Ten junior researchers in a variety of disciplines have received Starting Grants from the European Research Council (ERC) for projects at LMU. “I am delighted that LMU has done so very well in this funding round,” says Dr. Sigmund Stintzing, LMU’s Vice-President for Academic Recruitment. "These results underline our leading position among European universities.” Each of the awards is worth up to 1.5 million euros. These grants are among the most highly regarded research awards in Europe, as submissions are evaluated solely on the basis of the applicant’s own research record and the scientific excellence of the planned project. LMU offers tenure-track positions (which may subsequently be converted into full professorships) to successful applicants for Starting Grants.
Six of the winning proposals in the latest round were submitted by the following LMU-based researchers: Dr. Monika Aidelsburger (Faculty of Physics), Dr. Lucas Jae (Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy), Professor Inga Koerte (Faculty of Medicine), Dr. Arthur Liesz (Faculty of Medicine), Professor Julian Stingele (Faculty of Biology) and Dr. Christiane Schwab (Faculty for the Study of Culture).
Dr. Emiliano Cortés comes to LMU from Imperial College London, and will execute his winning project in Professor Stefan Maier’s Chair in the Faculty of Physics. Dr. Frank Niklas (Würzburg University) and Dr. Tobias Staudigel (Nijmegen University) will both realize their projects in the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences, working with Professor Frank Fischer and Professor Paul Sauseng, respectively. The proposal that won a Starting Grant for Dr. Philipp Schorch (currently at the State Ethnographic Collections of Saxony) was formulated in collaboration with LMU’s Professor Eveline Dürr (Faculty for the Study of Cultures).
The awardees and their projects:
Dr. Monika Aidelsburger
Physicist Monika Aidelsburger is a scientist in the group of Professor Immanuel Bloch at the Faculty of Physics at LMU and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics. Her research focuses on the study of quantum many-body phenomena with ultracold atoms in optical lattices. Optical lattices are crystal-like structures formed by pairs of interfering laser beams. In the resulting periodic potential energy landscape, ultracold atoms can be trapped and manipulated in order to simulate many-body phases of matter. In 2015, Aidelsburger’s doctoral work on the generation of artificial magnetic fields using ultracold atoms in such a lattice was selected by the Munich University Association as one of the finest theses of the year.
In her ERC project, “Exploring Lattice Gauge Theories with Fermionic Ytterbium Atoms (LaGaTYb)”, Monika Aidelsburger wants to develop novel ways to use optical lattices as a model system for the study of lattice gauge theories. Lattice gauge theories are of fundamental significance in many areas of physics and provide one of the most important tools for the theoretical understanding of the Standard Model. The main objective of Aidelsburger’s project is to develop an innovative experimental platform that will make it possible to create more versatile optical lattices based on the special properties of ytterbium (Yb) atoms, which can be used to simulate a wide range of lattice gauge theories.
Monika Aidelsburger studied Physics at LMU from 2006 until 2011. She then worked as a Research Associate in the Department of Experimental Physics at LMU under the supervision of Immanuel Bloch, obtaining her PhD in 2015. She then spent one year as a Postdoctoral Fellow at Collège de France in Paris, and is now an academic staff member in the Faculty of Physics at LMU and the Max Planck Institute for Quantum Optics.
Prof. Dr. Emiliano Cortés
Emiliano Cortés brings his Starting Grant from the Centre for Plasmonics and Metamaterials at Imperial College in London. His research interests lie at the interface between chemistry and physics, and focus on the development of novel nanomaterials specifically for applications in energy conversion.
His ERC project, Exploiting Energy Flow in Plasmonic-Catalytic Colloids (CATALIGHT), will explore the use of nanomaterials to enhance the efficiency with which sunlight can be converted into chemical energy and fuels. Specifically, he wants to fabricate customized nanostructures for use in photocatalytic processes. In order to visualize energy flows on the nanoscale, Cortés plans to exploit the capabilities of super-resolution microscopy and nano-electrochemistry.
From 2008 until 2013, Emiliano Cortés studied Chemistry at the National University of La Plata in Argentina. In 2015 he obtained a Marie Curie Fellowship, and moved to Imperial College London to join the Nanoplasmonics Research Group in the Department of Physics. In 2018, Emiliano has been appointed by LMU as the new W2 Professor of Experimental Physics — Photon-assisted energy conversion.
Dr. Lucas Jae
In November 2016, Lucas Jae took up his new post as leader of a research group in the field of Functional Genomics at LMU’s Gene Center. Prior to his appointment, he had made significant contributions to the genetic elucidation of the infection process of viruses with substantial lethality rates in humans, such as Lassa virus.
In his ERC project “Suppression of Organelle Defects in Human Disease” (SOLID), he will utilize new techniques in functional genomics in human cells to characterize the effects of disease processes on the function of important subcellular structures like mitochondria. The long-term goal of the project is to discover new therapeutic approaches that could help to reinstate lost functionality of these vital organelles. This may be achieved by exploiting their genetic wiring: extensive work in yeast has shown that many cellular perturbations resulting from specific genetic mutations can be corrected, or at least mitigated, by blocking the action of a different gene. This ‘off-site suppression’ suggests the existence of intrinsic compensatory mechanisms with the potential to limit organelle malfunction. Hence, a promising strategy for restoring organelle fidelity would be the identification of drug targets among such dormant processes impinging on the primary defect.
Lucas Jae studied Human Biology at Marburg University and the Whitehead Institute at MIT in Cambridge, Massachusetts. He obtained his PhD in 2015 at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam, where he worked with Prof. Dr. Thijn Brummelkamp and spent a short stint as a postdoc. In 2018 Jae won the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize, which is awarded to early-career researchers for outstanding achievements.
Professor Dr. med. Inga Katharina Koerte
In 2014, Inga Katharina Koerte was appointed Professor of Neurobiological Research in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry in the Faculty of Medicine at LMU and director of the research group cBRAIN. Since 2016, she also holds a position as Lecturer at Harvard Medical School in Boston. Her main research focus is traumatic brain injury where she studies the effects on the brain’s structure, function, and development. In 2012 her group was the first to detect microstructural brain alterations associated with heading the ball in soccer.Her ERC project on Precision Medicine in Traumatic Brain Injury Using Individual Neurosteroid Response (NEUROPRECISE) will characterize the brain’s hormonal response to trauma. She will also use advanced neuroimaging to generate individual injury profiles for each patient, which will pave the way for personalized treatment options.
Inga Katharina Koerte studied Medicine in Freiburg and Munich, and at Harvard Medical School in Boston as a Munich-Harvard Alliance Fellow. She pursued her medical residency at Dr. von Hauner’s Children’s Hospital and at the Institute of Clinical Radiology, where she completed her Habilitation in 2013. She did her postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School and has since built her research group both at Harvard Medical School and LMU.
Dr. Arthur Liesz
Dr. Arthur Liesz heads an Emmy Noether Group at the Institute for Stroke and Dementia Research (ISD) at the LMU Medical Center, which is investigating the pathogenesis of ischemic stroke. His own research focuses on the interaction between the immune system and the brain in the aftermath of a stroke.
His ERC project will examine how T cell-driven inflammatory mechanisms promote recovery after acute brain injury. In previous work he had already shown that the recruitment of T cells to the site of the lesion is a major contributor to the neuroinflammatory reaction following stroke. The main goal of the new project is to assess the therapeutic potential of T cells in limiting tissue damage following acute brain lesions.
Arthur Liesz studied Medicine in Würzburg and Heidelberg. He qualified as a neurologist and subsequently served as a resident physician in Neurology in Heidelberg. In 2013, he moved to his present position in the Institute for Stroke and Dementia Research at the LMU Medical Center. As a Clinician-Scientist he is also a member of the Munich Cluster for Systems Neurology (SyNergy).
PD Dr. Frank Niklas
Frank Niklas is an educational and developmental psychologist, who currently works at the University of Augsburg. However, he is going to conduct his ERC project at LMU. His research focuses on the role the family and, in particular, the home learning environment plays in the context of children’s cognitive development, and hence on the extent to which parents can support their children’s learning. In his doctoral dissertation, he identified important early literacy and numeracy skills that best predict a child’s success at school.
In his ERC project on App-Based Learning for Kindergarten Children at Home (Learning4Kids), Frank Niklas plans to develop and test digital learning applications designed to enable children to improve their literacy and mathematical skills. The basic idea is to make the best ‘apps’ available to children from socially disadvantaged backgrounds, allowing them to work at home on honing the skills they need for later success at school. The project will therefore identify tablet-based interventions that most effectively improve the quality of the home learning environment, and develop new and inexpensive apps to improve educational outcomes specifically in families with low socio-economic status.
Frank Niklas studied Psychology at the University of Würzburg, where he also worked as a research associate in the project “School-readiness in children” (Schulreifes Kind) carried out between 2007 and 2013 at the Institute of Educational and Developmental Psychology. In 2010, he obtained his PhD with a thesis on the topic “School-readiness”. He subsequently did a postdoc at the University of Melbourne, Australia (2013-2015), before returning to Germany to take up a research position at the University of Würzburg. In June 2018, he started working as Senior Lecturer at the University of Augsburg.
Dr. Christiane Schwab
Since 2016, Christiane Schwab has headed an Emmy Noether Group at LMU‘s Institute of Empirical Cultural Science and European Ethnology. Her initial project, “Dissections of Social Life: Journalistic Sketches and the Emergence of Ethnographic and Sociological Hierarchies of Knowledge (1830-1860)”, focused on the ‘social sketches’ genre, which developed in tandem with the commercialization of print media during the 19th century. This form of social commentary, which was subsequently subsumed into the broader category termed ‘panoramic literature’ by Walter Benjamin, consisted of observations on the character of ‘typical’ denizens of contemporary urban and rural settings. Schwab and her group are especially interested in the ethnographic forms of representation employed in these pieces.
In her ERC-funded project “Nineteenth-Century Sociographic Journalism and the Formation of Ethnographic and Sociological Knowledge” (DissectingSociety), Schwab and her team will broaden their focus to include other journalistic formats, and study how these texts approached, presented and popularized aspects of the growing body of cultural and sociological knowledge. The emphasis on empirical ‘knowledge’ focuses attention on the modes of representation encoded in text and image, on processes of social interaction and on contemporary political forces, as well as on the growing professionalization and institutionalization of social and cultural debates during the period of interest. The project will examine the course of these developments not only in Western Europe but also in Latin America, which will allow the researchers to challenge the dominance of implicitly Eurocentric categorizations of knowledge and representational models.
Christiane Schwab studied European Ethnology at LMU, obtaining her PhD in 2012. She then worked in the Institute for European Ethnology at the Humboldt University in Berlin on the research project “The Aestheticization of ‘the People’ 1800: Cultural Forms, Semantics and Representational Systems in a European Conurbation”, and was a Visiting Fellow at New York University (Remarque Institute, Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences) and at the University of Tokyo (Department of Cultural Anthropology).
Dr. Tobias Staudigl
Psychologist Dr. Tobias Staudigl, currently at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, will bring his Starting Grant to LMU, where he will be affiliated with the group led by Professor Paul Sauseng (Biological Psychology). Staudigl‘s own work focuses on the psychological and neuronal bases of memory.
His ERC project is entitled “How the Human Thalamus Guides Navigation and Memory: A Common Coding Framework Built on Direct Thalamic Recordings” (DirectThalamus). The project is centered on the thalamus, a subcortical region of the brain that is densley interconnected with many other brain areas. In addition to gating sensory input to the neocortex, it is known to be crucially involved in higher cognitive functions such as spatial navigation and the formation and consolidation of memories. Staudigl plans to dissect the neuronal processing mechanisms that mediate these latter functions of the thalamus. To achieve this goal, he will employ innovative methods to record and analyze oscillatory electrophysiological processes in this structure. The overall objective of the project is to construct a model of the neuronal processing mechanisms in the thalamus that underlie fundamental cognitive functions.
Tobias Staudigl studied Psychology at the University of Regensburg from 2001 until 2007, and obtained his doctoral degree in 2011. Before moving to his present position in Los Angeles, he worked in research groups at the Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behavior (Radboud University, Nijmegen), Magdeburg University and the University of Konstanz.
Professor Julian Stingele
Julian Stingele was appointed to a professorship at LMU‘s Gene Center in 2017. His primary field of interest is DNA repair, which encompasses a diverse array of mechanisms that serve to maintain the integrity of the genetic information stored in every nucleated cell in the body. DNA is constantly exposed to both intrinsic and extrinsic agents that damage its structure. Such damage must be rapidly repaired. Otherwise errors in replication and cell division will inevitably occur, which may ultimately result in life-threatening diseases.
His ERC project, “DNA-Protein Crosslinks: Endogenous Origins and Cellular Responses”, (DNAProteinCrosslinks) focuses on aberrant covalent linkages (‘crosslinks’) between proteins and genomic DNA that can inhibit DNA replication and block cell division. In his earlier work, Stingele had shown that an enzyme called SPRTN plays a central role in the removal of these crosslinks. The aim of his new venture is to determine how the enzyme actually breaks down DNA-protein crosslinks, and thus ensures the stability of the genome. Stingele’s research is of direct relevance to cancer therapy, as many existing chemotherapeutic agents kill tumor cells by inducing the formation of DNA-protein crosslinks.
Stingele, a native of Stuttgart, studied Biology at the University of Constance, and did his PhD work at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Planegg-Martinsried. Before taking up his present position at LMU last autumn, he worked for nearly three years at the Francis Crick Institute in London. He recently received the Alfried Krupp Prize for Young University Lecturers.