Awards for outstanding theses

13 Jul 2020

In a normal year, the awards ceremony would be the central element of Founder’s Day at LMU. The coronavirus pandemic has interrupted this tradition, but it hasn’t stopped the University Association from selecting new prizewinners.

Every year, the Munich University Association (Münchener Universitätsgesellschaft) awards prizes to the authors of the best PhD and Habilitation theses submitted at LMU. This year, six awards go to authors in the first of these categories and two to the second.

Prizes for the Best Doctoral Theses 2020

Dr. Lu Li (Faculty of Business Administration) receives the award for her doctoral thesis entitled “Essays on Information, Risk Preferences, and Risk Management”.

In her dissertation, Lu Li explores the wider social implications of the increasing use of information technologies and digital data analysis in decision-making procedures relating to risk management. In particular, her work documents the interaction between data analysis and personal preferences, thus creating a natural link between classical decision theory and modern behavioral approaches to economics. She achieves this by extending the reach of classical decision theory to include the influence of technological uncertainty. More specifically, she analyzes whether decision-makers respond to this novel source of uncertainty by strengthening safeguards designed to reduce risk, and assesses the effects of such measures on the extent of losses. She goes on to empirically consider the impact of mental health on the readiness of decision-makers to take on risks. One section of her thesis has received the SCOR/EGRIE Young Economist Best Paper Award, and the dissertation as a whole won the prestigious Ernst Meyer Prize sponsored by the International Association for the Study of Insurance Economics – The Geneva Association.

Dr. Lu Li is a member of the academic staff of the Institute of Risk Management and Insurance at LMU.

Dr. med. vet. Franziska Wieländer (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine) receives the award for her doctoral dissertation on “Clinical and Electroencephalographic Characterization of Juvenile Myoclonic Epilepsy in Rhodesian Ridgeback Dogs”.

During her doctoral research, Franziska Wieländer discovered an animal model for juvenile myoclonic epilepsy, one of the most prevalent forms of pediatric and juvenile epilepsy in humans. A very similar syndrome develops spontaneously in a subset of dogs belonging to the Rhodesian Ridgeback breed, and Dr. Wieländer has described it in detail based on clinical observations and electroencephalographic analysis. In addition, she was a leading member of the international collaboration that identified the gene responsible for the condition in her cohort of Ridgebacks. Her thesis demonstrates that canine epilepsies represent an underexplored source of information on the genetic basis of epilepsy, and can contribute to the understanding of the biochemical mechanisms that underlie these pathologies.

Dr. med. vet. Franziska Wieländer is a Clinical Instructor in the Neurological Section of the Center for Clinical Veterinary Medicine at LMU.

Dr. med. vet. Arne Hinrichs (Faculty of Veterinary Medicine) receives the award for his thesis entitled “Generation and Characterization of a Pig Model for Laron Syndrome”.

Laron syndrome is a genetic disease that was first described in 1966. The disorder is caused by mutations in the gene for the receptor that recognizes growth hormone. Depending on the particular mutation concerned, alterations in the GHR gene can lead either to complete loss of the receptor or to the production of a non-functional receptor. Given that only a few hundred cases of the disease are known worldwide, experimental models are essential for the study and elucidation of the pathology of the syndrome. In his doctoral research, Arne Hinrichs used the CRISPR-Cas9 system to create a GHR-deficient strain of pigs, which he went on to characterize comprehensively. His work showed that the model recapitulates the spectrum of physiological changes that is typical of the human disorder, and reproduces the major features of the conditions much more faithfully than do the existing mouse models. The results of the study were published in the highly regarded journal Molecular Metabolism.

Dr. med. vet. Arne Hinrichs is a member of the academic staff of the Institute of Molecular Animal Breeding and Biotechnology at LMU.

Dr. Thomas Oehl (Faculty of Philosophy, Theory of Science and the Study of Religion) receives the award for his dissertation on “Perception and the Metaphysics of Mind: An Updated Reading of Hegel’s ‘Philosophy of the Spirit’”.

The work offers an analysis of one of Georg Friedrich Wilhelm Hegel’s principal contributions to philosophy, and compares Hegel’s approach with central tenets of modern philosophy, principally those advanced by John McDowell and his students. Quoting from the dissertation, the citation for the award describes the central aim of the thesis as follows. The dissertation offers not just “an interpretation of Hegel’s book”, but presents “an attempt to articulate, with reference to the spirit (Zeitgeist) of our own epoch, something that is not Hegel’s primary theme, but the theme which he himself attempted to update for his own time.” The end result is an overarching picture of Hegel’s philosophy that can serve as a critical contribution to current debates on contemporary models of cognition and the mind.

Thomas Oehl is a member of the academic staff of the Institute of Philosophy II (Chair: Prof. Dr. Axel Hutter).

Dr. Benedict Seiferle (Faculty of Physics) receives the award for his thesis on the “Characterization of the 229Th Nuclear Clock Transition”.

The lowest excited state observed in any atomic nucleus occurs in what is known as ‘the thorium isomer’. This feature in turn makes the isomer the only practical candidate for the development of a nuclear clock (based on transitions between different nuclear states), which promises to be even more precise than the best of today’s atomic clocks (which make use of energy transitions between states of electrons as their timekeepers). In his doctoral project, Benedict Seiferle was able to make a significant contribution to the characterization of the thorium isomer. Not only did he succeed in measuring the lifetime of the neutral isomer for the first time, he went on to perform the first ever direct and precise measurement of the excitation energy of the isomer, thus attaining a vital and long-sought goal in the field. Indeed, this result represents a giant step toward the realization of a working nuclear clock, and was published in Nature with Seiferle as first author. Moreover, Seiferle is either the lead author or a co-author of two other papers in Nature, as well as two publications in Physical Review Letters.

Dr. Benedict Seiferle is a postdoc in the Faculty of Physics at LMU.

Dr. Marcel Dann (Faculty of Biology) receives his award for his PhD dissertation on “Mechanisms of Photosynthetic High-Light Tolerance”.

Marcel Dann’s thesis describes his efforts to reconfigure the process of photosynthesis, using the techniques of synthetic biology and laboratory evolution, with a view to enhancing its efficiency. In his experiments, he set out to achieve two goals. The first involved the insertion of the molecular components that mediate cyclic electron transfer in plants into a cyanobacterium, as the first step towards the swapping of a complete photosystem between a green plant and a cyanobacterium. The second aim was to employ laboratory evolution to enhance the robustness of photosynthesis in the face of extreme fluctuations in lighting conditions. The results of his research have been published in Nature Communications.

Dr. Marcel Dann is a postdoc in the Faculty of Biology at LMU.

Prizes for the Best Habilitation Theses 2020

PD Dr. Anette Schlimm (Faculty of History and the History of Art) receives the award for her thesis entitled “How Transitional Societies React: Three Villages Confront Modernity”.

Historians and social scientists have so far viewed the development of modern modes of life almost exclusively from an urban perspective. In her Habilitation thesis, Anette Schlimm chose to consider the history of the period between 1850 and 1950 from a decidedly rural angle, focusing on the governance of rural communities. More specifically, she set out to answer the following questions: (i) how were these communities governed and how did they govern themselves, and (ii) how did rural people – allegedly backward and non-political – deal with political issues at a time when change became incessant and its pace ever more rapid? The results of the study throw new light on the dynamics of social change at the local level, based on evidence from three villages with populations of between 500 and 1000 over this period: Bernried on the shores of Starnberg Lake, Mahlow in the Teltow district near Berlin, and Wolxheim in Lower Alsace.

PD Dr. Anette Schlimm is an Interim Lecturer in the Institute of Contemporary History at LMU.

PD Dr. rer. nat. Susanna Zierler (Faculty of Medicine) receives the award for her thesis on “The Role of Cation Channels in the Regulation and Homeostasis of the Immune System”.

Susanna Zierler‘s Habilitation thesis explores the significance of ion channels for the function of the immune system. In order to execute their complex tasks, immune cells must be able to perceive and react appropriately to extracellular signals in order to trigger a specific immune response at the correct time and place. Rapid alterations in the intracellular concentration of calcium ions are known to be essential for the activation of these cells, but little was known hitherto about how flows of calcium and other ions are regulated. Zierler’s research has defined the functions of several ion channels – principally members of the TRP (Transient Receptor Potential) family – in the activation of immune responses, and identified them as potential drug targets. Her research on this topic has been published in highly regarded scientific journals.

PD Dr. Susanna Zierler is a Senior Lecturer and Research Group Leader at the Walther Straub Institute for Pharmacology and Toxicology at LMU.

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