Humboldt Professorships awarded: Nine top researchers from abroad are singled out

This year’s Alexander von Humboldt Professorships were awarded last night by Anja Karliczek, the Federal Minister of Education and Research, and Hans-Christian Pape, the President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. In her speech, the Federal Minister of Education and Research also announced plans to establish further Humboldt Professorships in order to strengthen the field of Artificial Intelligence.

Alexander von Humboldt Professorships were awarded to nine top researchers from abroad Thursday evening in Berlin. This award is Germany's best endowed research award and is worth up to €5 million. The President of the Humboldt Foundation, Hans-Christian Pape, presented the awards during a formal ceremony with Minister for Education and Research Anja Karliczek to Margaret Crofoot, Malte Gather, Anke Hoeffler, Jens Meiler, Alexandre Obertelli, Stefanie Petermichl, Dietmar Schmucker, Henning Walczak and Enrique Zuazua.

The recipients were nominated by German universities and research facilities. They will be conducting research in Bonn, Darmstadt, Erlangen-Nuremberg, Cologne, Konstanz, Leipzig and Würzburg. “The individuals who are coming to Germany with an Alexander von Humboldt Professorship are expected to set things in motion”, the President of the Humboldt Foundation Hans-Christian Pape underscored and called upon the award winners attending the function: “You are coming here to change. You will have the task of bringing fresh wind into our system. This also applies to the dialogue with the public: Get involved, talk about your research, and bring yourself, your knowledge and your intellect to the table.”

“Freedom and trust are part of a Humboldt Professorship: be it freedom from expectations of short-term usefulness or be it freedom to conduct basic research or experiments that don’t have to shy away from the risk of failure ‒ all of this is part and parcel of a Humboldt Professorship”, Pape continued.

Federal Minister of Education and Research Anja Karliczek stated, “Alexander von Humboldt was an exceptional researcher. Today, 250 years after his birth, he continues to be a role model for science and academia. Even in his day, he was a networker who cultivated intensive exchanges with other researchers. He lived, travelled and corresponded on a global level ‒ entirely without any modern means of communication. Networks of researchers and networkers among researchers are the lifelines of science and scholarship even today. This is what the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship stands for.”

The Federal Minister of Education and Research also announced the creation of another 20 to 30 Alexander von Humboldt Professorships as part of the German government’s Artificial Intelligence Strategy. These new professorships are to be awarded in AI-related disciplines by the year 2024: “Alexander von Humboldt’s era witnessed a ‘knowledge explosion’. We are witnessing a knowledge explosion today as well: it is taking place with the help of computer chips and in borderless data rooms. Digital explorers with an integrated approach are needed in this connection. The German government’s Artificial Intelligence Strategy includes the creation of 100 new AI professorships, including 20 to 30 based on the funding model used for Alexander von Humboldt Professorships. The Alexander von Humboldt Professorship for Artificial Intelligence will address the subject of artificial intelligence in the Humboldtian spirit on an integrated basis, in both technical and societal terms”, Minister Karliczek stated.

A precise timetable for the establishment of the Humboldt Professorships for Artificial Intelligence has not yet been finalised. Details are currently being coordinated with the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. The first Humboldt Professorships in the field of artificial intelligence might however be awarded as early as May 2020.

With the Alexander von Humboldt Professorships, the Humboldt Foundation has till now singled out up to ten researchers annually from all disciplines who have worked abroad to date and are international leaders in their fields. The award comes with €5 million in funding for individuals conducting experimental research and €3.5 million for researchers working in theoretical fields. In addition to the candidates’ outstanding scientific and academic qualifications, the decisive factors in the selection process are the concepts developed by the universities that will offer the researchers and their teams long-term career prospects in Germany. Alexander von Humboldt Professorships are financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research.

The award winners at a glance:

Malte Gather (Nanobiophotonics) is moving from the University of St Andrews, UK, to the University of Cologne
Anke Hoeffler (Political Economy) comes from the University of Oxford, UK, to the University of Konstanz
Jens Meiler (Bioinformatics) is transferring from Vanderbilt University in the USA to the University of Leipzig
Alexandre Obertelli (Experimental Nuclear Physics) is transferring from the Institut de recherche sur les lois fondamentales de l‘Univers (IRFU), France, to TU Darmstadt
Stefanie Petermichl (Mathematics) comes from the University of Toulouse, France, to Würzburg
Dietmar Schmucker (Molecular Neuroscience) is moving from the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, to the University of Bonn
Henning Walczak (Biochemistry/Immunology) is transferring from University College London, UK, to the University of Cologne
Enrique Zuazua (Applied Mathematics) comes from the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid and DeustoTech, Bilbao, Spain, to the University of Erlangen-Nuremberg
In addition, one previously conferred award has been presented:
Margaret C. Crofoot (Biology/Movement Ecology) is moving from the University of California, USA, to the University of Konstanz

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation
Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time researching in Germany. The Foundation maintains a network of well over 29,000 Humboldtians from all disciplines in more than 140 countries worldwide – including 55 Nobel Laureates.