Success for a Cluster of Excellence

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© Uni Kiel[Translate to English:]
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© Leibniz-Institut für Meereswissenschaften IFM/GEOMAR[Translate to English:]
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© Jürgen Haacks, Uni Kiel[Translate to English:]

The decision was taken today in Bonn to support a cluster of excellence, "Ocean of the future", applied for by Kiel University, with funding amounting to approx. EUR 36 million over the next five years. A quarter of the sum will be provided by the Schleswig-Holstein government, with the remaining three quarters supplied by the Initiative for Excellence of the German government.

The research cluster of around one hundred scientists who submitted the application will be investigating the ocean as a "switch point" in the Earth's system. They will dedicate themselves to both the risks facing the world's oceans, and therefore also facing us, as well as to research into the opportunities provided by marine resources of all types. Researchers from Kiel University and colleagues from the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences at the University of Kiel (IFM-GEOMAR) are involved. The chair of the research cluster, Klaus Wallmann, is a professor at Kiel University and member of the IFM-GEOMAR team.

The Schleswig-Holstein science minister, Austermann, congratulated the research cluster of around 100, saying: "The approval of this cluster of excellence application is first and foremost a success for the researchers who have collaborated brilliantly and have thereby created the opportunity for enormous benefits for the future both to science and the economy". This research centred on the ocean in the "Land between the seas” would become a future trade mark for international research of the highest calibre. According to Austermann, the Ministry for Science contributed towards this success by providing financial support for the project through the Schleswig-Holstein fund, i.e. a source outside the realms of usual university funding. "Furthermore, we brought the researchers together and assisted them in the presentation of the projects at the different assessment levels", said the minister. He also regarded the support given by the German Research Foundation (DFG) as an encouragement for the linking of research and business.

Professor Thomas Bauer, Rector of the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel (CAU) was delighted and very proud of his scientific colleagues' achievements: "The Kiel University and the Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences working in tandem has proven to be an engine for research. This decision substantially enhances our reputation. Furthermore, the topics included in the cluster of excellence will also exert a creative influence on other fields of research. This increase in reputation will therefore also have knock-on effects within the university. We are, however, also in agreement that, in particular, areas outside the cluster must be encouraged so that we remain a lively universitas that lives through mutual give and take."

What underlies the title "Ocean of the future"?

The ocean is being fundamentally changed through the increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide values. The acidification and warming of the sea water that we are seeing already poses a threat to the habitat of many organisms. Furthermore, wide-ranging changes in oceanic currents are to be expected. As a result of the Earth's warming, increases in sea levels are threatening densely populated coastal regions. Plate-tectonic processes trigger volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tsunamis. Overfishing of the seas and climate change are resulting in further changes in the makeup of marine ecosystems.

In addition to such risk scenarios that will be investigated by the cluster, the resource perspective is also central to its work. This covers the spectrum of marine genetic and microbiological resources through metallic mineral raw materials to gas hydrates as possible energy sources of the future. These questions are to be subjected to integrative, comprehensive and interdisciplinary investigations using marine biological, economic, legal and medical approaches, as well as innovative technologies in oceanic observation. The Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW) and the Muthesius Academy for Art and Design have also been recruited as partners by Kiel University and IFM-GEOMAR.

The concept of a research community working on the ocean pursues the aim, above all, of encouraging excellence in scientific researchers in the generations to come. "We are counting on attracting talented young people from across the globe who will be clustered into junior research groups", explains the chair of the cluster, Wallmann. "In addition, we will create a School of Ocean Sciences to ensure benefits to teaching and therefore guarantee that the Kiel students can benefit directly from the excellence in this area of research."

Two applications for clusters of excellence submitted by research institutions from Schleswig-Holstein reached the final round, together with 39 others. The second application for a cluster, "Inflammation at Interfaces", was however unsuccessful today. This had been applied for together with Lübeck University and the concept worked out in collaboration with the Research Centre Borstel.

Minister Austermann emphasized his support for the failed project on inflammation research, stating he would continue to fund those research groups involved at the universities Kiel, Lübeck and the Research Centre Borstel using resources from the Schleswig-Holstein fund. This application was unsuccessful in spite of the best chances of success. In the course of the jury session, the group of top scientists and ministers, with regard to the evaluation criteria, heavily criticized the assessment procedure prepared by the German Research Foundation and the Wissenschaftsrat. Austermann said that he expected a bonus for the project "Inflammation at Interfaces" in the second round due in the coming year due to its excellent international rating and wanted this remark to be included in the minutes.

Professor Schmucker, Vice-Chancellor of Lübeck University: "It is a pity that our cluster could not be considered, and I would like to congratulate all those who were successful. I feel particularly sorry for all those who sacrificed large portions of their spare time in compiling the application. They got a long way, but failed in the end. However, I would like those colleagues involved in the preparation for the cluster to know that the infrastructure in all three locations has been improved through their efforts and that the course for inflammation research has still been set thanks to the partial funding provided by the ministry."

The network "Inflammation at Interfaces" that introduced itself with a large exhibition on the Day of German Unity will take advantage of the structures put in place across individual institutions in order to carry out research into the topic, albeit based on a condensed concept.

The cluster application's chair, Professor Stefan Schreiber, Kiel University, states:

"The three partners in inflammation research came a long way with their application and the fact that our project got through the first round is the actual proof that this topic is an excellent scientific focus in our region. We know that the ratings for both applications for clusters were very, very good. Now it is our turn to focus on our topic as a network. Structures have been created that span the boundaries of different specialist areas and are shared by different institutions and can now be used by us. These structures represent the actual success of the initiative."

The Rector of Kiel University also thanked the scientists who joined their forces for the inflammation cluster application for their commitment. He strongly emphasized the further strengthening of the molecular biosciences – not least through the dedicated research centre that will be built on the Kiel Campus, with construction commencing in 2007.

All clusters that were unsuccessful in this final round will automatically be entered into the first round of the next round of applications. This means that "Inflammation at Interfaces" will be participating in the next round of decisions, together with two applications that have been prepared by the CAU for graduate schools.

No applications from Schleswig-Holstein were entered into the category "Future concepts" (also referred to in the press as elite universities).

Three photos are available for download on this topic:

Image 1:

Caption: Research on submarine volcanoes, in this case on shellfish growth in the Tonga archipelago, is one of the main focuses of the cluster of excellence, "Ocean of the future".

Photo: CAU

Image 2:

Caption: The cluster of excellence, "Ocean of the future" devotes particular attention to research on marine resources, such as the lump of methane hydrate shown here, so-called "burning ice".

Photo:</> Leibniz Institute of Marine Sciences (IFM-GEOMAR)

Image 3:

Caption: The cluster of excellence, "Ocean of the future" also investigates organisms that survive without oxygen. This shows a culture medium in the anaerobic tent.

Copyright: CAU, Photo: Jürgen Haacks