Strengthening the impact of Freiburg’s research

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Strengthening the impact of Freiburg’s research

The University of Freiburg has been successful in the current round of the Excellence Strategy of the German federal and state governments.

Two Cluster initiatives at the University of Freiburg have taken an important step forward in the current round of the Excellence Strategy of the German federal and state governments. The announcement was made by the German Research Foundation and the German Council of Science and Humanities on 2 February 2024. The expert panel and the Excellence Commission have invited the Freiburg Cluster of Excellence initiatives Constitution as Practice in Times of Transformation (ConTrans) and Future Forests - Adapting Complex Social-ecological Forest Systems to Global Change to submit a full proposal by 22 August 2024. The existing Clusters of Excellence at the University of Freiburg, Centre for Integrative Biological Signalling Studies (CIBSS) and Living, Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems ( MatS), will also submit renewal proposals.

"I would like to congratulate all the scientists involved," says Rector Kerstin Krieglstein. "The interdisciplinary cluster initiatives are fuelled by our university’s key research areas and will further advance the innovative potential of our research strength." Stefan Rensing, Vice-Rector for Research and Innovation, emphasises the social relevance of the selected draft proposals: "What they all have in common is that they want to develop new research approaches at the highest level that focus on possible solutions to the pressing challenges of our time."

The spokespersons of the Cluster of Excellence initiatives ConTrans and Future Forests as well as the existing Clusters of Excellence CIBSS and livMatS. Graphic: University of Freiburg

Constitution as Practice in Times of Transformation (ConTrans)

Constitutions are at the centre of socio-political expectations and conflicts. Yet neither their nature nor their impact can be fully understood if we focus primarily on constitutions as legal texts. The ConTrans initiative sets out to analyse constitutions as a network of social practices, ranging from rituals and symbols to procedures and institutions. Researchers from humanities and social sciences will establish an analytical framework that allows, for the first time, to describe the role of constitutions as both objects and drivers of social change across global spaces and epochs. The interdisciplinary research initiative seeks to develop answers to what holds societies and political systems together, and what makes them erode. Freiburg will become a centre of innovative study within the international landscape of constitutional research.

"We are most excited about the decision. Investigating how constitutions as practices have developed over time is crucial for understanding constitutions today and the conflicts of many present societies. An interdisciplinary dialogue will help us to understand what holds societies and political systems together, and what makes them erode," state the spokespersons Matthias Jestaedt , Jörn Leonhard and Sitta von Reden.

The following faculties of the University of Freiburg participate in ConTrans (in alphabetical order): Faculty of Economics and Behavioural Sciences, Faculty of Humanities, Faculty of Law, Faculty of Philology, Faculty of Theology. ConTrans is part of the interdisciplinary focus area "Cultures and Societies in Space and Time" in the University of Freiburg’s research profile.

Future Forests - Adapting Complex Social-ecological Forest Systems to Global Change

In view of rapid climate change, new types of disturbance, the colonisation and loss of species, large parts of forests are developing into novel ecosystems that have no equivalent in evolutionary history. At the same time, major societal changes are to be expected, resulting for example from urbanisation, globalisation and land use change. Forest ecosystems and society are closely intertwined; they interact in complex ways, giving rise to new and difficult-to-quantify risks. The Future Forests initiative aims to develop new concepts for analysing forests as socio-ecological systems. The aim of the cluster is to use these approaches to provide the basis for a transformation to more adaptable forests.

"A great opportunity for us and the forest. We are delighted to continue advancing our research ideas and concepts for the urgent adaptation of forests and their management to global change. We seek to open a new chapter in international forest research," state the spokespersons Jürgen Bauhus , Friederike Lang and Marc Hanewinkel.

The following faculties of the University of Freiburg participate in Future Forests (in alphabetical order): Faculty of Biology, Faculty of Environment and Natural Resources, Faculty of Humanities, Faculty of Medicine. Future Forests is part of the interdisciplinary focus area "Pathways to Sustainability" in the University of Freiburg’s research profile.

The University of Freiburg is convinced of the quality of all the draft proposals that were submitted. All seven Cluster of Excellence initiatives have prevailed in a competitive selection process. "We will continue to develop the valuable ideas from the draft proposals that were not considered in this round in other formats," says Stefan Rensing. The Rector sees this as an "immense boost for cutting-edge research in Freiburg."

With the support of the entire University

The Clusters of Excellence at the University of Freiburg, which have been in existence since 2019, are currently applying for a second funding phase, which will start in 2026. "CIBSS and livMatS have an excellent track record after five years of the first term," says Stefan Rensing. "They will continue to compete with the support of the entire university, and we are very confident that they will qualify for a second funding phase."

Centre for Integrative Biological Signalling Studies (CIBSS)

Biological signals enable cells to coordinate their tasks, form tissues and adapt to environmental conditions. The aim of the Cluster of Excellence CIBSS is to communicate in this "language of life", which means understanding signal processing within cells and tissues and thus being able to precisely control them. To this end, more than 70 research groups, including five professorships and junior professorships established by CIBSS, work together in interdisciplinary projects. The Cluster of Excellence’s research has identified fundamental functional principles of signal integration, contributes to clinical applications and has the potential to make agriculture more sustainable. The societal relevance of these research questions and the corresponding scientific achievements have given CIBSS international visibility. In the second funding phase, CIBSS will build on the conceptual advances made and intensify its efforts to elucidate decision-making at molecular and cellular levels in order to develop precise functional control.

"With its unique research approach, CIBSS has decoded fundamental biological signalling processes and developed innovative applications. The scientific and structural successes of the Cluster of Excellence are significantly shaping the field of signalling research and are strengthening Freiburg as a hub for excellent research," say the CIBSS spokespersons Wolfgang Driever , Carola Hunte , Jürgen Kleine-Vehn and the designated CIBSS spokesperson Claudine Kraft.

CIBSS is part of the interdisciplinary focus area "Signals of Life" in the research profile of the University of Freiburg.

Living, Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems ( MatS)

The MatS Cluster of Excellence has been significantly shaping scientific work on materials research at the University of Freiburg and beyond since 2019. These include, for example, the areas of energy storage, multi-material 3D printing, glass printing and soft robotics, as well as the assessment of technology acceptance. The Cluster has established two professorships and five junior research groups, which strengthen materials science in Freiburg by providing new impetus. The Cluster has been particularly successful in the area of third-party funding: its scientists have raised an additional 25 million euros for projects. The publication of more than 400 articles in more than 180 scientific journals and the registration of several patents reflect the achievements of the research team. MatS has promoted interdisciplinary exchange in collaborations with Penn State University in the USA and the Stuttgart Cluster of Excellence "Integrative Computational Design and Construction for Architecture" (IntCDC). The latter has resulted in two innovative and highly acclaimed biomimetic pavilions that make MatS research issues tangible for society.

"The Cluster’s success encourages us to continue to consistently pursue our long-term vision of adaptive, energy-autonomous material systems. We will decisively advance the implementation of our vision with strategic extensions to the research programme and are confidently preparing the renewal application," say the spokespersons of the MatS cluster Anna Fischer , Jürgen Rühe and Thomas Speck.

MatS is part of the interdisciplinary focus area "Pathways to Sustainability" in the University of Freiburg’s research profile.

Second funding line: "Universities of Excellence"

At the same time, the University of Freiburg is beginning preparations for the second funding line "University of Excellence". The focus here is on the quality of the entire institution. "The University of Freiburg is firmly established as one of the top ten universities in Germany in terms of research," emphasises Kerstin Krieglstein. On this basis, it is important to develop a vision that strengthens the capacity for renewal in all performance dimensions of a university. In order to apply for this funding line, universities must be involved as applicants in at least two Clusters of Excellence, or as university alliances in at least three clusters of excellence. Applications for the second funding line are possible until November 2025.

The panel of experts and the Excellence Commission assessed 143 draft proposals, seven of which were submitted by the University of Freiburg. A total of 41 cluster initiatives have been selected for a further round. The decision on which applications will be funded as Clusters of Excellence will be made on 22 May 2025.

The aim of the "Clusters of Excellence" funding line in the Excellence Strategy competition is to support internationally competitive research fields at universities or in university alliances. Clusters of Excellence receive an annual funding sum of three to ten million euros. Added to this is the overhead, a lump sum of 22 per cent of the funding amount, which is intended to enable the University to finance indirect costs. Universities with clusters of excellence can also apply for a university lump sum, a strategy supplement to strengthen governance and strategic orientation by the University management. The initial term of a Cluster of Excellence is seven years; a one-off extension for a further seven years is possible.




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