Off to a flying start in the Federal Excellence Competition: Mainz University’s Future Concept clears the first hurdle

JGU enters the final round of the Excellence Initiative with its definite proposals for a graduate school, three clusters of excellence, and its future concept "The Gutenberg Spirit: Moving Minds - Crossing Boundaries"


Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) is already out of the blocks and running in the second program phase of the Excellence Initiative by the German Federal and State Governments, having made it to the final selection round with its definitive proposals for a graduate school, three clusters of excellence, and its institutional strategy "The Gutenberg Spirit: Moving Minds – Crossing Boundaries." "We are delighted that our draft proposals were approved by the expert committee. Mainz University will also submit a follow-up proposal for its "Materials Science in Mainz" Graduate School of Excellence. "In view of the quality of our competitors, this must be seen as confirmation of the international standing of our materials scientists, geoscientists, physicists, and chemists," states the President of JGU, Professor Dr. Georg Krausch. "Moreover, we are particularly proud of the fact that we have managed to maintain our prospects of being admitted to the circle of 'Universities of Excellence.' In the upcoming months, we will be concentrating on the further development of our institutional strategy – our "future concept" – to promote top-level research. All our efforts will be channeled in order to achieve a conclusive endorsement of this."

The Joint Commission of the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the German Science Council has invited Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz to submit full proposals for the following projects:

Clusters of excellence to promote top-level university research
  • Earth and the Anthropocene (Earth System Science)
  • Molecularly Controlled Non-Equilibrium (Materials Science)
  • Precision Physics, Fundamental Interactions and Structure of Matter (Particle and Nuclear Physics and Nuclear Chemistry)
Institutional strategy to promote top-level university research
  • The Gutenberg Spirit: Moving Minds – Crossing Boundaries

Furthermore, JGU also intends to submit a follow-up proposal for its Graduate School of Excellence "Materials Science in Mainz" (MAINZ). The project proved successful in the first phase of the Excellence Initiative, while also providing support to the full proposal relating to the Cluster of Excellence "Kaiserslautern Center for Advanced Spin Engineering" at the Technical University of Kaiserslautern.

Overall, the DFG received draft proposals for 98 graduate schools, 107 clusters of excellence, as well as 22 draft proposals for institutional strategies. Out of these, 25 proposals for graduate schools, 27 for clusters of excellence and seven for institutional strategies were successful and are now invited to hand in full proposals. The decision determining which projects will receive a slice of the nearly €2.7 billion available to sponsor them for a period of five years starting on November 1, 2012 will be made by the Grants Committee of the Joint Commission of the DFG and the German Science Council together with the federal and state ministers responsible for science and research in June 2012.

Excellence-Based University Governance

"The latest developments at JGU Mainz have focused on identifying and strengthening outstanding profile areas in research and on enhancing the institution-wide governance structure. Our proposals for graduate schools of excellence and clusters of excellence in the first two funding lines represent the logical continuation of this profile-forming strategy," explains University President Professor Georg Krausch. "The objective of our institutional strategy is to put in place a system of university governance that is directed towards the achievement of excellence. One of the milestones on this journey was the launch of the Gutenberg Research College in 2007. The GFK is designed to offer an advisory and support structure with excellence as its guiding principle. In 2011, we also established the Gutenberg Teaching Council as an expert consultation committee, taking an innovative route with regard to improving our teaching competence. We intend to systematically build on this strategy in the coming years and to extend it to all areas of activity within our university. This university-wide philosophy of the active management of change is reflected in our maxim 'Moving Minds – Crossing Boundaries'."

As the only institution of higher education in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate with full university status, JGU offers a wide range of subjects spanning almost every academic discipline, including the arts. With its almost 36,000 students and approximately 480 professors, it is among the ten largest universities in Germany. If the University Medical Center is also taken into account, JGU has approximately 9,000 employees, making it the second largest employer in Rhineland-Palatinate. The success of its approach is highlighted by the fact that it has achieved outstanding places in both national and international rankings, and has received numerous prizes and awards. The quality of research is demonstrated, for example, by JGU's place in the "Academic Ranking of World Universities" (also called the "Shanghai Ranking"). It has steadily moved up the rankings over the past five years and registered eighth place among German universities in 2009. JGU has also established its position among the top ten leading universities in Germany according to the Leiden Ranking, which assesses universities in Europe and throughout the rest of the world on the basis of bibliometric indicators (e.g. publication activity and rate of citations). In 2008, JGU was honored by the Donors' Association for the Promotion of Sciences and Humanities in Germany as one of only two German universities for its uniquely systematic approach to quality assurance (the so-called "Mainz model").

Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz will be represented in the final round of the Excellence Initiative established by the German Federal and State governments with the following definitive proposals:

Graduate Schools to Promote Early Career Researchers

Graduate schools play a key role not only in developing internationally competitive centers of top-level research and scientific excellence in Germany but also in increasing their recognition and prestige. They serve as an instrument of quality assurance in promoting young researchers and are based on the principle of training outstanding doctoral researchers within an excellent research environment. Graduate schools thus offer ideal conditions for doctoral researchers within a broad scientific area and, as integrative institutions with international visibility, they encourage doctoral researchers to personally identify with their universities.

* The Graduate School of Excellence "Materials Science in Mainz" (MAINZ)

The focus of the Graduate School of Excellence "Materials Science in Mainz" (MAINZ) rests on the design of new functional polymer-based materials and materials with innovative properties. From the very smallest building blocks of matter to products designed for specific uses, from basic concept to practical application, from cutting-edge atomic physics to chemistry - it is in these fields that highly qualified young research talents from Germany and other countries can work on interdisciplinary state-of-the-art scientific projects and obtain their doctoral degrees at MAINZ. Having been successful in the first phase of the Excellence Initiative, the Graduate School has been in receipt of sponsorship by the German Research Foundation since 2007. The sponsorship program will last five years and is worth about €11 million. The underlying scientific aspiration of the Graduate School is to evolve theories on the development of materials with new functions. This requires a thorough understanding of how complex materials are constituted and behave. Thanks to its interdisciplinary approach and its program of collaboration on projects, particularly with the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, the Graduate School MAINZ is able to open up pioneering research areas and access new concepts in the field of materials science. Since the School already receives funding within the Federal Ecellence Initiative, it automatically qualified for the submission of a full proposal for the continuation its funding status.
Coordinator: Professor Claudia Felser, Institute of Inorganic Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry

Clusters of Excellence to Promote Top-Level Research

Clusters of excellence enable German university locations to establish internationally visible and competitive research and training facilities, thereby enhancing scientific networking and cooperation among the participating institutions. Clusters of excellence form an important part of a university's strategic and thematic planning and significantly raise its profile. They also create excellent training and career conditions for early career researchers. In conjunction with the other two lines of funding, i.e. graduate schools and institutional strategies, clusters of excellence help increase Germany's appeal as a research location in the long term and improve its international competitiveness.

* Earth and the Anthropocene (Earth System Science)
The urbanization and industrialization of the last 200 years have had irreversible effects on the natural processes that occur on our planet. The world population has increased by a factor of seven, and this was accompanied by exponential increases in the consumption of water and energy and in levels of associated air pollution. At the same time, we are witnessing species becoming extinct at rates that are far greater than had occurred before the advent of Homo sapiens, while many agricultural soils have been seriously degraded, threatening our ability to feed the growing world population. Paul Crutzen, the 1995 Nobel laureate based in Mainz, coined the designation Anthropocene for this latest epoch of the Earth's geological history.

In order to quantify developments in the Anthropocene, the cluster compares and contrasts natural element cycles and geological dynamics with and without the effects of humans. The aim is to determine the extent to which Anthropogenic acceleration of natural processes and cycles affect the functioning of the Earth system and to find out whether there are tipping points that we should avoid passing, because reaching them would trigger dramatic changes to environmental and climatic conditions.
Coordinator: Professor Stephen Foley, Geosciences

* Molecularly Controlled Non-Equilibrium (Materials Science)
Most structures and morphologies in nature and technology are a result of so-called non-equilibrium processes. One of the major challenges facing science is to discover how exactly these processes work and then to control them in order to produce materials with new properties. Non-equilibrium processes have been studied extensively from a macroscopic and thermodynamic perspective. With the present MCNE proposal, the scientists intend to tackle this research field from a molecular point of view, building on the successful materials science tradition in Mainz. Questions to be answered concern strategies that can be employed to design a molecule or an experiment in order to achieve a certain (meta-) stable structure or function. A further aim is to establish whether minor modifications to molecules or to experimental protocols will help us to determine the properties of the resultant material.

Soft matter is being used as the basis for MCNE research. Soft materials are particularly suitable for primary experimentation as they tend to be "slow" on the molecular level, and the time scales of their various processes can usually be systematically and individually manipulated (for example, by means of minor adjustments to the molecules or to temperature). Mainz is already one of the leading international centers of research into soft matter. The objective of the establishment of this Cluster of Excellence is to merge the various activities being conducted at Mainz in this field within the "Mainz Advanced Soft Matter Institute" (ASMI).
Coordinators: Professor Holger Frey, Institute of Organic Chemistry; Professor Friederike Schmid, Institute of Physics

* Precision Physics, Fundamental Interactions and Structure of Matter (Particle and Nuclear Physics with Nuclear Chemistry)
The Cluster of Excellence "Precision Physics, Fundamental Interactions and Structure of Matter" (PRISMA) builds on the special expertise in the fields of particle, hadron and atomic physics, nuclear chemistry and mathematics at JGU and its cooperation partners - the GSI Helmholtz Center for Heavy Ion Research and the recently established Helmholtz Institute Mainz (HIM). At the core of the proposal are various research concepts and new projects. These activities are being promoted by the establishment of new tenure track junior research groups and professorships. The purpose of PRISMA is to complement and coordinate existing postgraduate programs and to create posts for doctoral degree candidates. Special measures have been designed in order to increase the number of female scientists, to attract and integrate foreign researchers, and to create an internationally attractive living and working environment. These measures are a fundamental aspect of JGU's institutional strategy.
Coordinators: Professor Matthias Neubert, Institute of Physics; Professor Hartmut Wittig,
Institute of Nuclear Physics

Institutional Strategy to Promote Top-Level Research

The Excellence Initiative provides funding for institutional strategies aimed at developing top-level university research in Germany and at increasing its competitiveness in the international arena. Funding covers all measures that allow universities to develop and expand their areas of international excellence over the long term and to establish themselves as leading institutions in international competition.

* The Gutenberg Spirit: Moving Minds – Crossing Boundaries