Ten researchers to receive Germany’s most important award for early career researchers


This year ten researchers – five women and five men – will receive the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize, the most important award for early career researchers in Germany. The recipients were chosen by a selection committee in Bonn appointed by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) and the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). The prizewinners will each be presented with the €20,000 prize on 29 May in Berlin.

The 2018 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prizes are being awarded to:

  • Jennifer Nina Andexer, Chemical Biology, University of Freiburg
  • Alexey Chernikov, Condensed Matter Physics, University of Regensburg
  • Sascha Fahl, Computer Science, Leibniz Universität Hannover
  • Benedikt Göcke, Catholic Theology, Ruhr-Universität Bochum
  • Valeska Huber, Modern History, Free University of Berlin
  • Lucas Jae, Functional Genomics, LMU Munich
  • Benjamin Kohlmann, English Literature, University of Freiburg
  • Eva C. M. Nowack, Evolutionary Biology, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf
  • Antonia Wachter-Zeh, Communications Engineering, Technical University of Munich
  • Xiaoying Zhuang, Numerical Mechanics, Leibniz Universität Hannover

The Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize has been awarded annually to outstanding early career researchers since 1977 – as both recognition and an incentive to continue pursuing a path of academic excellence. Since 1980 it has been named after the atomic physicist and former DFG President Heinz Maier-Leibnitz, during whose period in office (1973-1979) it was first awarded. The Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize is regarded as the most important award for early career researchers in Germany.

A total of 140 researchers representing all fields of research were nominated for this year's prize. "The distinguished work of all the candidates and their outstanding careers to date made it a very enjoyable task for the committee to select the winners," said the chair of the selection committee, mathematician and DFG Vice President Prof. Dr. Marlis Hochbruck.

This year's recipients:

Jennifer Nina Andexer (37), Chemical Biology, University of Freiburg

As a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge, Jennifer Nina Andexer belonged to one of the leading working groups in chemical biology, where she was able to comprehensively expand her technical and methodological expertise. In 2011, she was appointed junior professor at the University of Freiburg, a post she still holds. Since then, Andexer has consistently developed the interdisciplinary aspect of her work, tackling ambitious topics in the adjacent fields of enzymology, biochemistry and biocatalysis. Her work on chorismatases and especially SAM-dependent enzymes has won wide recognition in the field. Andexer's outstanding and creative research results recently enabled her to obtain an ERC Starting Grant to carry out further work on methyltransferases.

Alexey Chernikov (35), Condensed Matter Physics, University of Regensburg

During his doctoral research at the University of Marburg, Alexey Chernikov was already producing outstanding work in the area of low-dimensional semiconductor systems. As a postdoctoral researcher at Columbia University, he significantly advanced the highly topical field of two-dimensional solid bodies. Chernikov's work has made a groundbreaking contribution to the current understanding of elementary optical stimulation and in particular the so-called excitons in atomically thin monolayers. His results have served as the basis for further experimental and theoretical work in this area, which he has been successfully helping to develop since 2016 as the leader of an Emmy Noether independent junior research group at the University of Regensburg.

Sascha Fahl (33), Computer Science, Leibniz Universität Hannover

Sascha Fahl investigates how the usability of IT systems impacts on IT security. He is a professor at Leibniz Universität Hannover, where he directs the Institute of Information Security. He previously worked with the Chrome Security Team at Google and led an independent junior research group at Saarland University. Research into usability covers not just questions in computer science, but also psychological and sociological factors. In his research on IT security, Fahl links these disciplines through the use of empirical methods.

Benedikt Göcke (36), Catholic Theology, Ruhr-Universität Bochum

Within a few years of earning his doctorates in Catholic theology and philosophy, Benedikt Göcke has emerged as an outstanding scholar at the interfaces of analytical philosophy, philosophy of religion and philosophy of science. A junior professorship in philosophy of religion and philosophy of science was created especially for him at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum in recognition of his creativity and novel contributions to the interdisciplinary discourse of theology. Göcke is one of the few philosophers and theologians who engage intensively in a dialogue between 'analytical' discourses as typical of the English-speaking world and the 'hermeneutic' discourses that characterise continental European thought. Göcke's research also reveals an independent scholarly profile with respect to new perspectives on 'classical' topoi of philosophy of religion, metaphysics and anthropology.

Valeska Huber (38), Modern History, Free University of Berlin

Valeska Huber's research in global history has always pushed boundaries and stimulated debate while meeting the highest methodological standards. Her dissertation on "Channelling Mobilities" delivered a seminal study of the history of the Middle East and the history of migration. She consistently blends local and global perspectives, which are often needed but seldom developed in global history. Huber established her varied and international academic profile during her studies in London and Cambridge, her doctoral research with Jürgen Osterhammel in Konstanz and research visits to London and Harvard. Since 2017, she has led an Emmy Noether independent junior research group on communication and information dissemination in globally networked regions of Africa and Asia – another important and largely neglected area of research.

Lucas Jae (32), Functional Genomics, LMU Munich

Recent developments in experimental genomics and molecular biology have produced a highly effective range of instruments for the analysis of complex biological processes in humans and other species. Thijn Brummelkamp and Lucas Jae, who work together at the Netherlands Cancer Institute, have made a significant contribution to this. Jae studied and earned his doctorate in England and the USA and now leads his own research group at the Gene Center of LMU Munich. His work in the field of genome engineering and biochemistry has helped researchers to decode the infection process for highly lethal human viruses such as the Lassa virus. The strategy co-developed by Jae for the comprehensive mutagenesis of the human genome also makes it possible to study essential genes in human cells, providing approaches for novel therapies in tumour research.

Benjamin Kohlmann (36), English Literature, University of Freiburg

Benjamin Kohlmann approaches literature from a cultural sciences perspective by consistently integrating historical contexts and establishing productive links to his second subject, philosophy. It was with this approach that he examined the political situation of British literature of the 1930s in his dissertation, which was published by Oxford University Press, and discourse relating to the welfare state from the late 19th century to the present day in his habilitation thesis, completed in 2017. The fact that Cambridge University Press has entrusted to him the editing of an anthology on the literature of the 1930s demonstrates that Kohlmann has found international recognition as an expert in this period. Distinguished by its societal relevance, his work brings out the importance of literature to cultural discourses and offers unusual and innovative perspectives through the combination of less canonised texts and a fresh look at more canonised texts.

Eva C. M. Nowack (37), Evolutionary Biology, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf

Since 2014, Eva C. M. Nowack has led an Emmy Noether independent junior research group on "Early Stages in the Evolution of an Organelle". Prior to this, she spent four years doing postdoctoral research at the renowned Carnegie Institution for Science at Stanford. Through her work, Nowack has made an important contribution to the better understanding of the origins of organelles. Since researching for her doctorate she has been interested in the development of cell organelles from prokaryotic precursors via endosymbiosis. An evolutionary path of this type is known for mitochondria and the plastids of algae and higher plants. For a long time, it was assumed that these two types of organelle each had a separate evolutionary origin between one and two billion years ago. Nowack has demonstrated that the origin of plastids is much more recent. She was able to show that the organelle of the amoeba Paulinella chromatophora, which is vital to photosynthesis, arose approximately 100 million years ago. Since then, she has begun to search for other organisms with 'evolutionarily young' organelles.

Antonia Wachter-Zeh (32), Communications Engineering, Technical University of Munich

Antonia Wachter-Zeh works in the field of theoretical communications engineering. Her achievements in channel coding have met with a tremendous response in the international community, especially the use of rank-metric codes for modern data transmission in networks. This not only allows the correction of faulty information sent in packets via the channel, but also enables improved utilisation of network capacity. This in turn makes it possible to increase transmission efficiency while improving the reliability of the data. In this way, Wachter-Zeh is making an important contribution at international level to the rapidly advancing field of information technology. While she was working on her doctoral thesis in Ulm she established links with Technion in Haifa, Israel, where she subsequently worked as a postdoctoral researcher. In 2016, she was appointed to a W2 grade professorship at TU Munich, shortly after being awarded funding in the DFG's Emmy Noether programme.

Xiaoying Zhuang (34), Numerical Mechanics, Leibniz Universität Hannover

Although she is still at an early stage of her career, Xiaoying Zhuang already plays a prominent role in numerical mechanics. She worked as a postdoctoral researcher in China and Norway before moving to Germany in 2014. A year later she won the Sofja Kovalevskaja Award, which enabled her to set up an independent junior research group at Leibniz Universität Hannover. In the field of numerical mechanics, Zhuang has developed novel and effective methods for the solution of partial differential equations for complex problems in materials science. In her early work she focused on applications in geomechanics and geotechnics, before successfully turning her attention to other complex materials including new polymer composites. Her research results have already been put to successful use in commercial software.


Further Information

The presentation of the 2018 Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prizes will take place on 29 May at 6pm, in the Lecture Hall Ruin of the former Rudolf Virchow Lecture Hall, Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité, Charitéplatz 1, 10117 Berlin.

Representatives from the media are cordially invited to attend the award ceremony. Please register in advance with the DFG Press and Public Relations Office, Tel. +49 228 885-2109, [email protected]

More information about the prize and previous winners is available at: http://www.dfg.de/en/funded_projects/prizewinners/maier_leibnitz_prize

DFG Head Office contact: Annette Lessenich, Scientific Prizes Team, Tel. +49 228 885-2835, [email protected]

Media Contact

Magdalena Schaeffer
[email protected]


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