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Latest crop of Humboldt-sponsored scholars at LMU

Munich, 06/20/2011

Five more researchers sponsored by the Humboldt Foundation have chosen to carry out their projects in association with academics at Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) München. Professor Constantin Bachas (CNRS, Paris) and Professor Richard Shavelson (Stanford University, USA) have each received the Humboldt Research Award. Bachas is collaborating with Professor Ilka Brunner in the Faculty of Physics, while Shavelson’s host is Professor Susanne Weber of the Institute for Economics Education. Three others have been awarded Humboldt Fellowships by the Foundation. Professor Hiroshi Abe (Kyoto University, Japan) will work with Professor Thomas Buchheim in the Department of Philosophy. Dr. Rodrigo Morales (Marquette University, USA) is a guest of Professor Knut Backhaus at the Chair of New Testament Exegesis and Biblical Hermeneutics, and Dr. Michael Nash, whose host is Professor Hermann Gaub (Faculty of Physics), will be based at the Center for NanoScience.

The Fellowship Program sponsored by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables highly qualified postdoctoral scholars and scientists from abroad to carry out research projects in Germany. Successful applicants work together with an established investigator of their own choice. The Humboldt Research Award is bestowed on outstanding academics whose achievements in research have had a significant impact on their own discipline and who are expected to contribute to further ground-breaking advances in the future. Thus the number of Humboldt-sponsored scholars hosted by a university is a useful indicator of its international reputation and the size of its network of contacts.


Constantin Bachas
Professor Bachas is a theoretical physicist, who is well known internationally for his outstanding contributions to the field of string theory. In string theory, elementary particles are treated not as dimensionless points, but as oscillating one-dimensional strings. This approach may make it possible to reconcile the theory of relativity with the tenets of quantum theory, which would allow the fundamental forces of physics to be explained within a single unified framework. Professor Bachas’ research contributions provide answers to many fundamental questions within string theory as well as illuminating their phenomenological consequences in particle physics. String theory actually generates a variety of possible minimal-energy solutions. This in turn raises the question of whether these diverse ground states can be linked in a logical manner. Particular features of so-called conformal field theories offer one possible route to this goal. During his stay in Germany, Bachas intends to investigate defects and interfaces in conformal field theories and the role they might play in string theory.

Constantin Bachas studied physics at Princeton University (USA), obtaining his PhD in 1983. He later worked at SLAC, the National Accelerator Laboratory at Stanford University (USA), at the Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau (France) and at CERN in Geneva (Switzerland). In 1998 Bachas became Director of Research at the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) in Paris. In 2010 Bachas was awarded the Gay-Lussac Humboldt Prize.

Richard Shavelson
Richard Shavelson is Margaret Jacks Professor of Education at Stanford University (USA). His research focuses on the development of procedures for the assessment of learning performance and the evaluation of the effectiveness of teaching. This has led to his involvement in many national and international projects. He is currently engaged in designing a new method for Collegiate Learning Assessment, a standard test for the measurement of academic performance by students in third-level education. He is also one of the leading participants in the OECD-AHELO Project, which aims to provide an objective means of assessing the relative quality of university education in different countries. During his stay at the Institute of Economics Education he will work together with Professor Susanne Weber on procedures for the modeling and assessment of competence in various business-related skills, with special focus on entrepreneurship. The main question at issue here is how one can reliably model and measure competence in specific skills, but the project will also be concerned with the definition of goals, course content and behavioral traits that allow one to deal successfully with career-specific situations. The two researchers believe that the project will have far-reaching consequences for the structure of Bachelor study programs in many fields.

Richard Shavelson obtained his doctoral degree in Educational Psychology from Stanford University (USA) in 1971. From 1973 to 1975 he was an Assistant Professor at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA). He then moved to UC Santa Barbara to take up an Associate Professorship, and was appointed Professor there in 1979. From 1987 to 1993 Shavelson served as Dean of the Graduate School of Education in Santa Barbara. In 1995 he was named Professor of Educational Science at Stanford University (USA) and Dean of the School of Education. In particular his contributions to the development of standard evaluation procedures for use in empirical research have had a significant impact on his field.

Hiroshi Abe
The philosopher Hiroshi Abe is especially interested in aspects of ontology (the branch of metaphysics relating to the nature of being), existential philosophy and environmental ethics.

His research project as a Humboldt Fellow at LMU is entitled “Existential Foundations of a Forward-Looking Ethics of Responsibility”, and will be carried out in collaboration with Professor Thomas Buchheim, who holds the Chair of Metaphysics and Ontology in the Department of Philosophy. The main motivation for choosing this topic lies in the fact that, in an era dominated by complex and highly developed technologies, there is a pressing need for a new concept of responsibility that explicitly takes their possible long-term consequences into account.  This forward-looking definition of responsibility should have a firm ontological basis in the conditions of human coexistence. The project will therefore consider not only the historical development of philosophical perspectives on the relationship between technology and responsibility, but also the issue of whether, and to what degree, an ethics of responsibility is possible at all, given the inherently uncertain character of the human environment and the ever-present threat of natural disasters. In addition, Abe will also explore the existential foundations of a future-oriented ethic of responsibility.

Hiroshi Abe studied Philosophy at Kyoto University (Japan), where he completed his doctorate in 1999. He was subsequently appointed Assistant Professor in the Graduate School for Human and Environmental Studies at the same institution (2000-03) and later moved to the Research Institute for Humanity and Nature in Kyoto, Japan (2003-06). In 2006 Hiroshi Abe returned to the Graduate School of Human and Environmental Studies at Kyoto University as an Associate Professor (Tenure Track).

Rodrigo Morales
Rodrigo Morales is a theologian whose major research focus is concerned with the interpretation of the New Testament, particularly the Epistles of St. Paul. Morales will begin his project as a Humboldt Fellow in August 2011, working with Professor Knut Backhaus, who holds the Chair of New Testament Exegesis and Biblical Hermeneutics at LMU. The goal of the project is to build a bridge between the German and English research traditions in the exegesis of Pauline theology. The German tradition views Paul in the light of the Reformation, interpreting his theology from the standpoint of the doctrine of justification. The English-speaking tradition, on the other hand, places greater emphasis on the participatory aspects of Paul’s Christology. In the course of his stay at LMU, Morales plans to study the influence on Pauline theology of both social and cultic interactions in Early Christian communities.

Rodrigo Morales studied at various institutions, and earned a Master’s degree in Theology at the University of Notre Dame (USA) in 2002. His main interest during his student years was in Biblical exegesis. He later moved to Duke University (USA), where he obtained his doctorate in 2007. In the same year Morales was named Assistant Professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee (USA).

Michael Nash
Michael Nash’s research interests span the fields of nanotechnology, polymer chemistry, recognition and binding interactions in biological systems, and molecular self-assembly. As a Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow, he will work at the Center for NanoScience and in the Faculty of Physics, under the direction of Professor Hermann Gaub, who holds the Chair of Applied Physics at LMU. Nash’s project will focus on the self-assembly of plasmonic nanostructures using DNA as an assembly scaffold, and study the dynamics of fluorescent compounds (fluorophores) within such structures. He also plans to investigate synthetic polymer-protein assemblies, and study their biochemical and biophysical properties at the single-molecule level.

Michael Nash studied Cybernetics at the University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA), and graduated from the University of Washington, Seattle in December 2010 with a dual PhD degree in Bioengineering and Nanotechnology. 

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