Creating the Future
Press release
Hector Science Award 2011


14. February 2012

Expand­ing the borders of knowl­edge and setting new standards

Science award of the Hector Founda­tion II goes to profes­sors from Karlsruhe, Konstanz and Freiburg

HEIDELBERG/WEINHEIM. In 2012 three outstand­ing researchers received the Hector Science Award: Profes­sor Hilbert von Löhney­sen (Karlsruhe Insti­tute of Technol­ogy), Profes­sor Axel Meyer (Univer­sity of Konstanz) and profes­sor Nikolaus Pfanner (Univer­sity of Freiburg).

Pfanner focuses his scien­tific research on the energy balance of living cells. He is specially fasci­nated by mitochon­dria acting like “cellu­lar power plants” that provide energy and support life-sustain­ing functions. The biochemist was the first scien­tist world­wide in mapping the compo­si­tion of mitochon­dria. In addition, profes­sor Pfanner analyzes the way by which about 1,000 differ­ent mitochon­dr­ial proteins get to their desti­na­tion, which bonds are formed in this process and how they are freed again. He also discov­ered molec­u­lar “pylori”, “locks” and “traffic police­men”, which control and monitor these processes.

Meyer is one of the world’s leading experts in the field of evolu­tion­ary biology. He estab­lished the empir­i­cal knowl­edge — and thus he refuted a decades-lasting textbook dogma — that speci­a­tion is possi­ble without geograph­i­cal barri­ers. He also pioneered the use of genetic data in evolu­tion­ary biology. His compar­a­tive analy­ses show that in the ances­tors of all fish species there occurred a whole-genome dupli­ca­tion, and there­fore fish initially had twice as many genes as land verte­brates. Linking the pheno­type with genetic causes it can be deduced which genetic differ­ences are respon­si­ble for style accom­mo­da­tion and differentiation.

Löhney­sen is enter­ing entirely new grounds by explor­ing the so-called quantum effects in metals. In the semicon­duc­tors of computer indus­try, electrons move almost indepen­dently in the labora­tory. However, they showed strong inter­ac­tions at absolute zero (- 273°C). Profes­sor von Löhney­sen inves­ti­gates the transi­tions between the states in these materi­als, e.g. the transi­tion from conduct­ing to isolat­ing and from magnetic to nonmag­netic. Doing this, he discov­ered a new type of quantum phase transi­tions. These features bring great benefits for electri­cal contacts and construc­tion elements, the inter­ac­tions between electrons play an impor­tant role in their metal­lic nanos­truc­tures. On this basis, among other things, new, more power­ful computer systems are conceivable.

Hector Science Award 2011