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New Research Areas and Groups in the Academic Year 2015/16

In the new Academic Year FRIAS will host a broad spectrum of research projects, ranging from cell biology via chemistry and the neurosciences to toxicology in the natural and life sciences and medicine, and from history via linguistics and literary studies to law and religious studies in the humanities and social sciences, to name just the most strongly represented disciplines.

Natural/Life Sciences/Medicine: The FRIAS Research Foci define specific thematic fields on which a group of fellows concentrates for a period of one year. Beginning this October, this year’s Research Focus “Membrane Trafficking in Ageing and Disease” will give particular emphasis to the life sciences, notably biology, and medicine. A high-powered international team consisting of four professors from the Universität Freiburg, namely Prof. Klaus Aktories (Pharmacology and Toxicology), Jörn Dengjel (Medicine), Stefan Eimer (Cell Biology) and Tobias B. Huber (Medicine) as well as 7 international Junior and Senior Fellows (all from top institutions in 7 different countries) will use different model systems and a wide spectrum of methods to investigate pathological variations in membrane trafficking in ageing and disease. The aim of the focus researchers is to understand the underlying biological processes in order to be able to develop new therapeutic approaches for membrane trafficking disturbances.


This October also sees the beginning of the 2nd round of the successful cooperation between FRIAS and USIAS, the Université de Strasbourg Institut d’Ètudes Avancées, which started in October 2013.  Every other year, up to three research tandems (one Principal Investigator from each of the two universities) plus 1 Postdoc each receive funding for a period of two years. Two of these new joint research groups fall into the natural sciences and medicine. Dr Stefan Schiller (Universität Freiburg) and Dr Pierre Schaaf (Université de Strasbourg) will focus on the topic of „Bio-based nano mechano responsive film: a new step towards soft-mechano chemistry“. The aim of this group is to develop systems that react chemically, i.e. by modifying their conformation, to stretching. The second FRIAS-USIAS joint research group on “Deep brain stimulation of the ventral midline thalamus” is led by Dr Jean Philippe Cassel (Université de Strasbourg) and Dr. Ulrich Hofmann (Universität Freiburg). The group deals with the effects of deep brain stimulations on memory functions, which can be of relevance to neurological diseases, including depression.


As a new funding format, FRIAS supports 3 project groups over a period of 12-15 months, beginning this October. With this tool FRIAS strives to promote (especially, but not exclusively) interdisciplinary research collaborations at an early stage, both financially and as an institutional platform. One of these project groups consists largely of researchers at Freiburg University’s Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience and Neurotechnology. The objective of their joint project “Neural networks of motor control and motor learning” is to identify and understand the neural mechanisms and networks underlying motor control and motor learning. Another project group falling into the natural and life sciences is the one on “Chemical Epigenetics”, which is meant to complement and, in the long run, strengthen the already established focus on medical epigenetics research in Freiburg by exploring the chemical and biochemical mechanisms involved in epigenetics. The group investigates epigenetic mechanisms on a molecular level in order to find new approaches for developing drugs through a combination of different kinds of expertise.


The group research formats in the natural and life sciences will be accompanied by a series of events in order to make the research done at FRIAS accessible to a broader public. Thus, two scientific conferences will each start with a public lecture within the framework of the Freiburger Horizonte: on January 29, Prof. Frank Madeo will elucidate connections between nutrition and health. On April 13, Dr. Peter Spork will explain why we are no ‘puppets on the strings of our genes’.


Humanities and Social Sciences: The spectrum of research projects in the humanities and social sciences in 2015/16 is equally broad. Despite this diversity, several thematic clusters emerge beyond (or: cutting across) the individual disciplinary areas. One such cluster is the one on “Environmental Humanities”, where research projects from biology, literary studies, and economic and environmental history complement each other. Within this cluster, the project group “A Green City Mandate?” analyzes how cities in three different continents (Freiburg among them) respond to environmental challenges such as pollution or sustainable energy, and how they position themselves as Green Cities. Additionally, there is a bundle of France-related research projects (on French history, culture, philosophy, literature, and society). This cluster will be reinforced by the FRIAS-USIAS joint project group on “Soldiers out of control? An entangled history of accidents in the French and German military, 1920-1970”, which will deal with discourses on accidents, accident prevention, rehabilitation, and technological innovations within the German and French military. Another interdisciplinary research cluster is the one on “Society and Justice”, which consists of research projects from history, sociology, political sciences and law. All of the projects deal with the concepts of justice in different societies as well as with the interaction between different societal institutions. For the first time, too, there will be a concentration of research projects in the field of religious studies, e.g. a junior researcher group that focusses on the global transformations of Catholicism, and projects on contemporary Qur’anic exegesis in historical perspective and on religious peace in 17th century Europe.


The Academic Year 2015/16 will also see a large number of academic events hosted by or at FRIAS, prominently including the Freiburger Horizonte as the Institute’s main public outreach format. A first highlight bound to raise a considerable public and media interest will be a three day conference jointly organized by FRIAS, the Freiburger Religionsgespräche, and the Colloquium Phaenomenologicum on the topic of Heidegger’s “black notebooks” and the issue of ideological susceptibility of intellectuals. The conference will start with a public panel discussion on December 9 (7 p.m., Audimax) as part of the Freiburger Horizonte. Magnus Striet, Professor of Fundamental Theology at the Universität Freiburg, will moderate the discussion between Marion Heinz, Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the Universität Siegen, Rainer Marten, Professor of Philosophy at the Universität Freiburg, and Axel Hutter, Professor of Philosophy at the LMU München, on the systematic reasons for the susceptibility of Heidegger’s thinking to the dehumanizing ideology of National Socialism. The conference will close with another public event, namely a lecture by Dieter Thomä, Professor of Philosophy at the Universität St. Gallen, on December 11 at 7.15 pm (HS 1098).

Every start of a new Academic Year promises new perspectives and unexpected revelations. FRIAS is looking forward towards an inspiring year, where research projects develop, unforeseen interdisciplinary thematic clusters emerge, and productive collaborations are established, both across disciplines and (not just academic) cultures.