Dies academicus at Ulm University
Ceremony celebrates record high in third-party funding and awards status of honorary senator

Ulm University

Ulm University celebrated its Dies academicus on Friday afternoon with highlights including the awarding of a new honorary senator status and prizes for outstanding achievements in research, teaching and gender equality. In his welcoming address, University President Professor Michael Weber looked back on developments at the University over the past few months and announced a new record.

University President Professor Michael Weber proudly opened this year’s Dies academicus by sharing a new record: In 2019, scientists from Ulm University were successful in attracting roughly 110 million euros in third-party funding. One of the greatest successes of recent months included the renewal of the 9.4 million euro ERC Synergy Grant. Local professors Feder Jelezko and Martin Plenio, along with Professor Jan Hendrik Ardenkjaer-Larsen (Technical University of Denmark), hope to use quantum technology to revolutionise nuclear spin applications – from MRI scanners to high sensitivity sensors. The awards also included two ERC Consolidator Grants amounting to nearly two million euros each for Professors Iris-Tatjana Kolassa (psychology) and Lena Wilfert (biology).

“Universities have always been dependent on third-party funding to conduct intensive research. Third-party funding, however, is earmarked for specific purposes and therefore dependent on reliable basic funding from the state – to cover buildings and support staff, for instance”, explains Professor Michael Weber. He goes on to relate that the basic funding from the state cannot keep up with the increasing third-party funding, unfortunately, nor with the increasing number of studying places. Students and other members of the University have also recognised this precarious development. At demonstrations in the autumn of 2019, they called on the state to end the continual underfunding of the universities under the University Funding Agreement II. “The universities in Baden-Württemberg are facing immense challenges in maintaining their competitive edge, both at an international level and, in relation to Bavaria, a national level”, says President Weber.

Despite the gaps in funding, there is currently no need for the University to shy away from international comparisons, a fact that is demonstrated by the University’s superb standing in university rankings. “Highly Cited Researchers”, a publication analysis conducted by the Web of Science Group, also lists eight researchers from Ulm among the most frequently cited scientists in their respective fields.

President Weber also presented the new “Mission Statement Teaching”, a set of guidelines developed to mark the 50-year anniversary of the start of teaching at Ulm University, and gave a preview of what to expect in the coming months. Work on establishing the Ulm Institute of Quantum Technologies in Space Applications (DLR-QT) in cooperation with the German Aerospace Centre (das Deutsche Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt – DLR) is continuing at a good pace. The Institute aims to develop quantum-based precision instruments for purposes of navigation and weather observation in space. Another development to look forward to is the new Transfer Institute for Digitalisation, Analytics and Data Science (DASU), a joint institute currently being planned in cooperation with the Ulm University of Applied Sciences.

Dr h c mult Annette Schavan awarded honorary senator status

At the Dies academicus, Dr h c mult Annette Schavan, former federal minister of research and former German consulate for the Vatican, was awarded one of Ulm University’s highest honours. Schavan was awarded the title of honorary senator for her services in developing the University and Science City and contributing to their reputations. In his laudatory speech, former Ulm University President Professor Karl Joachim Ebeling recalled groundbreaking reform projects dating back to Schavan’s time in office as federal minister, ranging from the high-tech strategy and the Excellence Initiative to the establishment of the German Health Research Centres. A facility of the German Centre for Neurodegenerative Disease (das Deutsche Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen - DZNE) is being established at Ulm University thanks to this initiative and due to the outstanding expertise of Ulm researchers. The Helmholtz Institute Ulm (HIU) was also established during Schavan’s term of office in the federal ministry. This research institute, operated in cooperation with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) and other partner institutes, continues the success story of the Ulm Electrochemical Department and is the nucleus of Germany’s only Cluster of Excellence for battery research. Annette Schavan also campaigned for the battery pilot production facility at the Centre for Solar Energy and Hydrogen Research (das Zentrum für Sonnenenergie- und Wasserstoff-Forschung – ZSW) in her former parliamentary constituency in Ulm. She supported the expansion of university trauma research and endorsed the renovation of the science centre Reisensburg Castle. “We the people of Ulm are very grateful that we have been able to achieve great accomplishments and set important projects in motion for Ulm University and the Science City with your support”, emphasised Professor Ebeling.

Annette Schavan expressed her gratitude at the great honour of being awarded the title of honorary senator at Ulm University. In her speech entitled “A City and Science”, Schavan presented Ulm University and the University Hospital as a source of current and future prosperity for the city and the region. But, as Schavan sees it, the community of Ulm benefits as well – after all, the locals also “witness a prototype for creativity and scientific progress through the University and the Science City”, she explained. According to Schavan, the University also acts as an example for Ulm in terms of its cultural diversity. However, she emphasised, they must do everything within their power to ensure that the freedoms of opinion and debate do not suffer as a result of the reputed fight for political correctness. “A community needs this, can learn from it that nothing good can come from intellectual narrowness”, said the former federal minister of research. She also encouraged the members of Ulm University to get involved in local politics. Schavan emphasised that she, for her part, is “now connected with this university for life and called upon to share in its prosperity and adversity”.

Dies academicus 2020 awards

Six prizes for outstanding achievements were awarded at the Dies academicus in areas such as research, teaching and gender equality.

•   Professors Susanne Biundo-Stephan, Birte Glimm and Wolfgang Minker were awarded the 8,000-euro University/Industry Cooperation Award for their successful collaboration with the company Robert Bosch GmbH. In a joint effort with their industrial partner, this group of researchers has developed a digital assistant called ROBERT, which provides amateur craftsmen with step-by-step instructions for their projects.  ROBERT adapts its multimodal instructions depending on the tools available and tailors the instructions to reflect the individual abilities and wishes of the user. Project partner Bosch also received a cooperation award and has now developed an app, resulting from this cooperative research, to support do-it-yourself enthusiasts.

•   The Franziska Kolb Prize for the Advancement of Leukaemia Research also entails prize money amounting to 8,000 euros. At the Dies academicus, Dr Dr Jonas Jutzi was honoured with this award for his research on the development of the malignant bone marrow disease myeloproliferative neoplasm (MPN) and the related disease acute myeloid leukaemia (AML). In the journal “Blood,” Jutzi described previously unknown mutations in MPN and AML patients. Using an animal model, the researcher from Freiburg University Hospital demonstrated that these changes can trigger the disease. “The results of his research are an important contribution to further deciphering the pathogenesis of AML and the characterisation of new therapeutic targets for this form of leukaemia”, explained Professor Hartmut Döhner, medical director of the Department of Internal Medicine III at Ulm University Hospital, in his laudatory speech.

•   The new programme “Founder’s Garage” has been established with the purpose of encouraging students to start their own businesses. Within this programme, interdisciplinary teams of students from Ulm University, the Ulm University of Applied Sciences (Technische  Hochschule Ulm - THU) and the Biberach University of Applied Sciences develop ideas for starting their own businesses. Mentors from both academia and industry provide support and guidance for the student teams. Networking opportunities such as “Founders’ Day” and “Start-Up Night” round off the project seminar. The Ulm University Teaching Award went to the initiators of the programme, Dr Andrea Wirmer, Dana Schultchen and Benedikt Bill, and their team. The award included 4,000 euros in prize money to support the programme, which is part of the inter-university project Accelerate! SÜD.

•   This year, Ulm University once again awarded two Mileva Einstein-Marić prizes (at 2,500 euros each) to female scientists who combine an academic career with family responsibilities in an exemplary fashion. Dr Stefanie Tschierlei was one of the scientists to receive such an award. Tschierlei, chemist and mother of one young daughter, conducts research on converting (solar) energy and heads a research team at the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry I. She has been successful in attracting three independent projects from the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft) and the Baden-Württemberg Foundation, and will complete her habilitation (German postdoctoral teaching qualification) in the near future. In addition to being involved in research (including the Collaborative Research Centre CataLight and Priority Programme 2102) and teaching, Stefanie Tschierlei is active in the Senate, representing mid-level faculty interests. The second prizewinner is Dr Sabine Vettorazzi from the Institute of Comparative Molecular Endocrinology. The mother of one son heads a project in the Trauma Collaborative Research Centre and in the research training group PULMOSENS. Vettorazzi, a biologist who attracts a great deal of third-party funding and has been the recipient of many awards, has laid the foundations for a cortisol therapy with few side effects and exhibiting an anti-inflammatory effect. Vettorazzi is now pursuing her habilitation (postodoctoral teaching qualification). In addition to her research, she is also involved in teaching and in the Faculty Council.

•   The University Sustainability Group was awarded the Ulm University Special Award for Outstanding Student Commitment (500 euros). In addition to their studies, the members of the group led by the driving force of Sophia Schwender and Dominik Winklmaier have organised such events as the film series watch.think.act, a clothing carousel at the Uni Forum, a sustainable guided tour of Ulm and a round table for sustainability. In her laudatory speech, University Vice President Professor Olga Pollatos stressed the social significance of the students’ voluntary commitment.

In traditional fashion, an ensemble from the University Orchestra provided musical accompaniment at the Dies academicus.

Read Annette Schavan’s lecture “A City and Science” here (PDF, 38.2 KB, in German only).

Media contact: Annika Bingmann

Dr Andrea Wirmer; Dana Schultchen; Dr Gregor Behnke; Matthias Kraus; Prof Susanne Biundo-Stephan; Dr Marvin Schiller; Prof Birte Glimm; Dr Jonas Jutzi; Prof Hartmut Döhner; Prof Karl Joachim Ebeling, former president (back row from left) Benedikt Bill; Dr Dietrich Manstetten; Dr Stefanie Tschierlei; Prof Olga Pollatos, vice president for education; Honorary Senator Dr h c Annette Schavan; University President Prof Michael Weber; Dr Sabine Vettorazzi; Dieter Kaufmann, chancellor (front row from left) (Photo: Elvira Eberhardt/Uni Ulm)
University President Prof Michael Weber looks back over the developments at Ulm University over the past few months (Photo: Elvira Eberhardt/Uni Ulm)
Prof Michael Weber, university president; Dr h c Annette Schavan, honorary senator; Prof Karl Joachim Ebeling, laudatory speaker and former university president (from left) (Photo: Elvira Eberhardt/Uni Ulm)
Ulm University celebrates the 2020 Dies academicus (Photo: Elvira Eberhardt/Uni Ulm)