Alexander von Humboldt Professorship

With a value of five million EUR, the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship is the most highly-endowed research award in Germany and draws top international researchers to German universities.

The Humboldt Professorship at a glance

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    Humboldt Professorships bring international research stars to Germany

    Alexander von Humboldt Professorships awarded by State Secretary Cornelia Quennet-Thielen from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Helmut Schwarz.  > more

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    Heading for the Big Leagues

    Worldwide competition to attract the best researchers is fierce. German universities are increasingly joining the fray – and succeeding in recruiting vast numbers of top academics.  > more

Award Winners 2017

Largus T. Angenent
Environmental Microbiology and Bioprocess Engineering


Professor Dr Largus T. Angenent

The beings on whom all hopes are pinned are miniscule and live in complex communities: bacteria play a key role in gas fermentation, one of the most important sources of clean energy for the future. How to optimise and employ bacteria to synthesise fuels and chemicals is the subject of Lars Angenent’s research. A leading international bioprocess engineer, he himself developed the principles on which his most recent work is based by analysing the composition and interaction of microbial communities in the air of environments like hospitals and fermentation plants. He successfully puts his findings into practice in his own firm which develops and optimises microbes to store hydrogen and carbon dioxide in the form of methane. In the Centre for Applied Geosciences at the University of Tübingen, Angenent is set to generate ideas for developing new technologies. He will also drive microbiome analysis together with colleagues from neighbouring disciplines such as those at the Interfaculty Institute of Microbiology and Infection Medicine. His presence will help to ensure that Germany’s strong position in basic research in the field will achieve international eminence in applications as well.

Peter Baumann
Cell biology


Prof. Dr. Peter Baumann

When cells divide, telomerase plays a key role, an enzyme that preserves the telomeres, the ends of the chromosomes, which get shorter with every cell division. Controlling telomerase determines whether cells age or whether, in the case of cancer, for example, they grow uninhibitedly. The cell biologist, Peter Baumann, is a leading specialist in the field of chromosome biology, genome stability and the regulation of telomerase and other molecular cell-ageing processes. His discoveries on the RNA components of telomerase (Terc) in yeast could lead to a better understanding of Terc regulation in human cells and facilitate therapies to counter early cell-ageing or pathological growth. In Mainz, Baumann will help to develop the university and the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB) into an international location for fundamental research in biomedicine.

Jijie Chai
Structural Biology


Professor Dr Jijie Chai

No proteins, no life – and no defence against pathogens either. Whether the subject is human, mouse or corn, when it comes to immune defence, proteins are an important element, and they are very similar right across the boundaries of animal and plant cells. If you know all about these proteins, you hold the key to the targeted manipulation of immune defence. Jijie Chai is a leading researcher who investigates the structure of such proteins and special receptors. By describing the complex structures of the proteins he produces important basic knowledge for the fight against plant disease and the development of drugs to combat inflammatory disease. In his research, Chai uses a sophisticated new microscopic method: cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM). The advent of this method has made it possible to see and analyse the structure and receptors of such proteins for the first time. So far, it is only employed at very few research locations. With Jijie Chai’s research, and technologies like cryo-EM, the University of Cologne and the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research want to draw their research in medicine, biochemistry and botany closer together.

James Conant


Prof. Dr. James Conant

American and German philosophers belong to different schools, known as the analytical and the continental movements. This fact hampers communication and cooperation. The American philosopher, James Conant, is at home in both worlds and is seen as a bridge-builder between the two approaches. He is one of the most respected experts on Kant and Wittgenstein and equally renowned for his work on the history of analytical philosophy, Nietzsche interpretation and philosophical scepticism. He has also made significant contributions to knowledge on the philosophy of logic, aesthetics and the philosophy of film. As co-director of the Leipzig Research Forschungskolleg Analytic German Idealism (FAGI), he is set to introduce new themes and perspectives into philosophy and turn the planned “Analytic German Philosophy Research Quadrangle”, involving the universities of Leipzig, Potsdam, Chicago and Pittsburgh, into a crystallisation point for German-American cooperation in philosophy.

Wolf B. Frommer
Plant molecular biology


Prof. Dr. Wolf B. Frommer

In order to absorb nutrients and carry them through the membranes in their cells, plants use transport proteins. Understanding them is one of the keys to increasing yields and finding new fertilisers. One of the leading experts in this area is the plant biologist, Wolf B. Frommer. He investigates different transport mechanisms, such as the so-called SWEET proteins, which channel glucose through the membranes. This mechanism operates very similarly in animal and human cells, too. Frommer’s work is thus also relevant to medical applications such as understanding metabolic processes in cancer cells. Together with non-university partners in Jülich and Cologne, Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf would like to apply Frommer’s expertise to continue developing the CEPLAS Cluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences into a cutting-edge research location for molecular botany.

Ran Hirschl
Constitutional Law and Political Science


Professor Dr Ran Hirschl

To what extent do constitutional courts in different countries around the world exert political influence? What role do they play in old and young democracies, or in secular and theocratic states where they compete with religious law? Ran Hirschl is one of the world’s leading scholars of comparative constitutional law. Having completed numerous studies on constitutional development, the judicialization of politics, and the intellectual history and methodologies of comparative public law, Hirschl now wants to focus on settings in which religion and constitutional law interact to reflect and shape political struggles over collective identity. He also plans to explore new challenges concerning the constitutional governance of mega-cities in an increasingly globalized world. Hirschl will help to develop the Göttingen campus into a centre for research on the interaction between comparative law, constitutional design and comparative politics. To this end, he will cooperate extensively with the Max Planck Institute for the Study of Religious and Ethnic Diversity in Göttingen.

Award Winners 2016

Till Winfried Bärnighausen


Professor Dr Till Winfried Bärnighausen

What impact are increasing treatment options for HIV carriers having on society as a whole? What are the effects on life expectancy? And how does employment consequently develop in a society? In his work, the epidemiologist Till Bärnighausen not only examines the group of carriers and sufferers, he also makes connections to society as a whole – an approach that has gained him a global reputation. Bärnighausen’s analyses of the effectiveness, costs and benefits of HIV prevention and interventions have not only caught the attention of the research community, they are also being adopted by organisations like the World Bank and the World Health Organisation. As a Humboldt Professor in Heidelberg, Till Bärnighausen is expected to drive global health research, which has been a somewhat neglected research area in Germany until now.

Sven Bernecker


Professor Dr Sven Bernecker

Sven Bernecker is one of the most respected philosophers of our times, both in the fields of contemporary epistemology and classical German philosophy. His particular interests include the philosophy of mind, an area in which he is considered a pioneer of the renaissance of the philosophical debate on memory. His research focusses on the question as to what memory is, drawing on approaches taken from cognitive science, psychology and sociology. In Cologne, the Humboldt Professor is due to found and head a Centre for Contemporary Epistemology and Kantian Tradition. It may also prove valuable to cooperate with the philosopher and Humboldt Professor Michael Neil Forster who is already conducting research just up the Rhine in Bonn.

William Crawley-Boevey


Professor Dr William Crawley-Boevey

The mathematician William Crawley-Boevey is looked upon as a pioneer in the field of representation theory and algebras. Being a theoretical researcher with a penchant for particularly thorny questions he has made important contributions to solving core mathematical challenges like Horn's problem, the Deligne-Simpson problem and Kac-Moody Lie algebras. He has developed seminal concepts in the theory of tame algebras, which govern representation theory to this day, and broken new paths in investigating the connections between representation theory and geometry. Together with his current work on vector bundles and the analysis of Riemann surfaces, this is the topic that still captures his imagination.

Tiffany Knight


Prof. Dr. Tiffany Knight

What is the impact of invasive species on the original biodiversity of the habitats they invade? Why do invasions increase biodiversity in some cases and reduce it in others? Invasion processes, as they are known, are one of the core research interests of the world-renowned ecologist Tiffany Knight. The American environmental researcher focusses in particular on the interaction between plants, microorganisms, pollinators and herbivores. She uses a variety of methodological and theoretical approaches deriving from population biology and evolutionary research. A special feature of her research is that she studies these interactions across different ecosystems as well. Her work on the connections between fish populations in ponds and the stocks of plant-pollinating insects on land are seen as a breakthrough in biodiversity research. She discovered, for example, that plant pollinators tend to avoid ponds where there are no fish; instead, these ponds attract a larger number of dragonflies, which feed on insects. Knight’s task at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg and the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research in Leipzig will be to create a focus for content generated by the various areas of ecological research, from molecular research to green corridors. In her role as an Alexander von Humboldt Professor, she will also address general issues in her field such as plant rarity or plant invasiveness.

Katrin Kogman-Appel
Jewish Studies


Prof. Dr. Katrin Kogman-Appel

What do the illustrations in mediaeval Jewish manuscripts tell us about the life of Jewish communities at the time? What interaction existed between Jewish pictorial and book culture and that of Christian and Islamic cultures? Jewish scholar Katrin Kogman-Appel is widely regarded as a world authority on the Jewish Art of the Middle Ages. She understands art history in terms of cultural history and always relates both to aspects of social and religious history. A typical example of Kogman-Appel’s approach is her work on the so-called Leipzig Mahzor, a collection of prayers for Jewish holidays and one of the most famous examples of Hebrew illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages. The prayer book was produced in southwestern Germany around 1310 and is known to have been kept at Worms in the 16th century. Kogman-Appel directs her attention to the role of the Mahzor and the rites of late-mediaeval Jewish community life depicted; she also focusses on social cohesion within the Jewish community in Worms, which was then a centre of Judaism in Germany. By embracing the broader cultural context, Kogman-Appel has an impact beyond the confines of Jewish Studies on Mediaeval Studies in general. She is expected to drive interdisciplinary research in the Humanities at the University of Münster. In particular, the Alexander von Humboldt Professor will seek to establish Jewish Studies to complement existing research on Christianity and Islam at Münster.

Judith Pfeiffer
Islamic Studies


Prof. Dr. Judith Pfeiffer

What does it mean for a religious community to accept new members? What processes are initiated by a change of faith and religious conversion? Questions like this are more relevant today than ever, and the extent to which they are a recurrent theme in the history of humankind is illustrated by the work of the Islamic scholar Judith Pfeiffer. She has a global reputation as an expert on the history of the Mongols from the 13th to the 16th centuries as well as the intellectual history of the Mongolian Empire in the Islamic East, from Iran via Syria and Anatolia to Iraq. Pfeiffer focusses, amongst other things, on the conversion of migrant Mongols and leaders to Islam, analysing Persian, Arab and Ottoman sources and setting them in the greater historical and social context of their time. Her research is not restricted to asking how the conversion to Islam changed the Mongols’ way of life but also investigates how the converts influenced their new religion and introduced ideas into Islamic theology that had ripple effects even on politics and the law. By gaining an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship for Judith Pfeiffer the University of Bonn would like to continue strengthening its research focus in historical Islamic studies and extend it to embrace Iran and Central Asia.

Wolfgang Wernsdorfer
Experimental Solid State Physics


Professor Dr Wolfgang Wernsdorfer

Wolfgang Wernsdorfer’s specialism is experimental solid state physics at the interface with chemistry and material science. He is one of the world’s leading experts on nanomagnets and their use in quantum spintronics. Already as a doctoral researcher at the Low Temperature Laboratory in Grenoble, he developed the nano-SQUID, a breakthrough device allowing him to measure the magnetic properties of single nanostructures and molecules. Wernsdorfer discovered the role played by quantum laws in molecular magnetism and was thus able to build electronic circuits in which the electric current is controlled by the magnetism in the molecule. One of his most recent ambitions is to integrate tiny, molecular quantum processors in the state-of-the-art CMOS technology used in microelectronics. This could lead to nanomagnets being used in future quantum computers.


An Offer You Can’t Refuse (Almost)

Thanks to the Humboldt Professorship, Germany has enticing things to offer international research luminaries. A review of the first five years.

“Germany’s Nobel Prizes awarded,” announced the Süddeutsche Zeitung on its front page when the Alexander von Humboldt Professorships were granted for the first time some five years ago. Germany’s Nobel Prizes? The comparison is both apposite and completely off the mark. On the one hand, ...  > more


When I think of Germany...

Reflections of an American scientist living in Göttingen

When I think of Germany I think of a place where it is still fun to do science! No kidding. Germany is a fun place, especially when it comes to Science. This hit me like a brick recently at the end of a hard week of work, Freitag Feierabend! I’m sitting in a nice Göttingen student Kneipe with ...  > more


“We Have to Explain What Makes a German Administration Tick”

KOSMOS: The interim evaluation of five years of the Humboldt Professorship is largely positive. But it does identify some critical areas which will need to be addressed in the 2015 evaluation. What are you concerned about? AUFDERHEIDE: One genuine concern is the low proportion of women, even ...  > more

The Anxiety Tamer

Jürgen Margraf developed a therapy for panic attacks that works incredibly fast. Now a Humboldt Professor at Ruhr-Universität Bochum, the psychologist is investigating how people stay mentally healthy.

There are occasions when even anxiety researchers get anxious. Jürgen Margraf has experienced many such moments, and remembers one in particular. “It was my first dive in the sea,” relates the Professor of Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapy, sitting in his office on campus at ...  > more

There’s Still Room at the Top

Prominent female researchers are rare, amongst Humboldt Professors, too. What academia and the Foundation can do about it.

The IBM Research Centre in Zurich likes to showcase the successful physicist, Heike Riel. When TU München raised the possibility of a Humboldt Professorship a year ago, alarm bells rang in Zurich. They made her an IBM Research Fellow, the highest accolade the company grants. For five years, the ...  > more

Heading for the Big Leagues

Worldwide competition to attract the best researchers is fierce. German universities are increasingly joining the fray – and succeeding in recruiting vast numbers of top academics.

It was about a year ago that Hannes Leitgeb faced his big decision. Leitgeb, now 39, had been conducting research as a philosopher and mathematician in Bristol, UK, for five years; then his two children reached school age. “To be honest, we weren’t really sure about the school system in ...  > more


New Alexander von Humboldt Professors selected

Three researchers from abroad have been chosen to receive Germany’s top international research award in 2017 and move to North Rhine-Westphalia, Rhineland-Palatinate and Saxony.

A cell biologist, a philosopher and a plant molecular biologist from the USA have been selected to receive Germany’s most valuable international research prize. These outcomes mean that six awards have been granted for 2017. The first selection round was held in April. The Alexander von Humboldt ...  > more


New Alexander von Humboldt Professors selected

Three researchers from abroad have been chosen to receive Germany’s top international research award in 2017.

A bioprocess engineer from the USA, a structural biologist from China and a constitutional law expert from Canada have been selected to receive Germany’s most valuable international research prize. The Alexander von Humboldt Professorship comes with up to €5 million in funding for each ...  > more


Humboldt Professorships bring international research stars to Germany

Alexander von Humboldt Professorships awarded by State Secretary Cornelia Quennet-Thielen from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Helmut Schwarz.

Six top researchers (three women and three men) from abroad were awarded Alexander von Humboldt Professorships Tuesday evening in Berlin. State Secretary Cornelia Quennet-Thielen from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and the President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Helmut ...  > more