Uni Ulm: Over 233,000 euros in prize money and funding awarded

5. May 2022

Start-up funding for young researchers, teaching research award and teaching bonuses: Prizes and funding amounting to 233,500 euros were awarded at the Villa Eberhardt. The nine university members who received awards have achieved excellent results in research and teaching. In addition, 16 certificates in higher education didactics were presented.

Prize marathon in the Villa Eberhardt: At the ceremony, various awards were presented by the University of Ulm for outstanding achievements in research and teaching. The first was so-called start-up funding for excellent researchers who are at the beginning of their careers. With funding of up to 100,000 euros over two years, the recipients can advance a selected project and thus their scientific career. “The project organisation is just as important as the research itself: the recipients learn time and personnel management and, last but not least, presentation techniques such as those taught during the Young Scientists Science Day,” explained Professor Dieter Rautenbach, Vice President for Careers at Ulm University.

The first two start-up grants went to postdoctoral researchers Dr. Matthias Neumann from the Institute of Stochastics and Dr. Benjamin Erb, Institute of Distributed Systems. Matthias Neumann’s research contributes to the digitalisation of material sciences. For “virtual material testing”, he combines stochastic 3D microstructure modelling with numerical simulation. With the help of the start-up funding of 80,000 euros, Neumann wants to further develop so-called graphene-based microstructure models. This virtual approach is intended to support experimentally working groups in the development of new materials. One area of application is battery research.

Dr. Benjamin Erb, on the other hand, is working on a new type of digital research platform that meets special requirements for data protection and privacy. With the start-up funding of 63,000 euros, Erb will push ahead with his project PePER (A Privacy Enhanced Platform for Empirical Research) and he hopes to acquire further funding. PePER is intended to push the implementation of pre-registered studies according to a previously defined study design; at the same time, the collected data are secured by technical protection mechanisms. The platform is thus interesting for studies in empirical disciplines such as psychology – especially when highly sensitive and personal data must be collected, stored and analysed.

Two other award winners had already demonstrated their scientific excellence and presentation talent at the university’s first Young Scientists’ Day. In October 2021, Dr. Silke Werle and Dr.-Ing. Jens Friedland prevailed against the competition with research proposals and a live pitch. The first-placed biochemist and the chemical engineer were once again honoured at the Villa Eberhardt.

Silke Werle is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Medical Systems Biology. The start-up funding (50,000 euros) will go towards her research project on neuroendocrine pancreatic tumours. With the help of mathematical models, Werle wants to reconstruct the development of cancer and thus identify biomarkers and therapeutic approaches. This computer-assisted approach promises faster translation to the bedside.

Jens Friedland is working towards his habilitation at the Institute of Chemical Engineering. He needs the start-up funding of 30,000 euros for a project on the functionalisation of chemical raw materials with oxygen. Such reactions require high safety precautions, because many chemical raw materials form explosive mixtures with oxygen. Therefore, Friedland is using a special tube-in-tube reactor, which he is evaluating and further developing in the course of the project. The aim is to carry out oxidation reactions safely when using flammable or volatile solvents.

The Teaching Research Award (2500 euros) of the Faculty of Medicine bridges the gap between research and teaching. This year’s winner is Dr. Achim Schneider, academic employee in the Dean of Studies Office. In his award-winning publication, Schneider deals with the popular teaching format “inverted classroom” in biochemistry. In the journal “Medical Teacher”, he shows that students who prepare themselves in the self-learning phase with the help of active recall exercises achieve better memory performance than fellow students who rely on repeated reading of learning material.

Excellent teaching at the University of Ulm

The pandemic semesters in particular have shown how important good teaching is. Professor Olga Pollatos, Vice President for Teaching, awarded four teaching bonuses of 2000 euros each on Thursday morning. The winners had been nominated by the respective deaneries and study committees. “It is a special honour for me to award teachers today who, with great commitment and good ideas, have convinced us with innovative teaching concepts during the difficult Corona period,” said the Vice-President.

From the Faculty of Mathematics and Economics, Professor Stefan Funken received a teaching bonus. According to the mathematics department, he prepared the contents of the modules Numerical Linear Algebra and Numerical Analysis for online teaching in an understandable and appealing way. The mathematician relied on professional videos, but also on personal contact with students – for example, during question and answer sessions.

Professor Mindaugas Andrulis, the teaching bonus recipient from the Faculty of Medicine, also solved the challenges of online teaching with flying colours. The pathology course actually thrives on the independent microscopy of various preparations. Since this was not possible in presence due to the pandemic, Andrulis devised an online format between theory and practice for his lessons. Following video instructions, students microscoped specimens using an online tool. Optionally, they could also take on the role of a pathologist and assign slides to different diseases or cell types.

The last two teaching bonuses went to a well-known teaching professional and a newcomer. For Professor Maurits Ortmanns, until recently Dean of the Faculty of Engineering, Computer Science and Psychology, it is the third teaching bonus. According to the departmental representatives for electrical engineering and information systems engineering, Ortmanns has maintained or even increased his level since the last award. He always makes cross connections to current technology topics and has an open ear for the interests of students.
Doctoral student Lucian Kaack naturally has less teaching experience, but he too performed incredibly well during the pandemic. Almost overnight, the research assistant at the Institute of Systematic Botany and Ecology had to take over the organisation and implementation of botanical teaching – including events such as the Floristic Field Exercises or “Tropical Ecology”. The reason was the loss of two experienced teachers. Lucian Kaack mastered this challenge with enthusiasm and innovative online formats. Now he has been rewarded with the teaching bonus of the Faculty of Natural Sciences.

At the end, Vice-President Professor Olga Pollatos and Dr. Cornelia Estner, Head of Higher Education Didactics at the University of Ulm, awarded 16 Higher Education Didactics Certificates. The recipients have gained in-depth insights into methods and concepts of university teaching over the past months. During the pandemic, many of them redesigned courses with their new knowledge.

[Photo: Eberhardt/Uni Ulm] Group picture with honourees as well as laudators and honourees