Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prizes 2020
Germany’s Most Important research funding prize awarded to ten researchers / Awards ceremony on 16 March in Berlin
The latest recipients of Germany’s most prestigious research funding prize have been announced. In Bonn today, the Joint Committee of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) decided to award the 2020 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize to ten researchers. The recipients of the prize were chosen by the selection committee from 114 nominees. Four of the ten prizewinners are from the humanities and social sciences, three from the life sciences, one from the natural sciences, and two from the engineering sciences. Each will receive prize money of €2.5 million. They are entitled to use these funds for their research work in any way they wish, without bureaucratic obstacles, for up to seven years. The awards ceremony for the 2020 Leibniz Prizes will be held on 16 March in Berlin.
The following researchers will receive the 2020 “Funding Prize in the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme” awarded by the DFG:
- Prof. Dr. Thorsten Bach, Organic Chemistry, Technical University of Munich (TUM)
- Dr. Baptiste Jean Germain Gault, Materials Science, Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung, Düsseldorf
- Prof. Dr. Johannes Grave, History of Art, Friedrich Schiller University Jena
- Prof. Dr. Thomas Kaufmann, Protestant Theology, University of Göttingen
- Prof. Dr. Andrea Musacchio, Cell Biology, Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology, Dortmund
- Prof. Dr. Thomas Neumann, Computer Science, Technical University of Munich (TUM)
- Prof. Dr. Marco Prinz, Neuropathology, University of Freiburg
- Prof. Dr. Markus Reichstein, Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena
- Prof. Dr. Dagmar Schäfer, History of Science, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin
- Prof. Dr. Juliane Vogel, Literature, University of Konstanz
The Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize has been awarded by the DFG on an annual basis since 1986. Each year, a maximum of ten prizes can be awarded, each with prize money of €2.5 million. With the ten prizes for 2020, a total of 378 Leibniz Prizes have been awarded to date. Of these, 121 were bestowed on researchers in the natural sciences, 109 in the life sciences, 89 in the humanities and social sciences, and 59 in the engineering sciences. The number of award recipients is higher than the number of awarded prizes because, in exceptional cases, the prizes and money can be shared. Accordingly, a total of 405 nominees have received the prize, including 347 men and 58 women.
The Leibniz Prize is the most significant research prize in Germany. Seven past prizewinners have subsequently received the Nobel Prize: 1988 Prof. Dr. Hartmut Michel (Chemistry), 1991 Prof. Dr. Erwin Neher and Prof. Dr. Bert Sakmann (Medicine), 1995 Prof. Dr. Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard (Medicine), 2005 Prof. Dr. Theodor W. Hänsch (Physics), 2007 Prof. Dr. Gerhard Ertl (Chemistry) and in 2014 Prof. Dr. Stefan W. Hell (Chemistry).
Profiles of the 2020 Leibniz Prize winners:
Prof. Dr. Thorsten Bach (54), Organic Chemistry, Technical University of Munich (TUM)
The Leibniz Prize for Thorsten Bach recognises his seminal work in the field of organic photochemistry and particularly light-induced enantioselective catalysis. Organic photochemistry is concerned with chemical reactions and molecular transformations which are controlled by light. However, for a long time photochemistry was considered essentially unsuitable for the targeted production of chiral molecules – compounds that behave structurally like left and right hands. Through his research, Bach has shown that this is possible, and in so doing he has opened up a new field of research now known internationally as photoredox catalysis. Bach also developed a special catalyst that can distinguish between two enantiomers, allowing a racemic mixture to be selectively converted into a particular enantiomer. Deracemisation reactions like this cannot be achieved with other methods. They open up new fields of applications in many areas of chemical synthesis, including pharmaceutics.
Thorsten Bach studied chemistry in Heidelberg and Los Angeles and earned his doctorate in Marburg in 1991. After a stint as a postdoctoral researcher at Harvard University, he completed his habilitation in Münster in 1996. Soon after this, he accepted a professorship in Marburg and since 2000 he has held a chair at TUM. In recognition of his work, Bach has received awards from the German Chemical Society and in 2015 he received an ERC Advanced Grant. He is a member of the Leopoldina and the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities and serves as a member of the DFG’s Molecular Chemistry review board.
Dr. Baptiste Jean Germain Gault (40), Materials Science, Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung, Düsseldorf
Baptiste Gault is being awarded the Leibniz Prize for the development of new techniques in atom probe tomography. These techniques enable both spatial resolution at the atomic scale and the quantification of elements, thus allowing the atomically resolved 3D representation of materials with a complex microstructure. During his doctorate, Gault successfully incorporated ultra-fast laser sources in an atom probe. As a result, instead of only conductive metals, researchers could now also characterise insulating materials including semiconductors, ceramics and biological material at the atomic level. Through further work on the use of pulsed lasers, Gault developed atom probe tomography into a technique applicable to all materials that can create 3D images of materials with atomic resolution. Gault’s internationally recognised contributions to atom probe tomography are important to a wide range of material sciences applications.
Baptiste Gault studied physics in Le Havre, Paris and Rouen. In Rouen, he wrote his dissertation as part of the Groupe de Physique des Mate?riaux (GPM-CNRS). Following that, he made research visits to Sydney, Oxford and Hamilton, Canada between 2007 and 2015. Since 2016, he has led the Atom Probe Tomography group at Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung in Düsseldorf and in 2018 he was awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant.
Prof. Dr. Johannes Grave (43), History of Art, Friedrich Schiller University Jena
Johannes Grave is to receive the Leibniz Prize for his standard-setting work in the history of art, focusing on the period of Goethe, the Romantic period and the Early Modern period. He is also being recognised for his interdisciplinary perspective, which links art history with other disciplines, particularly philosophy, literature and the history of ideas, in a new way. Grave’s work exhibits an exceptional diversity of themes. As well as avoiding specialisation in one particular period or genre, he also achieves cohesion in his work through a consistent orientation towards basic theoretical and historical questions. He is especially interested in points of view, as shown by the titles of his publications, for example ‘Architekturen des Sehens’ (Architectures of Seeing) and ‘Kunst des Betrachtens’ (The Art of Looking) and, more recently, aspects of temporality in images. His work has set the standard of research in many areas, for instance for the Renaissance and Classicism. By combining fineness in the analysis of works of art with conceptual penetration of research questions in art theory, he has opened up new perspectives in the history of art.
Johannes Grave completed his broad studies in art history, medieval Latin, medieval history and philosophy at the University of Freiburg. In 2005, he earned his doctorate in history of art in Jena and in 2012 he completed his habilitation at the University of Basel. Between 2009 and 2012, he was also deputy director of the German Center for Art History in Paris. In 2012, he was appointed professor at Bielefeld University and since 2019 he has been Professor of Modern Art History at the University of Jena.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Kaufmann (57), Protestant Theology, University of Göttingen
In Thomas Kaufmann, the Leibniz Prize is being awarded to one of the most internationally significant Reformation researchers. His extensive and varied work on the ecclesiastical history of the Reformation and the confessional era has changed our understanding of Martin Luther, the complex movement of the Reformation in world history and the formation of denominational churches. For instance, he has highlighted the genuinely religious motives in the process of confessionalisation in a new way without neglecting the interwoven political, social and economic factors. Kaufmann has also brought the Reformation era to a wider audience without anachronistically abbreviating it. This is especially true of the historical figure of Martin Luther and his relationship with the Jewish community. Kaufmann’s book ‘Luther and the Jews’ (2014), which describes Luther’s anti-Semitism, influenced the public debate during the Reformation anniversary year. Through these and other works, he has made significant contributions not only to historical research but also to interfaith understanding.
Thomas Kaufmann studied Protestant theology in Münster, Tübingen and Göttingen, where he earned his doctorate in 1990 and completed his habilitation in 1994. In 1996, he accepted a professorship in Church History at LMU Munich. In 2000, he returned to the University of Göttingen, where he still teaches today. In 2017, he received an honorary doctorate from the University of Oslo. Since 2017, Kaufmann has also been a member of the selection committee for the Alexander von Humboldt professorship and a trustee of the Herzog August Library in Wolfenbüttel. He is engaged in academic self-governance as a member of the DFG’s Theology review board.
Prof. Dr. Andrea Musacchio (55), Cell Biology, Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology, Dortmund
Andrea Musacchio is to receive the Leibniz Prize for his pioneering work in structural biology, specifically the mechanisms of chromosome segregation in cell division. Musacchio focuses on the structure and function of the kinetochore, an extremely complex structure that plays a key role in the distribution of chromosomes among the daughter cells when a cell divides. By combining structural analysis with biochemical and cell biology studies, he has obtained fundamental insights into the function and regulation of the kinetochore, making an outstanding contribution to our understanding of the critical phases of cell division. His contribution to clarifying how the attachment of microtubules to chromosomes is regulated was equally important: he identified a crucial control mechanism which ensures that cell division is delayed until all chromosomes are attached. Using the Mad2 template model, he laid the foundations for understanding how this stage is controlled during cell division.
Following his studies in biology at the Tor Vergata University of Rome, Andrea Musacchio earned his doctorate at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg. As a postdoctoral researcher, he was based at Harvard Medical School and starting in 1998 he led a research group at the European Institute of Oncology in Milan. Since 2011, Musacchio has been Director of the Department of Mechanistic Cell Biology at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Physiology in Dortmund, and since 2012 he has been an honorary professor at the University of Duisburg-Essen. In 2009, he was elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO). He has received two ERC Advanced Grants (2009 and 2015) and in 2020 he will take over the chair of the Max Planck Society’s Biology and Medicine Section.
Prof. Dr. Thomas Neumann (42), Computer Science, Technical University of Munich (TUM)
The Leibniz Prize for Thomas Neumann honours his internationally recognised work on the efficient management and analysis of large volumes of data. Neumann developed the database system HyPer with a whole series of innovations that enable database systems to use large main memories and numerous cores. HyPer can also handle both transactional processing with a high proportion of data modifications and complex evaluations of large data volumes. On this basis, HyPer has already outperformed the world’s fastest conventional database systems. Through the creation of HyPer, Neumann has reoriented the economically and societally relevant research field of in-memory database systems and generated important impetus for international research. He has also successfully transferred his scientific findings to industry: HyPer was commercialised by a spin-off of the same name and has since been acquired by the market leader in fast interactive data evaluation, Tableau Software.
Thomas Neumann earned his doctorate in computer science in 2005 in Mannheim, where he studied business informatics. He subsequently became a Senior Researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Informatics in Saarbrücken and received his habilitation at Saarland University. In 2010, he accepted a professorship at TUM, where he has held a W3 professorship in database systems since 2017. Neumann’s work has been recognised by a number of awards, including the VLDB (Very Large Data Bases) Early Career Research Contribution Award in 2014. In 2016, he was awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant.
Prof. Dr. Marco Prinz (49), Neuropathology, University of Freiburg
Marco Prinz is to be awarded the Leibniz Prize for his outstanding work in the field of neuroimmunology, which has brought about a fundamentally new understanding of the immune response in the brain. He has made ground-breaking contributions to the role of the innate immune system in the central nervous system. His discoveries have changed the previous image of a largely heterogeneous population of immune cells in the brain, indicating instead distinct cell types and signalling pathways. These play an important role in the processes of homoeostasis and inflammatory responses and are therefore of critical importance to brain development, the causes of the onset of disease and the progress of inflammatory and neurodegenerative conditions. Prinz’s innovative methodological approaches influence immunology and neuroscience far beyond his field of research. They point the way to possible new treatments for inflammatory and neurodegenerative diseases of the central nervous system.
Marco Prinz studied medicine at HU Berlin, where he also earned his doctorate. After postdoctoral posts at the Max Delbrück Center, University Hospital Zurich and the University of Göttingen, Prinz accepted a post as professor and clinical director of the Institute of Neuropathology at the University of Freiburg Medical Center in 2008. He was co-spokesperson for the DFG Research Unit “Brain Macrophages” (2010-2015) and is the spokesperson for CRC/Transregio “NeuroMac” (since 2017). In 2015, Prinz was awarded DFG funding for a Reinhart Koselleck project and in 2018 he won the Ernst Jung Prize for Medicine.
Prof. Dr. Markus Reichstein (47), Biogeochemistry, Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, Jena
The Leibniz Prize is to be awarded to Markus Reichstein in recognition of his contributions to data-driven research on the link between climate and biosphere and, in particular, the interaction between terrestrial carbon and water cycles. By developing dense monitoring processes and analyses, Reichstein became the first person to decipher the feedbacks between the carbon and water cycles and between these cycles and the climate. These fundamental insights lay the foundations not only for digitally mapping but also for reliably predicting these material flows on Earth. Reichstein has also clarified how extreme climate events interact with the carbon and water flows and thus, in turn, impact the climate. Reichstein’s work has now made it possible to fill in data networks and data gaps on material flows on our planet. This is an important prerequisite for predicting the reciprocal influences of climate change and ecosystems using Earth system modelling.
Markus Reichstein studied landscape ecology, botany, chemistry and computer science in Münster and earned his doctorate in 2001 in Bayreuth, where he worked for a further two years as a research assistant. Between 2003 and 2006, he was a Marie Curie Research Fellow at the Forest Ecology Lab of Tuscia University in Italy. Beginning in 2006, he led a group at the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, where he was appointed director in 2012. Since 2014, he has also been Professor of Global Geoecology at the University of Jena. Reichstein has won a number of awards, including the American Geophysical Union Piers J. Sellers Global Environmental Change Mid-Career Award 2018, the Max Planck Research Award 2013 and an ERC Starting Grant.
Prof. Dr. Dagmar Schäfer (51), History of Science, Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin
Dagmar Schäfer is to be presented with the Leibniz Prize for her pioneering contributions to a comprehensive, global and comparative history of technology and science. Her work on China has shed new light on the supposed stagnation of knowledge development there, as diagnosed from the West, and opened up new perspectives for a global history since the period known from a European standpoint as the ‘early modern period’. She has written two particularly important works on state, economy, science and technology in China during the Ming era. Through ‘The Emperor’s Silk Clothes. State Silk Factories in the Ming Period (1368-1644)’, published in 1998, Schäfer laid the foundations for an approach in which forms of knowledge and action are investigated in both their historical and cultural context and in everyday practices. The volume ‘The Crafting of the 10,000 Things: Knowledge and Technology in 17th-century China’ (2011) expands on this perspective. This study was also of fundamental importance to global history, relating Chinese and European developments in the 17th century in a more balanced way. Schäfer has thus developed new approaches, which are oriented towards cultural studies in a broad sense, thus opening up comparative perspectives on a comprehensive global history.
Dagmar Schäfer studied Sinology, Japanology and political science in Würzburg, where she earned her doctorate in 1996 and completed her habilitation in 2005. In 2006, she became the leader of an independent research group on the history of Chinese science and technology at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin and in 2011 she accepted the Chair of Chinese Studies and History of Technology at the University of Manchester. In 2013, she returned to the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science as Director of the department of “Artifacts, Action, Knowledge”.
Prof. Dr. Juliane Vogel (60), Literature, University of Konstanz
Juliane Vogel is to receive the Leibniz Prize for work that sets new standards, historically and systematically, in literary and theatre studies with international resonance, hermeneutically oriented and inspired by cultural studies. Through her numerous books and essays, particularly on German-language, especially Austrian, literature of the 19th and 20th centuries, Vogel has transcended boundaries in theoretical and methodological orientation, cultural history and literary history domains, and disciplinary definitions. She has analysed techniques of symbolic performance, ‘presence’ and the ‘big scene’ from the history and systematics of drama text and theatrical performance, while incorporating pictorial art and the history of fashion. Through this approach, she has also exposed the mechanisms of political staging and narrative. In her habilitation thesis on the history of drama, ‘Die Furie und das Gesetz. Zur Dramaturgie der großen Szene in der Tragödie des 19. Jahrhunderts’ (2001), Vogel identified representations of femininity, power and marginalisation in connection with aesthetic, socio-historical, legal history and psychological approaches.
After studying German and English literature in Vienna and Freiburg, Juliane Vogel completed her doctorate and habilitation in Vienna. In 2007, she was appointed professor at the University of Konstanz. Vogel has researched and taught in Vienna, Berlin, Munich, Berkeley, Princeton, Chicago and at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Between 2013 and 2019, she was a board member of the Konstanz-based Cluster of Excellence “Cultural Foundations of Social Integration” and in 2018 she was a fellow in the DFG-funded Humanities Centre for Advanced Studies “Evidence of Images: History and Aesthetics” at FU Berlin. Between 2018 and 2019, she researched as a fellow at the Wissenschaftskolleg (Institute for Advanced Study) in Berlin.
Date and time:
The Leibniz Prizes will be bestowed on 16 March 2020 at 5.00 pm at the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Berlin. A separate invitation will be sent to members of the media.
DFG Press and Public Relations, Tel. +49 228 885-2109, [email protected]
DFG Head Office contact:
Annette Lessenich, Scientific Prizes, Tel. +49 228 885-2835, [email protected]
Additional information about the 2020 prizewinners can be requested at the start of the new year by contacting the DFG Press and Public Relations department or can be found at http://www.
Detailed information about the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Programme is available at: