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.
The 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.