Prof. Dr. Wulf Diepenbrock: Halle’s university successfully makes history with innovative research

In 2008 the German Research Foun­­da­­tion approved a further funding period for four special research areas (SFR) in which the Mar­tin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) is involved – two in the humanities and two in the biological sciences. The German Min­­istry of Re­­search has approved two in­­ter­national Centres for Innova­tive Com­pe­tence for Halle and a breakthrough has been achieved in the top-level cluster “Central Germany’s Solar Valley”. These items of top news are visible signs of a success story which the Mar­tin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg is writing with its innovative re­­search concepts. This, in turn, is the re­­­­sult of its own consistent publicity cam­­paign.

The focal points of research at MLU are in biological sciences (the “Structures and Mecha­nisms of Biological Informa­tion Processing” network of excel­­len­ce), materials sciences (“Nano-Struc­tured Materials”), the cultural and so­­cial sciences (“Society and Culture in Mo­­tion”) and early modern religious and intellectual history (“Enlightenment – Reli­gion – Knowledge: Transformations of the Reli­­gious and the Rational in the Modern Age”). One of the most important topics of the future is also photo-vol­taics. In its research and teaching profile the University has opened up to the regional growth ­industries in this field and established both a corresponding Master’s degree course and a Q-Cells foundation professorship.


The field of photovol­taics also plays a major role in the “SiLi-Nano” materials sci­­ences project, a joint initia­tive of MLU, the Fraunhofer Institute for Materials Mechanics and the Max Planck In­­sti­tute for Micro-Structure Physics. This new Centre for Innovative Com­pe­tence has its eye on the fields in which silicon can be used in combination with light and is looking at the in­­terface between silicon photonics and photo­voltaics. The fields of research of the three partners based at the weinberg campus complement each other perfectly and offer optimal synergies from basic and applied research as well as basic and advanced training.

The second Centre of Innovative Com­pe­­tence in Halle, based at the biological sciences at MLU, bears the name “HALO­­mem – Membrane Protein Structure & Dynamics”. Membrane pro­­teins control and regulate essential functions in the human body. They will therefore be of major importance in the production of new types of (customized) medication in the future, but their structures have not been fully researched so far.
The aim is to characterize the structure and dynamics of proteins.

This centre thus fits magnificently SRF 610, operated jointly by partner universities Leip­­zig and Halle-­­Witten­berg. Its subject is “Protein Con­­ditions with Re­­le­­van­­ce for Cell Biology and Med­­icine”. The results of this protein re­­search are not only of major in­­terest to further basic research but also to partners in industry.

Two special fields of research are currently based at the Martin Luther Uni­­­versity of Halle-Wittenberg and the Uni­­versity is involved in three further areas. The most recent is SFR 762 on the “Func­tion of Oxide Border Areas”. Thereby, MLU is co­­operating with its part­ner ­uni­­­­versity in Leipzig, the Max Planck Institute for Micro-Struc­ture Phys­­ics in Halle and the Otto von Gu­­ericke Univer­sity in Mag­­de­­­­burg. Joint research into special nano-struc­­tu­­res aims to produce new functions and may lead to a revolution in com­puter memory storage tech­­nology. The scien­­tists in­­­­volved produce nano-struc­­tures con­­sisting of a few atomic layers of an oxide, combined with a few atomic layers of a metal or another oxide. Then the bound­­ary surface de­­ter­­mi­n­­es the functional characteristics of this nano­struc­­ture – and these may be completely new.


Also based at the MLU is SRF 648 – “Molecular Mechanisms of Informa­­tion Processing in Plants”. Scientists from six institutes at the University of Hal­­le are conducting research together with colleagues from the Leibniz Ins­ti­tute for Plant Biochemistry in Halle and the Leibniz Ins­ti­tute for Plant Ge­­netics and Plant Culture Research in Ga­­ters­leben.
The SRF seeks to explain the molecular mechanisms on which the intra-cellular networks, the interaction with micro-or­­ganisms that cause illnesses and signal processing of plants are based.
Last but not least, both special research areas in the bumanities deserve spe­­cial mention. SRF 580, “Social Devel­op­­ments after the Upheaval in the So­­cialist System” (uni­­ver­si­ties of Jena and Hal­­le-Witten­berg) is going down new paths in its attempts to explain the change in post-socialist societies. Academics are not assuming that Eastern Germany is simply aligning itself to conditions in Wes­­tern Germany; instead they see in Eastern Germany the development of “home-grown” solutions for solving the challenges of the reunification process and global change.
In SRF 586 (“Difference and Integration” – the universities of Leipzig and Halle-Wit­ten­berg), research is being conduc­t­­ed into the interplay between nomadic and settled forms of living in civilizations in the Old World. The area under investigation is the area of the dry belt from Morocco to China in the Old World. Trade and exchange, sep­­aration and conflict, attempts at domination and processes of penetration have determined the relationship of fixed, often urban forms of settlement and nomadic populations.


Overall, the main areas of research at the Martin­ Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg have earned enormous recognition. The funding raised from ex­­ter­­nal sources is impressive proof of the research results that are being achieved here, an achievement that impacts di­­rectly in teaching. After all, current re­­search results flow into teaching here and our students also benefit from cooper­­a­­tive projects with the commercial sector. As has been previously mentioned, it is a success story that one can relate as rector of the University of Halle.

diepenbrock15-kaltwaßer-Kopie-KopieThe author was born in 1947 and stu­d­­ied agricultural science in Kiel from 1970 to 1974. He became pro­fes­sor of cytology and plant breeding at the University of Bonn in 1993. He came to the Mar­tin Luther University of Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) in 1994 and was dean of the Faculty of Agriculture there from 1996 till 2000. He has been rector at MLU since September 2006.