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Joint press release of Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin

Berlin’s Higher Education Institutions Overcome First Hurdle

Friday, 29. September 2017

Media Information No. 158/2017

Nine research projects asked to submit full proposals as part of the German government’s Excellence Strategy

Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Technische Universität Berlin, and Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin have overcome the first hurdle in the competition for the Excellence Strategy jointly organized by the German federal and state governments now that a positive advance decision has been made in favor of the cluster outlines they had submitted. With the announcement made by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the German Research Council (WR) on September 29, 2017, a total of nine research projects in Berlin can enter the decisive round.

The scholars and scientists involved are now invited to present their projects in full to the international panels of experts. All full proposals must be submitted by February 21, 2018. Decisions regarding the projects to be funded are to be announced in September 2018. Successful clusters will receive funding for two seven-year terms starting in 2019. The three above-named universities in Berlin, Charité, and Berlin University of the Arts had submitted 16 proposals in all.

The presidents of the universities in Berlin that had applied – Freie Universität Berlin, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, and Technische Universität Berlin – and the Chief Executive Officer of Charité all agree: “The successful performance of these four institutions in Berlin in the preselection for the competition is proof of the strength of our scholars and scientists, particularly in the fields of innovative and forward-looking research. This success reinforces our commitment to continue to join forces strategically and pursue our aim of proceeding together in the Excellence Strategy. The cooperative research relationships that have been established between us for decades serve as the basis for this.”

PROJECT SPECIFICS:

Contestations of the Liberal Script (SCRIPTS)

Global Challenges for Liberal Democracy as a Model of Organization
When the Cold War ended, Western-liberal democracy and market economy seemed to have emerged as the most successful model for social development. 25 years later, the liberal order faces fundamental global as well as domestic challenges, among them Islamist terrorism as well as authoritarian and illiberal states. Within Western societies, mostly right-wing populist movements proclaim to accept liberal values while contesting their content at the same time. The proposed Excellence Cluster “Contestations of the Liberal Script” (SCRIPTS) shall examine the current controversies over the liberal model of order from broad historical, global, and comparative perspectives. In addition to Freie Universität Berlin as the host institution, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, the Berlin Social Science Center (WZB), and five other academic institutions in Berlin are involved in the initiative. SCRIPTS draws on the superb expertise of the social sciences and comparative area studies available in Berlin, including Western and non-Western perspectives, quantitative and qualitative methods, generalizing theories, and local bodies of knowledge. To enhance the multiplicity of perspectives, institutional partnerships with universities in all regions of the world have been developed. At the same time, the initiative seeks to work closely with local political and cultural institutions in the German capital.

Designated spokespersons: Prof. Dr. Tanja Börzel (Freie Universität Berlin), Prof. Dr. Michael Zürn (Freie Universität Berlin/Wissenschaftszentrum Berlin, WZB)
Applicant university: FU Berlin

Matters of Activity: Image Space Material

A New Culture of Material
In the interdisciplinary cluster “Matters of Activity,” researchers from more than 40 disciplines will investigate and design images, spaces and materials as active structures: The cluster will establish foundations for a new culture of materiality, in which the material’s structure determines its active function. Even in the digital age, traditional processes, such as filtering, weaving, and cutting play a vital role in generating dynamic visualizations and materializations. Thus, techniques of filtering materials and information, the woven structures of fiber materials, and robot-assisted surgical cutting will be exemplary research topics of the cluster. In this material and symbolically highly relevant field, the analog and the digital interconnect as a model for future principles of the practice and theory of research. As equal partners the humanities, natural sciences, and design disciplines will combine experimental and creative approaches with historical analysis in order to develop theoretical and practical solutions for the major challenges of our time. “Matters of Activity” connects the heritage of 200 years of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and 100 years of Bauhaus in an interdisciplinary laboratory based at the Hermann von Helmholtz Center for Cultural Techniques. The new cluster builds on the cluster “Image Knowledge Gestaltung,” which started off in 2012 and since then has systematically established interdisciplinary structures. Research and teaching will be provided with an interactive social platform through the Humboldt Labor in the Humboldt Forum. Including numerous research facilities, design academies, collections, museums, and an internationally leading design- and start-up scene, Berlin is an excellent location for such a project.

Designated spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Schäffner (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Applicant university: HU Berlin

MATH+ The Berlin Mathematics Research Center

The Power of Mathematics
Mathematics is the art of solving problems based on the power of abstraction. As such it has a key role in exploiting the opportunities of the digital revolution, which is changing our world dramatically: Mathematics is needed for taming complexity and uncovering hidden principles, which in turn enable deeper insights and improved predictions. This, however, poses a multitude of new challenges to mathematical abstractions, methods, and problem solving. The Berlin mathematics community – at the three Berlin universities FU, HU, and TU Berlin, as well as at the research institutes WIAS and ZIB – is joining its forces to build MATH+, a cross-institutional and trans-disciplinary research center designed to take up these challenges. MATH+ will be founded on Berlin's established strengths in mathematical modeling, simulation, and optimization. With a self-renewing mathematical agenda, MATH+ will aim at expanding these strengths and at the same time develop novel strategies for exploring and exploiting complex data and turning them into innovations with impact in technology and society, for example in the life sciences, energy management, and opto-electronics. Due to their transformation by digitization, a wide variety of fields that previously eluded mathematical now reveal opportunities for cross-fertilization with mathematics: MATH+ has the ambition to play a pivotal role in these processes, together with top-class Berlin experts and institutions for example in medicine, social sciences, and humanities. Within the innovative MATH+ Topic Development Lab, truly new mathematical topics will be advanced, stimulated also by current cooperations and application fields. MATH+ builds on the strengths of established structures in Berlin: on the one hand on MATHEON, founded as a DFG Research Center in 2002, with its successful concept of cooperative, application-oriented fundamental research, which crosses the boundaries between institutions and disciplines, and between the worlds of economics, society and the public. On the other hand, it builds on the Berlin Mathematical School, which contributes a broad mathematical spectrum as a Graduate School within the Excellence Initiative since 2006.

Designated spokespersons: Prof. Günter M. Ziegler (Freie Universität Berlin), Prof. Michael Hintermüller (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin), Prof. Martin Skutella (Technische Universität Berlin)
Applicant universities: FU Berlin, HU Berlin, TU Berlin

NeuroCure: Comprehensive approaches to neurological and psychiatric disorders – from mechanisms to interventions

Understanding and Treating Brain Disease
In recent decades neurological and psychiatric disorders have become an enormous burden on society. Searching for new ways to understand such disorders and develop effective therapies is the objective of the Cluster of Excellence NeuroCure. One of the Cluster’s priorities is to improve the overall translation process, i.e. more efficient transfer of research findings into clinical application. In order to tackle this challenging task, many excellent neuroscientists and clinical researchers have been recruited in recent years and structures that support translational research have been established. The NeuroCure Clinical Research Center (NCRC), which provides support to scientists conducting clinical studies, should be highlighted in particular here. The focus of the next funding period is on interdisciplinary cooperation projects, which examine physiological processes and pathophysiological changes over the entire lifespan, i.e. from neuronal development to old age. Moreover, the NCRC’s activities will be supplemented by new, innovative modules, which will enable scientists to gain access to patients with acute and severe brain diseases, optimize and accelerate the translation process, and improve the transparency and predictive power of research.

Designated spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Dietmar Schmitz (Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin)
Applicant universities: FU Berlin, HU Berlin

SCIoI - Science of Intelligence

SCIoI – Learning to Understand Intelligence
What are the fundamental laws and principles underlying different forms of intelligence – whether artificial, human, or animal intelligence? Which universally applicable principles are shared by different forms of intelligence? The “Science of Intelligence” cluster project aims to address these research questions. Despite intensive research in all areas of intelligence, knowledge remains incomplete and incoherent. The “Science of Intelligence” project aims to fill these gaps and establish correlations in order to fundamentally advance the understanding of intelligence. The methodological strategy of the cluster pursues an innovative, synthetic approach to intelligence research. All findings, methods, concepts, and theories from the widest variety of disciplines will be merged in a shared language. A whole range of scientific, structural, and academic measures is targeted within the scope of the project in order to establish an interdisciplinary research program for intelligence. In parallel a “Master Track Science of Intelligence” exists already, which conveys necessary knowledge from computer sciences, psychology, and science theory. The goal is to create a unique research and training environment in and around Berlin, with great appeal to young intelligence researchers.

Designated spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Oliver Brock (Technische Universität Berlin)
Applicant universities: HU Berlin, TU Berlin

Shaping Space. Converging Art, Science, Technology

Design in the Digital Age
Shaping Space. Converging Art, Science, Technology is a primary cultural technique in human and material design around the world and a key competence in design-based disciplines, the arts, and engineering. Advanced digitalization facilitates new forms of spatial design of objects, buildings, urban habitats, products, and services, as well as fundamentally new design strategies. Algorithms are becoming a key partner in the design process here, and multimodal interfaces allow for new forms of interaction with spatial designs. The central goal of the Shaping Space cluster project is to develop tools for the digital design of space, in which algorithms guarantee compliance with physical and technical constraints and make direct reference to the human perception of form, materials, acoustics, light, and heat, and form the basis for visionary space with unexpected quality and new functions. Scientists are aiming to overcome the discrepancy between artistic and engineering design and the paradigm of singular authorship as a central reference. Shaping Space is structurally based on the close alliance between Universität der Künste Berlin and Technische Univeristät Berlin on the Charlottenburg campus. Joint design labs already exist, and their operations can be substantially consolidated.

Designated spokespersons: Prof. Dr. -Ing Christoph Gengnagel (Universität der Künste Berlin), Prof. Dr. Stefan Weinzierl (Technische Universität Berlin)
Applicant universities: TU Berlin, Universität der Künste Berlin

Temporal Communities – Doing Literature in a Global Perspective

How Literature Reaches Out through Space and Time
The Cluster Temporal Communities – Doing Literature in a Global Perspective aims to create a novel theoretical and methodological take on literature in a global perspective: a take that moves beyond the categories of nation and era, conceiving of literature instead as a transcultural and transtemporal phenomenon in deep time. Assuming that literature is a fundamentally performative and intermedial phenomenon, a form of social action taking place in complex networks of human and non-human agents, the Cluster will study how literature becomes global through its temporal entanglements. Introducing the notion of “temporal communities,” the Cluster will investigate the ways in which literature reaches out through space and time by establishing extensive transtemporal networks, networks in which the very notion of literature itself is constantly re-constituted as it interacts with other arts and media, with all manner of institutions and material conditions. “Temporal Communities” thus are the sites where the multifarious entanglements that literary phenomena enter into resonate in and through time, sometimes even spanning millennia. Situated within a vibrant network of international academic partners and local collaborators including universities and libraries as well as museums and literary and artistic institutions, the Cluster combines an international fellowship program with a dynamic and flexible platform for small and medium-sized projects involving early career researchers, established scholars, and international fellows from all career stages. Supported in its research by a powerful digital humanities hub, the Cluster plans to involve a wider audience in its activities, reaching out beyond the confines of academia as it actively participates in Berlin’s literary and cultural scene.

Designated spokespersons: Prof. Dr. Anita Traninger, Prof. Dr. Andrew Johnston (Freie Universität Berlin)
Applicant university: FU Berlin

Topoi. Stability and Instability in Ancient Civilizations

A New Way of Understanding Pre-modern Societies
The Cluster of Excellence Topoi. Stability and Instability in Ancient Civilizations will explore the driving forces in processes of constitution and alteration of human societies from the 10th millennium BCE through to the end of late antiquity. The Cluster’s fundamental focus on stability and instability will lead to a new way of understanding pre-modern societies. The proposed Cluster can build on 10 years of experience in interdisciplinary and cross-institutional work within the Excellence Cluster Topoi. The Formation of Space and Knowledge in Ancient Civilizations, which has made a unique contribution in Berlin’s development as a world-class location for research in ancient studies. The new Cluster’s work will also be carried out by researchers from the two applicant universities – Freie Universität Berlin and Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin – as well as non-university research institutions and museums representing more than 30 academic disciplines, most of them pertaining to ancient studies. The Cluster will integrate researchers and partners from the natural and social sciences into its work in a novel way. Topoi. Stability and Instability in Ancient Civilizations is being proposed jointly by the two universities named above in cooperation with the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Science and Humanities, the German Archaeological Institute, the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, and the Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz.

Designated spokespersons: Prof. Dr. Monika Trümper (Freie Universität Berlin), Prof. Dr. Gerd Graßhoff (Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin)
Applicant universities: FU Berlin, HU Berlin

Unifying Systems in Catalysis (UniSysCat)

Sustainability Needs Catalysis Research
Catalysis is a key scientific and economic technology, which is indispensable in the transition to a sustainable chemical production and industry. Whereas individual catalytic reactions are already clearly understood, rational coupling of several catalysis steps has so far hardly been feasible and therefore constitutes a huge challenge. The central scientific objective of “UniSysCat” is to bring about a paradigm shift in this area, to facilitate the deciphering, generation, and systemic control of entire reaction networks in chemical and biological catalysis. The experimental coupling of catalytic and non-catalytic processes to an overall system assumes a comprehensive understanding of all primary steps. UniSysCat intends to build on internationally recognized research and the extensive arsenal of methods of UniCat, which has been an Excellence Cluster at Technische Universität Berlin since 2007. Systems targeted within the framework of UniSysCat include a variety of coupled catalytic and non-catalytic processes. The interaction of such processes in terms of space and time is extremely important for success and control of the overall system. As a result, the principles that regulate the coupling of these reactions must first be decoded; for example, transfer - adjusted in terms of time and space - and activation of substrates or products within the coupled catalytic systems, or cooperation between different catalytic centers. Only a comprehensive understanding of such regulatory factors facilitates controlling and manipulating of catalytic systems. 

Designated spokespersons: Prof. Dr. Matthias Driess, Prof. Dr. Arne Thomas, Prof. Dr. Peter Hildebrandt (Technische Universität Berlin)
Applicant university: TU Berlin

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Press contacts:

Goran Krstin
Press Spokesperson for the President
Freie Universität Berlin
t: +49 30 838-731 06

Hans-Christoph Keller
Spokesperson, Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Head of the Office of Press and Public Relations
t: +49 30 2093-2345

Stefanie Terp
Press Spokesperson, Technische Universität Berlin
Office for Press, Public Relations and Alumni
t: +49 30 314-23922

Manuela Zingl
Deputy Press Officer
Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin
t: +49 30 450 570 400

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