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Leibniz Junior Research Groups

„Constructing Transnational Spaces of Higher Education: International Branch Campus Development at the Interface of Network and Territorial Embeddedness“

Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space (IRS)

The globalisation of the knowledge economy has occurred in conjunction with the internationalisation of higher education. Beyond raising the number of foreign students, universities have sought new markets through the creation of international branch campuses (IBCs) abroad. An investigation of IBCs is timely, not only due to their rapid proliferation, but also because of their qualitative transformations, which include new spatial forms (entire education cities instead of single campuses), new players (including more active European universities), and new and increasingly complex geographies (shifting from the Middle East towards Asia), all of which are embedded in dynamic and changing political-economic contexts. Both the drivers and the implications of this rapidly unfolding phenomenon of transnational higher education, however, remain poorly understood.  IBCs can be conceptualised as crystallisation points of globalisation. The proposed economic-geographic study investigates how enterprising universities form global (production) networks of higher education, how national and local actors engage in the construction of IBCs and education hubs, how students and staff are recruited to IBCs, and how the value of international academic degrees is constructed. Using an innovatively combined relational (network-based) and territorial (place-based) analysis, drawing on economic and urban geography, we examine how newly emerging transnational spaces of higher education are simultaneously becoming embedded in networks and territories.  This will be the first comprehensive and grounded qualitative study from a socio-economic and spatial perspective that examines the rise of IBCs from a multi-scalar and multi-locational perspective. The findings are relevant for decision-makers of both sending and hosting countries, and will contribute to a deeper theorisation of globalisation, which is particularly relevant in the context of a growing populist backlash against globalisation.


Optimization of Glucosinolate Degradation Pathways for Increased Quality and Health Benefit of Brassica Products

Leibniz Institute of Vegetable and Ornamental Crops (IGZ)

Glucosinolates in Brassicales vegetables are precursors to cancer preventive isothiocyanates. Food preparation reduces glucosinolate levels due to degradation or leaching. Here, enzymatic and chemical degradation pathways are of importance and the formation of the products is highly dependent on the conditions (enzymes, pH, temperature-).  However, the bioactivity as well as the follow-up reactivity of the products is very diverse and often genotoxic nitriles and reactive epithionitriles derive instead of isothiocyanates. Moreover, these compounds affect sensory vegetable quality and off-odors may occur.  Therefore, the Junior Research Group will explore enzymatic and process-induced degradation pathways with the aim to optimize isothiocyanate formation and will characterize the bioactivity and sensory potential of newly identified products. For the first time, the interaction of other plant secondary metabolites (e.g. polyphenols) in glucosinolate degradation will be comprehensively investigated.  Consequently, the Junior Research Group will systematically study the influence of biochemical and physicochemical parameters on enzymatic and non-enzymatic glucosinolate degradation using model as well as plant systems (for example tilling/ CRISPR/Cas mutants with defined polyphenol spectrum). Sensory attributes and bioactivity of newly identified compounds will be evaluated.  The results will enable us to develop strategies to enhance glucosinolate stability and to optimize the formation of health preventive isothiocyanates in order to contribute to the development of healthy food. 


Compliant Magnetosensory Systems: Enabling magnetic functionalities for e-skins, soft robots and healthcare

Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research Dresden (IFW)

Electronics of tomorrow will be compliant and will form a seamless link between soft or even living materials and the digital world. The current establishment of flexible and stretchable electronics systems is at the forefront of multidisciplinary research efforts all around the globe. Magnetic functionalities can provide a sense of displacement, orientation or proximity to this novel formulation of electronics, which are not available by other means. A variety of platforms for magnetic sensorics that may be arbitrarily reshaped on demand, had been developed in the IFW Dresden within the last years. These unique research activities have been vividly appraised by the scientific and industrial community and established shapeable magnetoelectronics as a novel research branch of soft functional systems.  The novel junior research group `CompasS' will be headed by Dr. Michael Melzer, who pioneered the field of flexible and stretchable magnetic sensors during his PhD studies. In order to vitally enhance the capabilities of the available magnetoelectronic elements, they need to be combined with electronic circuitry on the same shapeable platform. Hence, the main goal of the junior research group is to extend the scientific findings of shapeable magnetic sensorics to active and passive TFT-based electronics, to be able to design and establish soft magnetosensory systems. Key features of the integration with equally flexible or stretchable electronic components would be multiplexing of large sensor arrays and on-site signal conditioning (e.g. amplification or A-D conversion) for effective data transfer. Furthermore, temperature drift compensation, wireless signal transmission and autarkic energy supply can greatly enhance the application potential. A variety of novel technologies, like electronic skins, smart textiles, soft robotics and actuators, active medical implants, magnetic bearings and soft consumer electronics will benefit from this new form of magnetoelectronics.


Shedding light on plasticity of monoaminergic circuits in the brain

Leibniz Institute for Neurobiology (LIN)

Psychiatric disorders like attention deficit or major depression are thought to be associated with altered monoamine levels. The three major neuronal monoaminergic systems share similar structural principles with a confined subcortical neuron population which spreads axonal projections throughout the entire cerebral cortex. So far, psychiatric drug treatments mainly focus on the efferents of these monoaminergic systems. Only recently, the discovery of inhibitory neurons in close proximity to dopaminergic, serotonergic and noradrenergic nuclei raised the scientific interest in the input/output organization of these nodes. Further experimental evidence emerges for cortically driven postsynaptic plasticity in monoaminergic neurons. These findings shift the decade-lasting paradigm of local, synaptic control of monoamine release to more global, circuit-driven control. The here proposed lab under my supervision will shed light on this emerging paradigm using state-of-the-art optogenetic approaches. In the first instance we focus on the noradrenergic system and propose the following scientific program: • To characterize synaptic connections between newly discovered GABAergic nodes and noradrenergic cells • To investigate how cortical network activity controls firing patterns in a particular monoaminergic nucleus • To map brain-wide cortical innervation profiles of a given neuromodulator system and identify fiber tracts carrying most efferent neuromodulatory inputs to specific brain region • To alter monoamine levels in mouse models via chronic light stimulation of the identified fiber tracts to study plasticity changes evoked by local manipulations I will continue to apply and develop new optical technologies together with new genetic tools, which I have been fortunate to gain the necessary expertise in excellent labs from great mentors during my early scientific career to be ready to start my own lab in the scientific environment of the LIN Magdeburg.


Prediction of T cell communication and differentiation dynamics by quantitative mathematical modeling

German Rheumatism Research Center Berlin (DRFZ)

The mammalian immune response depends on the efficient interaction and collaboration of many, highly individual cells. Given that complexity, it is not surprising that the effects of drugs targeting cell-to-cell communication remain incompletely understood: Despite success stories of -biologic therapies’, e.g. TNF-alpha blockers in rheumatoid arthritis, only a limited number of patients show a major treatment response. Analysis of complex networks requires mathematical methods. The junior research group will apply and develop advanced mathematical modeling and data analysis techniques to investigate the regulation of immune responses, drawing on quantitative single-cell technologies (multicolor FACS, single-cell sequencing, multiplexed histology, etc.) and ample collaborative opportunities available at the DRFZ. The group will investigate the effects of perturbations, such as inhibition of cell communication pathways, on the type and strength of an immune response, and thus pave the road for optimization of targeted therapies in the future.  Dr Kevin Thurley is an outstanding candidate for heading a Leibniz Junior-research group. He worked at internationally renowned institutions, the Max-Delbrück-Center and the Charité-Universitätsmedizin in Berlin, the University of Cambridge UK, and the University of California San Francisco, and his pioneering work is documented in high-ranking scientific journals, including PNAS, Science Signaling, PLoS Biology. His core interest is elucidating biological complexity, and he has shown how stochastic intracellular calcium signals can reliably transfer information, how the mammalian circadian clock coordinates metabolic functions, and how diffusible cytokines can serve as local messengers between immune cells. With his track record of developing broad-ranging systems-biology models and quantitative data analysis methods in close collaboration with biologists, Dr Thurley is an ideal match for the scientific community at the DRFZ.


Sources and Consequences of Legitimation Strategies of Regional Organizations

German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA)

This Leibniz Junior Research Group is motivated by the question: When, how and with what effects do regional organizations claim legitimacy? Regional organizations have grown enormously in their political authority in recent decades, and this expansion has led them to become increasingly active in justifying their right to rule vis-à-vis relevant audiences. A growing literature addresses the nature, sources and consequences of legitimacy beliefs and legitimation dynamics in major global organizations and the European Union, but our knowledge of such processes in regional organizations outside of Europe is limited. Studying non-Western regional organizations offers the unique opportunity to generate new insights into the dynamics of legitimacy and legitimation in international organizations, and to assess whether existing findings travel beyond the organizations in which they were initially developed. The contribution of this Research Group is threefold. First, it maps the discursive and institutional legitimation strategies of 30 regional organizations from 1980 to 2015. Second, it develops a novel theoretical account of the sources and consequences of legitimation strategies of regional organizations by drawing on work in a variety of disciplines including comparative politics, political theory, sociology and psychology. Third, it provides a rigorous and systematic test of theoretical expectations against new data in a mixed-methods research design that combines statistical analysis and comparative case studies of regional organizations in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East.


QUiet-sun Event STatistics

Leibniz-Institut für Sonnenphysik (KIS)

The project "QUEST" (QUiet-sun Event STatistics) led by Dr. Catherine Fischer focuses on researching the dynamics of small-scale magnetic fields in the sun's atmosphere.

Previously neglected, we now know that the quiet-sun magnetic field outside of sunspots is omnipresent and covers 99% of the solar surface at any given time. It is not only responsible for the energy required to maintain the hot corona, but is also the main contributor to the solar irradiance variability influencing our climate on earth.   Although its importance is beyond doubt, studies of the quiet-sun magnetic field are difficult because of its small scale as well as weak signal, and its weakest component remains unresolved. However, its traces are clearly seen with the currently available resolution in, e.g., transient events which leave signatures in the heating of the atmosphere, oscillations of parameters such as intensity and magnetic field strength, or magnetic flux appearing and disappearing on the solar surface.  This project will characterize the quiet-sun magnetic field by studying its events signatures and taking advantage of multi-instrument data sets exposing different aspects of its nature. Building up statistics of these events and correlating the changes of physical parameters enable us to unearth its behavior, gaining a more complete picture of the still enigmatic quiet-sun. We will thereby fully exploit the multi-instrument data of the Hinode and GREGOR telescopes as well as the DKIST, the biggest solar telescope being built, coming online in 2020.  The statistical results together with correlations we find between changes in the physical parameters are tagged with their significance allowing to formulate conclusions dictating limits on the theoretical description of the quiet-sun magnetic field and developing the cornerstones for new models. We will answer fundamental questions such as the magnetic flux emergence and removal rates determining the solar magnetic flux budget and how one quiet-sun magnetic field population is transformed into the other by, e.g.,  magnetic field intensification or magnetic flux expulsion by the granular motions.


Religion, Morality and Boko in West Africa: Students Training for a Good Life

Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO)

Once dominated by leftist movements and secular ideologies, universities in Africa have grown into arenas of religious activism. Religiosity is now crucial to identity formation, interactions and the hope to lead a good life. This is a shift not only in the moral references of universities, but also in the ways in which boko, usually taken to mean secular education, is perceived. In Niger and Nigeria, boko is criticized for being morally corruptive, culturally alienating and socially unfit because it supposedly lacks grounding in religious values. This raises the issue of the socio-cultural model of boko and its relation to religiosity. How is religiosity affecting attitudes towards learning, social interactions and campus regulations? How can the promotion of critical abilities and the enlightenment of students be reconciled with the effort to nourish and imbue souls with absolute certainties? Is this signaling the de-secularization of academia?   This project seeks to answer these questions by focusing on the rise of Salafism and Pentecostalism on two secular campuses (Université Abdou Moumouni, Niamey, Niger, and University of Ibadan, Nigeria). Both religious trends are known for seeking an empowered life while campuses train students for leadership skills and the values that will ensure a good life. As these formulations are transformative of the student moral and cultural model, the campus is a window for studying societal dynamics and the relationships between religion, youth and the future. Beyond Salafi and Pentecostal activisms, this project engages with the question of the redefinition of the student as a socio-cultural model. How boko is both appealing and rejected is at the center of this historical and anthropological project. It emerges from current research carried out at the Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient (ZMO) and builds on a collaboration that ZMO recently established with two universities in West Africa, one in Niger and one in Nigeria.