University of Cologne wins Excellence Initiative Competition

The federal and state governments approved five applications in the second phase of the Excellence Initiative Competition

The institutional strategy to advance the University of Cologne “Meeting the Challenge of Change and Complexity” was approved by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in the second phase of the Excellence Initiative. In addition to this, they will support two Clusters of Excellence and two graduate schools for the next five years. With that, all five University of Cologne proposals were approved. The total funding amounts to about 120 million euros over the next five years. Funding will be provided to the Clusters of Excellence CECAD and CEPLAS, the a.r.t.e.s. research school and the graduate school BCGS. Rector Axel Freimuth was delighted by the commission’s decision: “The success of our projects rewards our efforts of the last years. I would like to thank everybody involved for their outstanding efforts."

The “a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne” is an inter-faculty graduate school. In future, it will be responsible for all doctoral work in the Arts and Humanities Faculty. To this end, the technical resources, research areas and fields of excellence of one Europe’s major Arts and Humanities faculties will be brought together and made available for structured doctoral studies, with special consideration of interdisciplinary issues. The integrated graduate school additionally includes a research Master's and a research lab for the post doctoral phase. The "a.r.t.e.s. Graduate School for the Humanities Cologne" helps to make the Faculty for Arts and Humanities of the University of Cologne a nationally and internationally competitive graduate faculty, able to attract doctoral students from all over Germany and abroad. Structures friendly to families and international students also extend opportunities for research for young scholars.

Professor Dr Dr h.c. Andreas Speer, director of the Thomas Institute of the University of Cologne is the coordinator and chairman of the Graduate School.

The “Bonn-Cologne Graduate School of Physics and Astronomy” also received funding for another five years. The school targets especially talented young scientists and builds on the complementing scientific profiles of the Universities of Cologne and Bonn. Priorities in research are Particle and Nuclear Physics, Astrophysics, and the area of Condensed Matter, as well as Statistical Physics and Photonics. This graduate school also places a main focus on the integration of Master’s and PhD work under the British model. Because of its 5-year funding period, the graduate school integrates talented Master students into existing research groups and supervises them closely. Cooperation partners of the Bonn-Cologne Graduate school are the Max-Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn and the Forschungszentrum Jülich. The German Telekom Foundation provides funding, especially for scholarships for exemplary students.

Physicist Professor Dr. Martin Zirnbauer of the Institute for Theoretical Physics is the contact person in Cologne.

Similar success was celebrated by the “Cluster of Excellence on Plant Sciences - from complex traits towards synthetic modules” which is developing innovative strategies for sustainable plant cultivation. The cluster is working with internationally renowned scientists of the Universities of Cologne and Düsseldorf, of the Max Planck Institute for Plant Breeding Research as well as of the Forschungszentrum Jülich. Climate change and the growing population of the earth are slowly limiting the resources necessary for the cultivation of crops, such as arable land, water and nutrients. The scientists at CEPLAS are therefore working on a fundamental understanding of the mechanisms of plant adaptation and are researching resource-efficient plant growth. They are analysing both natural existing and genetically cultivated variations of plants. In addition, CEPLAS will establish new training programmes for students, PhD students and post-docs. By bringing together plant and micro-biologists, computer scientists, mathematicians and theoretical physicists, the universities of Düsseldorf and Cologne are training the next generation of biologists. In this approach, the lines between experimental and theoretical biology are blurred and hence, new foundations laid for predictive and synthetic biology.

Professor Dr. Andreas Weber of the University of Düsseldorf is CEPLAS' speaker. Professor Dr. Marcel Bucher of the Botanical Institute is the contact for Cologne.

The Excellence Cluster CECAD (Cellular Stress Responses in Aging-Associated Diseases) will be funded for another five years as well. The cluster investigates the causes of aging and age-associated diseases. These include neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease, diabetes, strokes, kidney failure or cancer. The cluster aims at developing common, new therapeutic approaches to treat these diseases. CECAD is systematically transferring findings from basic research into clinical application. The cluster brought together over 400 international scientists from the university, the university hospital, the Max-Planck-Institutes for the Biology of Aging and Neurological Research, and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) to work in a close, interdisciplinary network. In the next funding period, CECAD will further differentiate the research areas so that in the future, questions regarding the aging process can be researched more deeply. With its structured doctoral training and advancement opportunities for post-docs, CECAD also places an emphasis on the training of young scientists.

Professor Jens C. Brüning is the scientific coordinator of the cluster.

The University of Cologne’s institutional strategy “Meeting the Challenge of Change and Complexity” aims at strengthening and further developing the university’s research profile, at establishing funding programmes for cutting edge research and at integrating new career-promoting structures and support measures. The strategy also includes the further development of regional and international research networks and exchange programs, the promotion of Gender Equality and a set of measures to promote research-based teaching.

For further information:

 a.r.t.e.s.- Professor Dr. Dr. h.c. Andreas Speer (

BCGS- Prof. Dr. Martin Zirnbauer (

CEPLAS- Professor Dr. Marcel Bucher (

CECAD- Prof. Dr. Jens Brüning (