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Two of the first Alexander von Humboldt professorships to be awarded go to LMU

Munich, 10/15/2008

Ulrike Gaul, professor of molecular biology at Rockefeller University New York, and Georgi Dvali, professor of theoretical physics at New York University and at CERN in Geneva, have been selected for the first Alexander von Humboldt professorships ever to be awarded. Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität (LMU) München nominated the two scientists for this distinction, and both applications were selected by the Humboldt Foundation panel. This distinction, which comes with research funds of up to five million euros, is awarded by the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research. “We are very proud to be gaining Ulrike Gaul and Georgi Dvali – two scientists highly sought after around the world – at LMU, and to be able to offer them attractive research conditions here,” says LMU president Bernd Huber. “This will allow us to raise our position in the two innovative research fields of systems biology and cosmological particle research to an internationally competitive level.”


Professor Ulrike Gaul
Ulrike Gaul is an internationally leading development biologist whose work on the fruit fly drosophila has contributed enormously to our understanding of gene regulation during organismic development and the role of glial cells in the nervous system. Her laboratory has discovered many new genes that control the formation of the blood-brain barrier and the efficient elimination of dying neurons by glia. In recent years, Gaul has been increasingly interested in how to decrypt and make a quantitative description of the complex genetic networks underlying embryonic pattern formation. Her work on regulating gene transcription and translation in early development, which has often involved working with physicists and bioinformaticians, is pioneering for linking organismic biology with the quantitative analysis of systems biology. Gaul will use the award money associated with the Humboldt professorship to establish a new research focus in molecular systems biology at the Gene Center of LMU. This research focus will complement the existing strengths of the Gene Center. The newly elected laureate is exhilarated about the distinction. "Combined with this very attractive offer from LMU, the Humboldt professorship will give me working conditions that are very hard to find in the US.” But it is not just the financial backing that incites her to move to Germany. “LMU and Munich are an excellent environment for my work,” says Gaul. “I really like the hands-on, collegial spirit everyone has in Munich, the cosmopolitan, fun-loving character of the city and the general spirit of optimism you feel in German science.”

About Systems Biology
Systems biology is based to genome and proteome research, and will play a pivotal role in the biosciences in the future. The aim of this interdisciplinary research field is not only to create a catalogue of all molecules participating in specific cellular processes but also, and above all, to understand and quantify the interplay of molecules in complex networks. One aim is to develop models for making predictions of the behavior of living cells. By closely combining biochemical, genomic and mathematical methods, the researchers at the Gene Center in Munich intend to explain the principles of gene regulation in higher cells and organisms, which will give fresh impetus to cancer and dementia research as well as the development of stem cell therapies. The head of the Gene Center, Professor Patrick Cramer, is especially delighted that, with Ulrike Gaul, LMU has gained a top international researcher for the Gene Center and the national cluster of excellence for protein sciences CIPSM: “The appointment of Ulrike Gaul is our fifth appointment from the US since 2001.“ The Humboldt professorship is a special distinction for Gaul, but also for her future colleagues here in Munich: “It is very important," says Cramer, “to recruit only the very best. I am very grateful for everyone who helped make this appointment happen. Appointing Gaul is a central aspect of our strategy for expanding into the future field of systems biology and, with it, for further increasing the international visibility and scientific capacity of the Gene Center and the CIPSM cluster of excellence. We can once again assert our leading role in establishing innovative biological research within Europe.”

Professor Georgi Dvali
Professor Georgi Dvali recently received the call to a chair in theoretical elementary particle physics at the Arnold-Sommerfeld Center for Theoretical Physics at LMU. “The Alexander von Humboldt professorship allows Dvali to push forward his research at LMU Munich with great intensity and visibility,” states the head of the Arnold-Sommerfeld Center Professor Dieter Lüst. “His work closes a former gap in research that has existed at LMU in the interdisciplinary field of astroparticle physics.” Dvali is the most renowned physicist in the world on this field. ”Appointing him to Munich gives important new momentum to this important field of research in physics, throughout Germany and beyond. Dvali’s work is equally stimulating for mathematical and theoretical physicists in the field of string theory, elementary particle physics – in theory and experiment, especially at the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva – as it is for many cosmologists and astrophysicists,” Lüst stresses. As a result, the synergies between mathematical physics and phenomenology, theory and experiment and between elementary particle physics and astrophysics are considerably reinforced by Georgi Dvali. Also planned is a close connection with the Max Planck Institute for Physics, as well as intensive cooperation in the new cluster of excellence for fundamental physics “Origin and Structure of the Universe” of Technische Universität München, LMU and various different Max Planck Institutes in Munich and Garching. Dvali is supporting LMU on its path to becoming one of the leading research enviroments in this field – comparable with Harvard and Stanford. “The physics colleagues in Munich hope very much that the Alexander von Humboldt research professorship will give Professor Dvali that last incentive to follow the call to LMU.”

About the Research of Professor Georgi Dvali
The application and nomination of Professor Georgi Dvali was partially the combined effort with the Max Planck Institute for Physics in Munich. Georgi Dvali is known to be an extremely creative and inventive theoretical physicist. Thanks to his prizewinning work, Dvali has opened up new directions in research at the boundary between elementary particle physics and cosmology of the early universe shortly after the Big Bang. In particular, it was he and two other colleagues who were the first to recognize in 1988 that a universe with more than three spatial dimensions can solve some of the most puzzling problems in elementary particle physics. This suggestion created an enormous interest in the so-called higher dimensional theories, in which our universe represents a three-dimensional membrane that is embedded in a higher-dimensional world. Dvali and his colleagues demonstrated that this idea of a higher-dimensional world is not just an esoteric invention of a handful of theoretical physicists. The theories involving more than three dimensions may be set to be proven in just a few years using the LHC in Geneva, which went online in September. One very characteristic sign of a higher-dimensional membrane theory is namely the creation of mini black holes in the LHC, which will of course disintegrate almost as soon as they are created, and are therefore no threat at all to the earth or mankind. Furthermore, in a world with more than three dimensions, the rapid expansion of the universe shortly after the big bang – the inflationary universe – can be explained very well by the energy of membranes, so-called D-branes. These and many other works and ideas have permanently set in stone the reputation of Professor Dvali.

Vita Professor Ulrike Gaul
Professor Ulrike Gaul studied biochemistry and physics in Tübingen, and received her doctorate in 1988 at the Max Planck Institute for Developmental Biology under Professor Herbert Jäckle. After research visits to the University of Washington and University of California in Berkeley, she has been a professor since 1993 at Rockefeller University in New York, one of the world’s leading biomedical research centers. Gaul plans to move with her group to the Gene Center of LMU Munich in the spring of 2009.

Vita Professor Georgi Dvali
Professor Georgi Dvali was born in 1964 in Tbilisi, Georgia, where he spent his youth, school years and his graduation years. Afterwards, his scientific career led him first as a postdoc, then later as assistant and associate professor to highly prestigious universities and research establishments such as the International Center for Theoretical Physics (ICTP) in Trieste, the European nuclear research facility CERN in Geneva, the University of Pisa and New York University. There, he has held a chair in physics since 2003 and an endowed chair (silver professor of physics) since 2006. Since 2007, Dvali has worked as a staff member at CERN in Geneva.

The awards will be held in May 2009 in Berlin.

More information about the Alexander von Humboldt professorship:

Prof. Dr. Patrick Cramer
Managing Director of  the Gene Center Munich
Dean of the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy
Department of Chemistry and  Biochemistry
Tel.: ++49 (0) 89 / 2180 – 76951

Prof. Dr. Dieter Lüst
Chair for Theoretical and Mathematical Physics
Department of Physics
Tel.: ++49 (0)89 / 2180 - 4372

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