a way that they can produce completely new natural products.
Many important therapeutics, such as antibiotics or immunosuppressant and anti-cancer drugs, are derived from microorganisms. This is also the case for several different peptides which are produced in the microbial cell with the help of the NRPS enzymes. An NRPS functions like an assembly line in a modern car factory: new parts are added to the basic chassis at each workstation until a finished car rolls out of the plant at the end. In the case of the NRPS, a certain amino acid is selected, activated and processed at each station (known as modules) so that linear, cyclic or further modified peptides emerge at the end that can also carry unusual amino acids.
Although the fundamental principles of NRPS are long known, to date it was hardly possible to modify these enzymes. In the few cases where single modules were successfully exchanged, production of the modified natural products noticeably decreased. Assembling completely new enzymes, which in turn would produce completely new natural products, seemed totally impossible. The research group led by Professor Helge Bode, Merck Endowment Professor for Molecular Biotechnology at Goethe University Frankfurt, has now achieved this.
“In principle, we use natural NRPS systems from bacteria only as building blocks which we reassemble in a new way using new interfaces we’ve identified,” says Bode, explaining the research approach. Yields are comparable with the natural production of these natural substances.
The method is meanwhile so sophisticated that even beginners can use it to produce new peptides and thus potential drugs shortly after a basic introduction. However, it has been a long road. “I was lucky that I had a team working with me on this project that did not allow itself to become discouraged, was very diligent and able to think outside the box,” says Bode. “The interface we finally selected to assemble the individual building blocks is such that the classical modular order of the biosynthesis is no longer respected.”
The next step is to modify first clinical drugs with this method and use biotechnology to produce them. Moreover, new information regarding the structure of these NRPS will be gathered as part of the LOEWE research focus MegaSyn led by Bode and Professor Martin Grininger, also from Goethe University Frankfurt. This will make it possible to further improve the method in order to allow the modification of related classes of natural products or even to produce whole libraries of natural products. First results are very promising.
Kenan A. J. Bozhüyük, Florian Fleischhacker, Annabell Linck, Frank Wesche, Andreas Tietze, Claus-Peter Niesert, Helge B. Bode: De novo design and engineering of non-ribosomal peptide synthetases, Nature Chemistry, https://www.nature.com/nchem/, DOI: 10.1038/nchem.2890
A picture can be downloaded from: http://www.muk.uni-frankfurt.de/69511536
Caption: Schematic diagram of the “toolbox system” of the NRPS enzymes for the production of new active ingredients. Fragments from natural systems (green, magenta, blue) are reassembled in a new order (centre) and then produce a natural product which has not formed like this in nature before (right).
Further information: Professor Helge B. Bode, Merck Endowment Professor for Molecular Biotechnology, Faculty of Biological Sciences, Riedberg Campus, Tel.: +49(0)69-798- 29557, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Scene knowledge makes the processing of visual impressions more efficient
FRANKFURT. Our environment is composed according to certain rules and characteristics which are so obvious to us that we are scarcely aware of them. Professor Melissa Lê-Hoa Võ, psychologist at Goethe University Frankfurt, is studying this “scene knowledge”, amongst other topics of visual cognition in a virtual reality laboratory. In the current issue of the “Forschung Frankfurt” research journal, journalist Jessica Klapp tells readers about her virtual trip to Italy and explains why we don´t look for the milk under the bed or for our pillow in the bathtub.
“When we search for a specific object in a scene, we seem to have developed a precise idea of where to look for and find certain things,” explains Melissa Võ. What she finds particularly interesting in her investigation of these naturalistic scenes is how we perceive our environment. In which circumstances are we especially attentive? And what will we remember later? To find this out, Professor Võ uses eye tracking and virtual reality scenarios in her laboratory, alongside measurement of brain potentials.
“We use eye tracking to measure which parts of a picture the observer finds interesting or important, how fast his gaze settles on specific objects in a scene and how long it dwells there,” explains Dr. Dejan Draschkow, a member of Professor Võ’s research group. Eye tracking is very important due to the close relationship between eye movement and cognitive processes. The video-based systems used by the researchers register eye movements with the help of a camera. Both head-mounted systems that resemble a pair of spectacles as well as remote eye trackers installed in a computer monitor together with a camera and infrared LEDs are used. With the mobile system, the test participants can move around in the room, search for objects and interact with them.
With the virtual reality headset, the computer simulates a virtual 3D world in which the test person moves about. With simulated settings, such as an Italian piazza in the centre of which brown boxes are unexpectedly floating around, the researchers check whether the results identified on two-dimensional monitors are also valid in a realistic, three-dimensional environment. They want to understand which rules people use to compose their environment and interact with the objects in it.
Investigating scene knowledge in children is one of the topics that the research group is tackling in particular depth. The aim of the “SCESAM” project, which was launched with the support of IDeA, an interdisciplinary research centre, is the early detection and treatment of possible cognitive disorders such as dyslexia. Tests are conducted in a mobile laboratory right outside the nursery school: The researchers show children “ungrammatical” pictures, for example a shoe on the cooker instead of a saucepan, and watch their reactions with the help of an eye-tracking camera. If one of the children in a large group behaves differently, they are interested to see whether there is a correlation between language development and attention behaviour.
Other fields, such as medicine, also benefit from the results. For example, the researchers measured the eye movements of radiologists when studying x-rays and analysed which strategies they use to recognize tumours and how successful these strategies are. The research results are also important for the security control of hand baggage at airports. How do staff decide which baggage needs a more thorough check? Why wasn’t a dangerous object found? Didn’t the baggage inspector look at this area? Or did he look but didn’t consider the object important?
And finally, people with dementia could also profit from scene knowledge research, since Võ and her team have discovered that the ability to recall pictures in a scene increases if the test persons have previously looked for and found individual objects. In a surprising memory test, they performed far better than participants who were supposed to memorize objects explicitly. “What this means for us is that in the case of a visual search there is more interaction with the scene and the participants commit objects better to memory,” explains Professor Võ.
A picture can be downloaded from: www.uni-frankfurt.de/69396691
Caption: A picture from the SCEGRAM database which shows objects in unusual places. Melissa Võ’s research group is investigating how the brain reacts.
Further information: Professor Melissa Le-Hoa Võ, Dr. Dejan Draschkow, Scene Grammar Lab, Institute of Psychology, Faculty of Psychology and Sports Sciences, Westend Campus, Tel.: +49(0)69-798-35342, email@example.com, Tel.: +49(0)69-798-35310, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Current news about science, teaching, and society in GOETHE-UNI online (www.aktuelles.uni-frankfurt.de)
Goethe University is a research-oriented university in the European financial centre Frankfurt The university was founded in 1914 through private funding, primarily from Jewish sponsors, and has since produced pioneering achievements in the areas of social sciences, sociology and economics, medicine, quantum physics, brain research, and labour law. It gained a unique level of autonomy on 1 January 2008 by returning to its historic roots as a "foundation university". Today, it is among the top ten in external funding and among the top three largest universities in Germany, with three clusters of excellence in medicine, life sciences and the humanities. Together with the Technical University of Darmstadt and the University of Mainz, it acts as a partner of the inter-state strategic Rhine-Main University Alliance. Internet: www.uni-frankfurt.de
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For a clear picture please hold your breath – Gentle diagnostics make early-stage heart disease visible
FRANKFURT. By no means are only elderly people at risk from heart diseases. Physically active individuals can also be affected, for example if a seemingly harmless flu bug spreads to the heart muscle. Should this remain undetected and if, for example, a builder continues with his strenuous job or an athlete carries on training, this can lead to chronic inflammation and in the worst case even to sudden death. The latest issue of the “Forschung Frankfurt” journal describes how modern non-invasive examinations using state-of-the-art imaging technology can reduce such risks.
Professor Eike Nagel and his 12 coworkers at the Institute for Experimental and Translational Cardio Vascular Imaging of Goethe University Frankfurt are developing better ways to predict and diagnose heart diseases. In recent years, the researchers have taken the lead in the development of a procedure that is still very new in heart scans. Nagel explains the advantages: “With the help of magnetic resonance imaging, we can look right inside the heart muscle.” Blood flow to the heart muscle is visualized and shows whether there are any constrictions of the arteries supplying the heart. Experts can also spot whether the heart muscle is scarred, inflamed or displays any other anomalies.
The comparatively fast method makes it possible to examine patients at an early stage and may prevent cardiac insufficiency or even a heart attack. “Diseases such as HIV, kidney damage, rheumatic diseases or tumours often affect the heart either directly or as a side effect of therapy,” says Nagel, describing groups potentially at risk. The cardiologist is convinced: “Nowadays we can treat or even cure so many diseases, but the heart suffers too and this should be carefully monitored as it mostly remains undetected.”
MRI is a non-invasive and gentle examination technique, which is less risky but just as efficient as an examination using a conventional heart catheter, where a thin tube is pushed in the direction of the heart through an artery. Nagel’s research group was recently able to demonstrate this in a large international multi-centre study that was met with international acclaim.
The Institute for Experimental and Translational Cardio Vascular Imaging also has state-of-the-art computer tomography equipment at its disposal that can produce three-dimensional images of the heart. These especially reveal calcium deposits and plaques in the artery walls which could rupture and trigger a sudden heart attack. “This allows us to determine the risk of a heart attack and the need for therapy fast and at an early stage, which can then be non-invasive,” says Nagel. Which technique is best for which patient is one of the research topics Nagel’s group is evaluating. In some patients, both may be needed and the Institute is optimally equipped to answer most aspects of heart disease thanks to its deep insight into the heart.
Nagel finds these rapid advances in imaging over the last decades fascinating: “Nowadays we can spot the slightest changes and literally get a clear picture of the heart’s condition.”
Many further articles on “Image and Imagery” can be found in the current issue of “Forschung Frankfurt” and show the fascinating use of image material in scientific applications.
Images and captions can be downloaded from: www.uni-frankfurt.de/69481709
Further information: Professor Eike Nagel, Institute for Experimental and Translational Cardio Vascular Imaging, University Hospital Frankfurt, Department of Medicine III / Cardiology (House 23 A), Theodor-Stern-Kai 7, D-60590 Frankfurt am Main, Tel.: +49-(0)69-6301-87200, Eike.Nagel@kgu.de
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