On Friday, 11 February, Ulm University celebrated its Dies academicus. At the ceremony in the new training hospital “ToTrainU”, an honorary doctorate was awarded to the physicist and former DLR director Professor Hansjörg Dittus. University members and their cooperation partners received a total of seven prizes for excellent achievements in research and teaching as well as for outstanding student commitment.
Ulm University held its traditional Dies academicus in a hybrid format. As a result of the pandemic, the ceremony was held in front of only a small live audience, and it was streamed live for the first time. Not only the format for the event was new; the guests were also welcomed by University President Professor Michael Weber in the new training hospital ToTrainU (TTU), which had just been inaugurated at the beginning of the winter semester. The teaching facility comprises various simulation rooms, in which medical students practise examination and treatment methods, with environments ranging from a general practitioner’s office to the operating theatre. The new building also houses lab rooms and the University’s largest lecture hall which seats 450, and in which the Dies academicus was held.
In addition to the new developments in teaching, President Weber also reported on the numerous achievements in the area of research, including the acquisition of a new Collaborative Research Centre on ageing and the extension of the DFG programme on the CRISPR-Cas gene shears. Five researchers from Ulm University are among the most frequently cited researchers in the world in this field according to an analysis by the “Web of Science”. External funding was again well over 100 million euros in 2021. “Ulm University is well-equipped for the challenges of the next few years. The structure and development plan for the years 2022 to 2026 has been finalized. Our motto is: ‘crossing borders’- in research, between disciplines and also between, for instance, the university and our society”, explained Professor Michael Weber, who entered his second period of office as university president in the fall.
Honorary doctorate for physics professor Hansjörg Dittus
The highlight of the celebration was the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Professor Hansjörg Dittus, until recently a member of the board of directors at the German Aerospace Centre (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt – DLR). The scientist from Bremen University received the Dr h c distinction from the Faculty of Natural Sciences for his outstanding achievements between gravitation research and quantum physics. Under the leadership of Professor Dittus, a 146-metre-high drop tower was erected at the Bremen “Centre for Applied Space Technology and Microgravity” (Zentrum für angewandte Raumfahrttechnologie und Mikrogravitation - ZARM). This is where the first Bose-Einstein condensate was created in weightlessness.
“Professor Hansjörg Dittus initiated several joint projects with my group. The first Bose-Einstein condensate in space was created In cooperation with Ulm University. Ulm’s participation in experiments in the ‘cold atom laboratory’ on the International Space Station can also be traced back to the connection with Professor Dittus”, explained Professor Wolgang Schleich, head of the Ulm Institute of Quantum Physics, who proposed Hansjörg Dittus for the honorary doctorate. These joint research projects paved the way for the new DLR Institute of Quantum Technologies in Ulm. The laudator at the Dies academicus was another cooperation partner of the two physicists, Professor Ernst Rasel, who is the head of the Institute of Quantum Optics at Leibniz University Hannover. Within the scope of the honorary doctorate award ceremony, Professor Joachim Ankerhold, who is the vice-president of research at Ulm University and a physicist himself, held a lecture on the subject of quantum technology.
Prizes for excellent research, teaching and student commitment
The awards ceremony at the Dies academicus was moderated by Dana Hoffmann. In short interviews, she spoke to the prize-winners about their award-winning projects.
- Two University/Industry Cooperation Awards 2021 were awarded at 4,000 euros each. The first prize went to researchers in the Human Factors Department (Institute of Psychology and Education) in Professor Martin Baumann’s team and to Adlatus Robotics GmbH in Ulm. Together, the two cooperation partners research and develop strategies for human-robot interaction. The focus of this collaborative project is on service and assistance robots, who in the future will take on such tasks as cleaning and transportation in public places, thereby coming into contact with bystanders. Professor Martin Baumann, who is the head of the department, Dr Johannes Kraus and Franziska Babel research usage scenarios such as these based on psychological theories and translate them into design recommendations for Adlatus Robotics GmbH, represented at the Dies academicus by Dr Siegfried Hochdorfer. The partners have published collaborative scientific articles. In the future, the robots will be tested in an inner-city test field in Ulm.
The second University/Industry Cooperation Award went to Professor Jan Beyersmann, head of the Institute of Statistics, and to the company Hoffmann-La Roche Ltd in Basel, represented by Dr Kaspar Rufibach. The cooperation partners developed biostatistical methods for investigating the effectiveness and safety of medical intervention studies. The core of the research collaboration is their participation in the project SAVVY, which advances the counting process-based method of evaluating adverse events in therapy research. The discussions surrounding the new COVID vaccines and their possible side effects reinforce the relevance of this research collaboration. For this reason, the published statistical methodology and software are freely available and not patent protected. In addition to publications in international journals, SAVVY has already made its way into textbooks.
- Dr Alexander Rieber from the Academic Affairs Committee for Management and Economics was honoured with the 4,000-euro Ulm University Teaching Prize 2021. Rieber designed the project course “Data Science & Business Analytics” for the bachelor’s degree programme in economics. In the mandatory two-semester course, students apply theoretical knowledge from the fields of mathematics and computer science to economic questions. Complex theoretical principles are often taught in video format, discussed in lecture format, based on case studies, and then applied in project work. In order to understand the effects of supply and demand on pricing, for instance, students analysed one million journeys in the city of Chicago with the providers Ueber and Lyft.
- The University Mental Health Group was formed in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic in order to raise awareness for mental illness and to promote mental health. Since then, what was started as a departmental project by medical students has developed into an inter-faculty university group. Low-threshold offers range from informational events on health promotion and discussion rounds to entire “Mental Health Weeks”. At the Dies academicus, the university group was awarded the 500-euro Ulm University Special Prize for Outstanding Student Commitment 2021.
- Two Dissertation Awards for Urology Dr A Schiebel at 1,500 euros each. For her outstanding doctoral thesis, Dr Sabine Eberhart from University Medicine Mannheim was honoured with one of the dissertation awards. In her experimental dissertation, she characterised the roll of telomerase and its effect on the replication stress in the development of bladder tumours. Sabine Eberhart is thus contributing to a better understanding of cancer development and possible approaches for therapy. The second dissertation award went to Felix Riedel at the Department of Urology and Paediatric Urology at the Ulm University Medical Centre. In his dissertation, Riedel investigated the sequence of medicinal system therapy in metastasised urothelial carcinoma. His results support, for the first time, the effective use of the chemotherapeutic vinflunine following a preliminary treatment with a so-called checkpoint inhibitor therapy.
- Sustainable energy storage, new forms of mobility and climate protection: Junior Professor Andrea Pannwitz’s research addresses several environmental policy challenges at once. For her scientific achievements, she received the ExzellenziaUlm Research Award for Excellent Young Researchers at Ulm University 2021 and 5,000 euros. Supported by the Vector Foundation, Andrea Pannwitz set up a research group for young scientists concerned with generating fuel from solar energy. As a junior professor at the Institute of Inorganic Chemistry I, she is an enrichment to the Transregio Collaborative Research Centre CataLight (Ulm/Jena). The aim of this centre is to develop new materials for sustainable energy conversion.
Text und Medienkontakt: Annika Bingmann