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A total of eight ERC grants worth 15.4 million euros in research funding

TUM top German university for ERC Consolidator Grants

ERC Grantee Prof. Reinhard Kienberger investigates fluorescing molecules with the help of these lasers.
ERC Grantee Prof. Reinhard Kienberger investigates fluorescing molecules with the help of these lasers. (Photo: T. Naeser / MAP)

Research news

Scientists from the Technische Universität München (TUM) have been awarded six ERC Consolidator Grants and two ERC Starting Grants. The European Research Council (ERC) will provide a total of 15.4 million euros for the associated research projects over a period of five years. This makes the TUM Germany’s most successful university in this round of Consolidator Grants and fourth among European universities.

The grants awarded by the European Research Council are among the continent’s most prestigious research funding awards. The ERC bestows the Consolidator Grants to outstanding scientists who have made a name for themselves through pioneering achievements between seven and twelve years after the completion of their doctorates. A total of 372 applicants from all over Europe were selected for this round of grants, including TUM scientists Prof. Daniel Cremers, Dr. Pascal Falter-Braun, Prof. Wolfgang Kellerer, Prof. Reinhard Kienberger, Prof. Thomas Korn and Prof. Dieter Saur. This makes TUM the most successful university in Germany. At European level, it ranks fourth behind the British universities of Cambridge, University College London and Oxford.

In addition, the ERC has awarded Starting Grants to TUM researchers Dr. Jan Stefan Bauer and Prof. Nils Thürey. These grants are given to promising young researchers two to seven years after the completion of their doctorates. The Starting Grant awards were announced by the ERC in December.

“Successes confirm our recruitment policy”

TUM has garnered a total of 18 ERC Starting Grants since 2009 and eight ERC Consolidator Grants since their introduction in 2013. In addition, 11 of the university’s top scientists have been honored with ERC Advanced Grants. This year’s awards in the Advanced Grants category have not been announced yet.

“The recruitment, support and challenging of pioneering young scientists and experienced top researchers are crucial factors in the TUM’s success. The fact that our scientists have managed to succeed against tough international competition is a clear confirmation of our stringent appointment policy,” says Prof. Thomas Hofmann, the TUM’s Senior Vice President for Research and Innovation.

These awards, which have become the new currency of international cutting-edge research, are not the only area in which the TUM has performed impressively at European level: It succeeded in attracting by far the highest sum among German universities, around 130 million euros under the EU’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research (2007 – 2013).

ERC Consolidator Grants:

Prof. Dr. Daniel Cremers, Department of Informatics, carries out research in the fields of mathematical image processing and pattern recognition. He has been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant for his “3D-Reloaded” project. The aim of the project is to create 3-D models of the real world from two-dimensional videos recorded using cameras, for example cell phone cameras. The resulting models could be used, for example, to calculate how much lignite was extracted from a mine over a particular period of time. They could also be used to explore the world’s most remote regions while sitting at a PC and could also enable film viewers to select the perspective from which they see an action.  

The analysis of the three-dimensional models is another of Prof. Cremers’ research interests. In medicine, this technology could enable the reconstruction of organs and the testing of the resulting models for anomalies. The models could also document and analyze the development of motion sequences performed by dancers and gymnasts.

Prof. Cremers has held the Chair for Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition at the TUM since 2009. Prior to that he was professor at the University of Bonn where he headed the “Computer Vision Group”. He was already awarded an ERC Starting Grant for his research in 2009.

Dr. Pascal Falter-Braun from the TUM School of Life Sciences Weihenstephan has been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant for his “StressNetAdapt” project. His research concerns the complex signaling pathways and protein networks in plant cells. Against the background of climate change, Dr. Falter-Braun examines the basic strategies that enable plants to grow despite unfavorable environmental conditions – for example in cases of drought or high soil salinity. Given the increase in periods of drought and resulting harvest losses, these characteristics are particularly important.

Dr. Falter-Braun’s project examines four closely related species from the cruciferous family of plants, which includes many common crops like cabbage and rapeseed. His aim is to establish how the molecular networks of stress-tolerant plants differ from those of their stress-sensitive counterparts. In the long term, the resulting insights could contribute to improving agricultural yields during periods of drought or from crops growing in soil with high salinity.

Dr. Falter-Braun studied biochemistry at the Freie Universität Berlin and then carried out research for over 10 years at Harvard University and Harvard Medical School in the USA. He has been Group Leader at the TUM’s Department of Plant Systems Biology since 2012 and a TUM Junior Fellow since 2014. He is also a sub-project-leader in the Collaborative Research Centre “Molecular mechanisms regulating yield and yield stability in plants” (SFB 924). Dr. Falter-Braun is the author of numerous publications in renowned journals, for example Science and Nature Methods.

Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Kellerer, Department of Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering, carries out research on communication networks. Over the past two decades, the Internet and other digital communication networks have assumed ever-increasing importance, now providing an essential infrastructure for industry, health care, private life, and public services. Yet this infrastructure – essentially consisting of transmission facilities, relatively "dumb" packet-switching nodes, smart end-user devices, and software – has an unrealized potential for flexibility, to adapt rapidly to changing needs.

Prof. Wolfgang Kellerer has been awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant to perform the first comprehensive quantitative analysis of two promising approaches to allow greater flexibility, "Software Defined Networking" and "network virtualization." His study, funded with two million euros over five years, will focus on dynamic resource allocation, differentiated quality of service, and network resilience.

Since 2012, Prof. Kellerer has been head of the Chair of Communication Networks in TUM's Electrical, Electronic and Computer Engineering Department. He has an extensive publication record and holds 29 patents, with eight more under review.

Prof. Dr. Reinhard Kienberger, Department of Physics, studies electronic processes that take place on the temporal scale of attoseconds. The measurement of such minute periods of time requires unimaginable high precision: an attosecond is to a second what a second is to the age of the universe. Prof. Kienberger plans to use the funding provided by the ERC Consolidator Grant to study charge transport and electronic processes in biomolecules, photocatalysis, and high temperature superconductors, among other things. To this end, a new attosecond beamline is being developed based on a new high performance laser system.
Reinhard Kienberger was appointed Professor of Experimental Physics at TUM in 2008 and has been Principle Investigator at the Cluster of Excellence “Munich-Centre for Advanced Photonics” since then. Prior to that he headed the “Attosecond Dynamics” junior research group at the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics in Garching. He was awarded an ERC Starting Grant in 2008. Prof. Kienberger studied electrical engineering at the Vienna University of Technology. Together with his doctoral supervisor Ferenc Krausz, he is considered a pioneer of attosecond physics.

Prof. Dr. Thomas Korn, TUM School of Medicine, investigates in his research the molecular causes of autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis (MS) for example. In these diseases misdirected immune cells attack the body’s own tissues – in the case of MS, the insulating layer that surrounds the nerve cells. With the “EXODUS” ERC project, Thomas Korn and his team aim to develop new molecular tools that will help them to understand exactly how environmental factors influence the emergence of these diseases in protected organ systems like the brain.

He and his colleagues are particularly interested in the role played by certain signaling substances, for example IL-6. They would like to understand how and in which anatomical compartment these signaling substances trigger the “incorrect” molecular programming of immune cells that then causes autoimmunity in remote organs. To this end, the scientists are developing new marking methods for tracing the routes taken by cells and signaling substances in the body.

Thomas Korn has held a Heisenberg Professorship of Experimental Neuroimmunology at the TUM since 2010 and has been a senior physician in the Department of Neurology at the TUM Klinikum rechts der Isar since 2008.

Prof. Dr. Dieter Saur, TUM School of Medicine, studies the development and causes of pancreatic cancer, a disease with a very poor prognosis. He and his team aim to use the EU support to develop and apply new mouse models for the disease with a view to improving the analysis of processes in an existing tumor. They intend to use the new models to investigate two questions in particular: How does resistance to drugs arise and what influence does the tumor’s environment have on its development?

In their “PanCaT” project, the scientists use new genetic methods which enable them to examine many more characteristics of a tumor in the mouse model than before. The new approach will enable the researcher to observe how treatments work and identify the steps that are crucial to the development of an aggressive tumor.

Dieter Saur has been a senior physician at II. Medizinische Klinik at the TUM Klinikum rechts der Isar since 2007.

ERC Starting Grants:

Dr. Jan Stefan Bauer, TUM School of Medicine, was awarded the ERC Starting Grant for his “iBack” research project. Using data from different imaging processes, He would like to produce individual biomechanical 3-D models of the spinal column to enable the visualization of damage and prediction of treatment success. He uses CT and MRI scanning and whole body x-rays to do this.

Individual factors like bone density, the condition of the discs and back muscles, and structural changes in the skeleton, e.g. possible fractures, are incorporated into the models. Stefan Bauer manages to create such complex models through interdisciplinary co-operation with other TUM scientists and departments, for example Prof. Ernst Rank (Chair for Computation in Engineering). With his project, Jan Stefan Bauer would like to provide objective criteria for the assessment of patients with chronic back problems or osteoporosis, which could then be used as a basis for decisions as to whether surgery would achieve the desired outcome for them.

He has been a senior physician at the Department of Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology at the TUM Klinikum rechts der Isar since 2013. He has also been head of the “Osteoporosis” research group at the Institute for Diagnostic and Interventional Radiology since 2009.

Prof. Dr. Nils Thürey, Department of Informatics, Professor for Games Engineering, was awarded an ERC Starting Grant for his project “realFlow - Virtualization of Real Flows for Animation and Simulation”. The aim of this research project is to improve the simulation of physical processes and, above all, make it possible to generate such simulations more quickly. The focus here is on liquids and gases, so-called fluids.
Simulations of fluids can be very useful in many applications – for example in the design of aircraft wings and the depiction of explosions in films and computer games. Blood flow simulations in medicine can help in the assessment of the threat posed by aneurisms. Thürey plans to create a database containing previously-calculated simulations and video recordings of the behavior of real fluids. This information would then be available for new simulations. The project involves, firstly, the development of a database design that will enable the processing, comparison and classification of enormous volumes of data. Video recordings of the actual liquids or gases must also be analyzed and transformed into compatible data.
Nils Thürey has been Professor for Games Engineering at TUM since fall 2013. Prior to that he was a post-doc at the ETH Zürich in cooperation with Ageia/Nvidia. He then held a position as Research & Development Lead at ScanlineVFX. In 2012, Thürey and three of his colleagues won the Academy of Motion and Picture Arts and Science’s “Technical Oscar” for their contribution to the development of computer-generated special effects.

Further information:
ERC Grants awarded to the TUM (in German)

European Research Council (ERC)

Overview of the ERC Grant categories