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Freie Universität Berlin Maintains Excellent Status

Success in All Three Funding Lines of the German Excellence Initiative

№ 136/2012 from Jun 14, 2012

In the latest phase of the German national Excellence Initiative, Freie Universität Berlin has again achieved excellence status. As the joint committee consisting of members of the German Research Foundation, the German Council of Science and Humanities, and ministers of the German federal and state governments announced on Friday in Bonn, the university has had projects approved in all three funding lines. Funds have been committed through 2017 for the university’s future development concept “Veritas – Justitia – Libertas. International Network University” along with three clusters of excellence and seven graduate schools based at Freie Universität Berlin or with participation by Freie Universität. The following excellence clusters were approved for renewed funding: NeuroCure, Topoi, and Unifying Concepts in Catalysis. The following graduate schools were approved for new or renewed funding: Berlin-Brandenburg School for Regenerative Therapies, the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, the Berlin Mathematical School, the Berlin School of Integrative Oncology (new), the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies, the Graduate School of North American Studies, and the Graduate School of East Asian Studies (new).

The president of Freie Universität Berlin, Prof. Dr. Peter-André Alt, spoke of a “happy day for Freie Universität and its partners.” He thanked all the employees of Freie Universität, “who have been working with great commitment and dedication for many years.” The university’s success in the Excellence Initiative confirms that its reputation and appeal are greater than ever. Alt congratulated Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and Technische Universität Berlin on their success in the Excellence Initiative. The funding commitment for the future development strategies of both Freie Universität and Humboldt-Universität as well as numerous excellence clusters and graduate schools based at all the large universities in Berlin are an important asset for the Berlin-Brandenburg region.

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Approved Projects: Third Funding Line – Future Development Concept

Veritas – Justitia – Libertas. The International Network University – Freie Universität Berlin (follow-up proposal)

With its future development concept Veritas – Justitia – Libertas. International Network University, Freie Universität Berlin plans to continue developing the tradition of networking firmly established in the university’s founding history. Building on the university’s successfully implemented future development concept “International Network Universität” that in 2007 won funding in an earlier phase of the German government’s Excellence Initiative, Freie Universität intends to follow its core values – Veritas (truth), Justitia (justice), Libertas (freedom) – in expanding its academic networks in the areas of research, internationalization, and support for young scholars. Freie Universität aims to create a foundation for supporting early-career researchers during critical stages of their academic careers. The Career Path Model provides the framework for supporting the development of academic careers from the doctorate to an appointment as professor. A closely linked component is the internationalization strategy, with Freie Universität maintaining worldwide academic networks and seven liaison offices – in New York, São Paulo, Brussels, Cairo, Moscow, New Delhi, and Beijing – and thus facilitating and advancing exceptional cutting-edge research. Through the instrument of primary partnerships Freie Universität aims to enhance the quality of its international cooperation and exchanges at all levels. One example of such a partnership is with Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In addition to the emphasis placed on international networks, the university is also focusing more attention on regional networks to be built up on the Berlin-Dahlem Research Campus with selected non-university institutions of advanced research. The strategic centers that were established during the first funding phase of the Excellence Initiative will continue to be the main actors of the future concept, which enables Freie Universität Berlin to meet the challenges of the globalized world and guarantee the high quality of its research activities over the long term. The university’s improved performance, increased international visibility, and above-average proportion of students and researchers from abroad are all evidence of the success of the future development concept selected for Excellence funding in 2007.

Further information and interview requests

Goran Krstin, Press Spokesman for the President: Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 83873106, Email: goran.krstin@fu-berlin.de

Approved Projects: Second Funding Line – Excellence Clusters

NeuroCure Cluster of Excellence (follow-up proposal)

The objective of the NeuroCure Cluster of Excellence is to better understand disease mechanisms and thereby develop effective treatments for neurological diseases such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, and epilepsy, but also psychiatric disorders such as Alzheimer's, autism, depression, or schizophrenia. To achieve this goal, basic scientists and clinicians work closely together in NeuroCure to promote the transfer of research results from the laboratory into new treatments while also transferring insights from the clinic back to the basic research.

The renewed funding commitment for NeuroCure, a joint project of Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin and the biological/biochemical sciences departments of the two supporting universities, Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, as well as three non-university research institutes, will contribute to developing and strengthening Berlin as a neuroscientific site. Since 2007 researchers from the universities have been working with researchers from the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MDC), the Deutsche Rheuma-Forschungszentrum (DRFZ), and the Leibniz-Institut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP) from an interdisciplinary perspective, to investigate the functions of the nervous system. “During the first funding period we were successful in attracting many outstanding international researchers to Berlin, and we aim to continue this policy with the new funding,” said Prof. Dr. Dietmar Schmitz, spokesperson for and scientific coordinator of the excellence cluster.

Further information

Prof. Dr. Dietmar Schmitz (Spokesperson), Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Tel.: +030 / 450-539054, Email:: dietmar.schmitz@charite.de



Excellence Cluster Topoi. The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations (follow-up proposal)

The Excellence Cluster Topoi. The Formation and Transformation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations – a joint application by Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – took up its work in November 2007 with the aim of investigating the systematic connection between space and knowledge structures in ancient cultures. The close cooperation with four partner institutions – the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, the Deutsches Archäologisches Institut, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation – during the first funding period made it possible for scholars from more than 30 disciplines ranging from archaeology and the Earth sciences to philosophy and philology, to collaborate. Researchers from Technische Universität Berlin and the Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Berlin are also involved in Topoi. The interdisciplinary research was enriched by 140 national and international fellows and 200 workshops. The joint approach to research at the cluster, which investigates spatial systems and different types of knowledge as interdependent factors in the development of cultural systems, led to the abolition of traditional disciplinary boundaries in favor of interdisciplinary approaches.

In order to create structures for maintaining the research competence pooled in the Topoi cluster and to enrich the research infrastructure in Berlin over the longer term, the Berliner Antike-Kolleg was founded in May 2011. As of June 21, the exhibition Jenseits des Horizonts in the Pergamon Museum will give an impression of concepts developed by Topoi researchers for presenting their research findings to a broader audience.

With funding now approved for the second phase of the Excellence Initiative, the cluster will focus more on the role of knowledge for spatial understanding in the ancient world. The Topoi researchers will turn to the mutual relationship of space and knowledge in paradigmatic model studies of the Neolithic – when humans became sedentary – to the post-classical period.

Further information

Dr. Hauke Ziemssen, Excellence Cluster 264 – TOPOI, Tel.: + 49 (0)30 / 838-52249, Email: hauke.ziemssen@topoi.org



Cluster of Excellence Unifying Concepts in Catalysis" (UniCat, follow-up proposal)

The Cluster of Excellence Unifying Concepts in Catalysis" (UniCat) is the only Cluster of Excellence researching catalysis, an area that is of significant economic importance. This interdisciplinary research network brings together more than 250 scientists working in the fields of chemistry, physics, biology, and process engineering from four different universities (Technische Universität Berlin as the host university, Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Universität Potsdam), as well as two Max Planck Institutes.

The Cluster has a unique selling point in international research: through its focused research program, the UniCat scientists are paving the way to forging stronger links between chemical and biological catalysis. The group is researching new possibilities for the catalytic activation and subsequent transformation of small molecules that are extremely important for the processes involved in raw material change. The molecules in question are methane, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen. Clever catalytic processes are used to turn these into useful materials for the production of polymers, medicines, and chemical energy sources that do not require the use of oil. Furthermore, the scientists in the Cluster are also researching the production of new antibiotics and diagnostic agents for use in medicine by the coupling of biocatalytic processes.

In addition, working toward the more efficient use of raw materials, UniCat is, for example, also researching the better use of the methane that is present in natural gas and biogas. One priority area of research on which an even stronger emphasis will be placed in the future is putting the harmful greenhouse gas carbon dioxide to productive use in the manufacture of important chemical raw materials such as carbon monoxide and formic acid. On top of that, a new joint laboratory is under construction on the TU campus in partnership with private industry. This is the UniCat-BASF Joint Lab, which is intended to speed up the implementation of scientific results in industry.

Further information

  • Prof. Dr. Matthias Drieß, Technische Universität Berlin, Spokesperson for the UniCat Cluster of Excellence, Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 314-22265, Email: matthias.driess@tu-berlin.de
  • Dr. Martin Penno, UniCat Cluster of Excellence, Public Relations, Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 314-28592, Email: martin.penno@tu-berlin.de



Approved Projects: First Funding Line – Graduate Schools

Berlin-Brandenburg School for Regenerative Therapies (BSRT) (follow-up proposal)

The Berlin-Brandenburg School for Regenerative Therapies (BSRT), a joint initiative by clinicians, natural scientists, materials scientists, and engineers, aims to develop new therapies in regenerative medicine. BSRT combines pure science, materials science, clinical disciplines, and biotechnology with the goal of repairing or replacing tissues and organs impaired by aging, diseases, trauma, or congenital abnormalities. Since 2007 the international graduate school has been providing opportunities for innovative doctoral research in the field of regenerative medicine for outstanding graduate students in the fields of medicine, biology, and engineering disciplines. Through a close integration of basic science and clinical application, the obtained research findings are rapidly translated into new therapies. With the additional funding during the second phase of the Excellence Initiative, BSRT will expand its doctoral program. With the support of the BSRT network, postdocs will be able to pursue their own innovative research ideas in regenerative medicine. Students enrolled in master’s programs in the life sciences at the various universities in Berlin, will be given first insights into the research going on at BSRT. A program for training clinicians to become clinical scientists will be developed into a model for other departments at Charité. The main objective is interdisciplinary cooperation between early-career scientists in various branches of regenerative medicine – from basic research to applications. Innovative training concepts are employed that were developed in BRST’s BioThinking program. The main partners are Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, several Max Planck Institutes, Helmholtz Institutes, Fraunhofer Institutes, and Leibnitz Institutes as well as the Hasso-Plattner Institute.

Further information

Prof. Dr. Georg N. Duda (Spokesperson/Coordinator), Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, Julius Wolff Institute, Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 450-559079 Email: georg.duda@charite.de



Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies (follow-up proposal)

The Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies, approved for Excellence funding in 2007 and based at Freie Universität, trains young scholars who conduct research dealing with the variety, historical variability, and global interrelations of Muslim cultures and societies. The graduate students in the program have backgrounds not only in the fields of Islamic studies or Arabic studies, but also political science, history, anthropology, Asian studies, or African studies. The dissertation projects cover a spectrum reaching from text-critical analysis of the Koran in the context of its genesis to the study of converts to Islam in Germany and their self-image as German Muslim citizens. The common factor uniting the diverse research projects is Islam as the framework for religious, cultural, and social phenomena. In cooperation with Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Zentrum Moderner Orient, the Berlin Graduate School Muslim Cultures and Societies has so far accepted 50 doctoral students from around the world. More than 20 scholars from different research institutions in Berlin and visiting scholars from home and abroad participate in the training of the young generation of academics. With this pooling of expertise, Berlin is developing into a center of historical and contemporary research related to Islam. “The renewed funding commitment underscores the importance of dealing academically with these types of politically and socially relevant topics,” said the spokesperson for the Graduate School, Prof. Dr. Gudrun Krämer. “We will now be able to further develop the areas of education, the media, and Islam in Western cultures.”

Further information



Berlin Mathematical School (follow-up proposal)

The second funding period of The Berlin Mathematical School (BMS), a joint graduate school run by the mathematics institutes of Technische Universität Berlin, Freie Universität Berlin, and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, will run until October 2017. After that the BMS will be funded as a permanent institution by the three host universities.

Founded in 2006, the BMS reached its full size of over 170 students by 2011 and has produced more than 50 graduates. BMS Alumni work as postdocs all over the world: in Berkeley, Paris, Boston, Stockholm, Princeton, and Zurich, among other places. From 2006 to 2012 the Excellence Initiative provided the BMS with roughly 5.8 million euros.

The BMS offers a structured program taught in English that leads students with a bachelor’s degree to the dissertation within four to five years. It is designed for outstanding candidates from around the globe. Its goal to recruit 50 percent of its students from abroad has already been achieved. Currently, 30 percent of the students are women; in the long run, the BMS aims to reach equal representation of men and women.

Plans for the second funding period include coordinated research stays abroad, especially for German students. To that end, strategic co-operation agreements have been signed with selected universities (Warwick, Zurich); further are to follow. In addition, the postdoctoral program will be extended so that BMS students can profit from an even greater variety of specialized courses.

For further information please contact:

  • Prof. Dr. Jürgen Kramer, HU Berlin, Deputy Chair of BMS, Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 2093-5842, Email: kramer@mathematik.hu-berlin.de
  • Prof. Dr. Konrad Polthier, Freie Universität Berlin, Chair of BMS, Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 838-75871, Email: Konrad.Polthier@fu-berlin.de
  • Prof. John M. Sullivan, Technische Universität Berlin, designated spokesperson for the Berlin Mathematical School, Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 314-29279, Email: john.m.sullivan@tu-berlin.de



Berlin School of Integrative Oncology (BSIO) (new proposal)

The Berlin School of Integrative Oncology (BSIO) aims to develop new strategies in the fight against cancer. With around 1.45 million people in Germany already afflicted and 450,000 new diagnoses per year, cancer represents a major medical and social challenge. The funding within the German Excellence Initiative will make it possible for researchers at Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, the medical school operated jointly by Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, working in close cooperation with five non-university partner institutions, to train molecular oncologists and physician-scientists interested in cancer research.

With the interdisciplinary approach, doctoral students in the graduate school will acquire the necessary knowledge and practical experiences to put them in a position to develop novel methods for the detection of cancer and new therapeutic strategies. “We are trying to understand the individual molecular blueprint of a tumor and to develop a customized treatment plan for patients,” said Prof. Dr. Clemens Schmitt, director of the Molecular Cancer Research Center at Charité and spokesperson for BSIO. “We are very pleased about the funding commitment. It will make it possible for us to provide interdisciplinary training for molecular oncologists and physician-scientists, so the translation of research findings from the evaluation to the bedside and vice versa can be accelerated even faster than before.” The emphasis is on an interdisciplinary approach and translational approach – that is, the use of findings from the laboratory for the development of new therapies as well as the transfer of experience from clinical practice to the laboratory.

Further information

Prof. Dr. Clemens Schmitt (Spokesperson), Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, MKFZ – Molecular Cancer Research Center, Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 450553896, Email: clemens.schmitt@charite.de

Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies (follow-up proposal)

During the first funding period, the Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School of Literary Studies succeeded in establishing an internationally visible, comparative-oriented graduate school in literary studies. It is currently the only graduate school for literary studies in Germany. With its many associated projects regionally and internationally, it has become is a household name as a hub for innovative interpretive and historical as well as culturally based studies. A unique feature of the school is historical depth of its programs: they cover all of the historical epochs from antiquity to the present.

A key improvement of this system in comparison with the former doctoral education is the emphasis on an interdisciplinary approach along with systematic supervision by several professors and international guest lecturers. In addition, the graduate students start attending and organizing conferences in a very early stage of their education. There is an emphasis on comparative methods in studying world literature. The curriculum includes many European literatures, but especially literature in non-European languages.

During the new funding period more emphasis will be placed on world literature, in particular on the cultures and literatures of the Middle East and Asia. The Friedrich Schlegel Graduate School plans to set up a new pre-doctoral program, to interest international applicants to apply for scholarships at the Graduate School. The pre-doctoral program is an important component of the career path model planned by Freie Universität. With the inclusion of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin as the second main partner university as well as two Max Planck Institutes in Berlin, a major step is being taken by Freie Universität Berlin to build up a regional network in Berlin-Brandenburg. A more flexible training program and the systematic attempt to give young scholars independent teaching responsibilities, will improve their career options.

Close cooperation with similar doctoral programs at Freie Universität and Humboldt-Universität would result in optimal structures and models for the development of a Berlin Graduate School of Literary Studies and Humanities by the end of the second funding phase.

Further information

Prof. Dr. Hijiya-Kirschnereit (Spokesperson), Professor of Japanese Studies, Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 838-53857, Email: i.hijiya@fu-berlin.de



Graduate School of North American Studies (follow-up proposal)

Set up in 2006, the Graduate School of North American Studies is dedicated to interdisciplinary analyses of the social, economic, and cultural changes facing North America at the beginning of the 21st century. In the first funding period 25 doctoral dissertations were completed in the fields of history, literature, cultural studies, political science, economics, and sociology. The authors investigated the American ideal of freedom, the meaning of democratic values, and the challenges such values must meet in a globalized world. With its ambitious research-based curriculum, its visiting scholars’ program, and its international graduate students’ conferences, the Graduate School attained high visibility in the international academic community.

During the second funding period, the Graduate School will continue to develop the doctoral program and its research agenda. In the context of increasing globalization, the democratic governability of modern societies is becoming an issue of controversy. The financial crisis and its consequences have created a new public awareness of the unequal distribution of social opportunities and economic hardships. The economic rise of China, India, and Brazil is bound up with the emergence of a multi-polar world which limits the influence and power of the United States. In the domestic realm, radical movements such as the Tea Party contribute to political polarization. The Graduate School’s new research program aims to provide an interdisciplinary understanding of the phenomena and the rhetoric of crisis, which are apparent in both domestic and foreign policy and in economic development as well as in the media, the arts, culture, and religion.

The director of the Graduate School is Prof. Dr. Ulla Haselstein.

Further information

  • • Prof. Dr. Ulla Haselstein (Spokesperson), Director of the Graduate School of North American Studies, Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 838-54015, Email: ulla.haselstein@jfki.fu-berlin.de
  • • Dr. Katja Mertin, Managing Director of the Graduate School of North American Studies, Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 838-52868, Email: mertin@gsnas.fu-berlin.de



Graduate School of East Asian Studies (new proposal)

East Asia is currently undergoing far-reaching political, social, economic, and cultural change, without precedent in the history of the region. Freie Universität Berlin aims to contribute to investigating these changes by setting up a Graduate School of East Asian Studies. The graduate school, by integrating regional studies with the relevant disciplines, especially social sciences, aims to advance the development of East Asian Studies in Germany and Europe and expand knowledge of this important region of the world. The graduate school aims to provide an outstanding education in the East Asia-related subjects (Japanese Studies, Korean Studies, Sinology) associated with the mediation of broad regional expertise as well as a solid foundation in methodologies in relevant disciplines such as history and political sciences, law, economics, social anthropology, and cultural studies. An intensive training period in East Asia will be an important part of the graduate program.

The Graduate School of East Asian Studies aims to draw on existing networks between Freie Universität Berlin and the most important universities and research institutions in East Asia, Europe, and the United States that deal with East Asian studies. Through close cooperation with local, regional, and international partners in research, economics, politics, and culture, the graduate school's doctoral students will benefit from intensive supervision of their dissertation projects and international, diverse, and methodologically sophisticated training. In addition the graduate school will contribute to the academic dialogue between German, European, American, and Asian doctoral students and scholars, while at the same time facilitating networking between the individual fields of East Asian studies and the specialized disciplines.

The spokesperson for the Graduate School of East Asian Studies is the Japanese studies professor, Verena Blechinger-Talcott. The co-spokespersons are the professor of Korea studies, Eun-Jeung Lee, and the Sinology professor, Klaus Mühlhahn.

Further information

Prof. Dr. Verena Blechinger-Talcott, Professor of Japanese Studies, Freie Universität Berlin, Tel.: +49 (0)30 / 838-57104, Email: verena.blechinger-talcott@fu-berlin.de