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Posted: February 17, 2009

German nanotechnologist and atomic physicist each awarded $1.6 million for especially innovative research projects

(Nanowerk News) The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has announced that it will fund two new especially innovative and high-risk research projects. The Joint Committee of Germany's largest research funding organisation, located in Bonn, has approved funding for two new Reinhart Koselleck Projects. Professor Margit Zacharias, a nanotechnologist from Freiburg, and Professor Reinhard Dörner, an atomic physicist from Frankfurt, have each been awarded 1.25 million euros, which they will be able to use flexibly for their projects over the next five years.
"With our Reinhart Koselleck project funding we aim to promote outstanding researchers who have adventurous ideas and are willing to undertake higher-risk research," commented Professor Matthias Kleiner, President of the DFG, during the DFG's Joint Committee session.
It was the second time that the Joint Committee has approved funding under this programme, following the first Reinhart Koselleck awards in December 2008, when six researchers were granted Reinhart Koselleck Project funding. The Reinhart Koselleck programme, named after the late renowned historian from Bielefeld, who died in 2006, fills a gap in the DFG's funding programmes and in the German research funding landscape as a whole.
"In the past even noted researchers who had wanted to do promising, higher-risk research had almost no way of applying for funding," said the President of the DFG. Since it is usually more difficult to plan especially innovative and high-risk research than is the case for normal research work, only a five-page project outline is required to apply for Reinhart Koselleck Project funding. In addition to the ambitious project ideas, the applicants' proven track records play a crucial role in the review process.
"The Koselleck Projects," said Kleiner, "are an enormous vote of confidence that needs to be earned." The DFG's Joint Committee found that these very demanding requirements were met by the project proposals submitted by Reinhard Dörner and Margit Zacharias.
Reinhard Dörner, aged 47, a professor at the department of physics at the University of Frankfurt am Main, plans to study the special properties of tiny molecules consisting of just two or three atoms of helium experimentally. These systems have unique quantum properties that are of very great importance to basic research.
For instance, the two atoms in a helium dimer are very weakly bonded and have an interatomic spacing of about 100 atomic radii – making the helium dimer the largest known molecule that exists. It has been proposed that helium trimers, which consist of three helium atoms, have an entirely new, weakly bonded excited state, a so-called "Efimov state", which is currently a topic of debate. Dörner's experiments will, for the first time, attempt to prove the existence of helium molecules in this state.
Reinhard Dörner studied physics and philosophy at the University of Frankfurt and at the RWTH Aachen. After a number of research visits to the USA, Japan and China he first took up a position as a temporary lecturer in 1998, before being appointed to the chair he now holds at the University of Frankfurt in 2002. He played a major role in the development of the reaction microscope, which has been used to achieve many important breakthroughs in the field of atomic collision physics in recent years.
Margit Zacharias, aged 52, a professor of nanotechnology at the Institute of Microsystem Technology at the University of Freiburg, is the first female recipient of Reinhart Koselleck Project funding. With her project she aims to develop new and innovative methods for doping nanostructures and, in particular, nanowires. She is thus addressing a key topic that is of immense scientific interest and, at the same time, has great potential for application in the nanoelectronics of the future.
To date there is still no consistent method for defining the electronic properties of nanostructures by carefully controlled doping sufficiently in order for them to be usable in electronic components. The problems that need to be solved in relation to the preparation and the characterisation of the structures are extremely complex, in particular the realisation of doping profiles with well-defined and homogeneous transitions at the nanoscale. Margit Zacharias studied physics, obtained her doctorate in engineering, and then went on to qualify as a university lecturer in physics. With this interdisciplinary education, her extensive and internationally renowned work and the ideas put forward in her funding proposals, she is ideally suited to addressing this difficult project at the interface between physics, chemistry and engineering, which goes far beyond the scope of typical DFG-funded projects, successfully.
All eight researchers who have been awarded funding under the DFG's Reinhart Koselleck Projects programme are invited to attend the DFG's New Year's reception in Berlin on Monday, 9 February, where they and their research projects will be briefly introduced to the representatives from science, politics, business and society. "This also goes to show the great importance we attach to the Reinhart Koselleck Projects and the promotion of bold ideas," concluded DFG President Kleiner.
Source: Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft