Two LMU scientists honored by BAdW

17 Jan 2022

Last December, the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BAdW) awarded the Max Weber Prize to doctoral student Caterina Schürch and the Academy Prize to doctoral student Paul Hullmeine

Max Weber Prize and Academy Prize of the Karl Thiemig Foundation:

Max Weber Prize

Caterina Schürch is the recipient of the 2021 Max Weber Prize from the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities for her dissertation The search for fundamental physiological mechanisms: collaborations between biology, physics, and chemistry (1918-1939) [“Die Suche nach fundamentalen physiologischen Mechanismen: Kooperationen zwischen Biologie, Physik und Chemie (1918-1939)”]. By means of this award, the academy is recognizing Caterina Schürch’s outstanding achievements in the history of biosciences.

Uncharted empirical and methodological territory

In her thesis, for which she received her doctoral degree from LMU in February 2021, the early-career researcher studies a type of biological research that has grown in importance since the 1920s and ’30s: the explanation of living processes by tracing them back to intracellular “mechanisms.”

Schürch explores uncharted empirical and methodological territory. The biological research she illuminates required close cooperation between biology, physics, and chemistry at a time when this was far from self-evident.

“By its nature, the history of science works in an interdisciplinary manner,” says Caterina Schürch. “At the same time, interdisciplinarity itself is an exciting research subject. I was interested in the idea that you can come across problems and methods within a discipline – and then reach a point as a scientist where you realize that you can’t get any further with your own methods and need the help of other disciplines – and how this realization can form the basis for collaboration,” she says.

Cross-disciplinary cooperation

Taking four examples from sensory physiology, hormone research, chemical genetics, and electrophysiology, Schürch investigates how researchers struggled to harness the various objectives, resources, and methods of the disciplines. Analytically, she employs recent approaches in the philosophy of science and tests their applicability and scope of validity. In this way, her dissertation features the strengths of an historical epistemology that renders concepts from the theory of science fertile for the history of science.

The Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities emphasizes that Schürch’s approach gives us a better understanding of a research tradition that, although hugely influential, has been largely neglected. Moreover, her approach helps create a theoretical model that explains when cross-disciplinary cooperation works particularly well and why it sometimes fails. “Which goals the scientists pursue, and how they think they must proceed to achieve them, often says a lot about their attitude to other disciplines,” says Caterina Schürch.

Schürch’s investigations are not just historically illuminating, but also have current systematic relevance, as the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities stresses in its laudation. “The examples are fresh, the method is innovative, the argumentation is clear, and the research yields excellent insights.” The academy also praised the sharp analytical research contributions of Caterina Schürch, which put her among the most outstanding young researchers internationally working in the field of science history. The Max Weber Prize, which her dissertation has won, is awarded for exceptional achievements in the humanities. Worth 4,000 euros, the prize is funded by the Foundation for the Promotion of Science in Bavaria.

Staircase in the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities

© BAdW / S. Obermeier

Academy Prize of the Karl Thiemig Foundation

This year, the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities (BAdW) is awarding the Academy Prize of the Karl Thiemig Foundation to Paul Hullmeine for his dissertation Ptolemaic Astronomy in the Cosmological Debates in Classical Arabic Thought. LMU doctoral researcher Hullmeine wrote the thesis as part of the BAdW project “Ptolemaeus Arabus et Latinus.”

Pioneering academic research

Hullmeine’s dissertation is devoted to a work by the great ancient astronomer Ptolemy which has garnered scant critical attention before now: the Planetary Hypotheses, which has been fully preserved only in Arabic. The prize-winning doctoral thesis consists of two large parts, a critical edition of the Planetary Hypotheses, including English translation and commentary, and a study on the influence of the work on Arabic cosmology from the 8th to the 14th century.

In its laudation, the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities praises Hullmeine’s dissertation as a pioneering achievement. “He has achieved what no researcher before him had succeeded in doing: editing what may well be the most important work of ancient cosmology, elucidating it, and describing its influence.”

A milestone in the history of cosmology

Hullmeine shows that the Planetary Hypotheses is highly coherent – it constitutes an attempt to comprehend the cosmos over and beyond mathematical models and develop a physical model with the maximum likelihood of being true. Although this attempt at a physical explanation of the celestial world was not cited very much by Greek and Arabic authors, Hullmeine demonstrates that it was widely known and often used.

“I found it fascinating to research how certain ideas and concepts are repeatedly taken up again and reinterpreted across time and cultural boundaries while managing to remain relatively stable,” says Paul Hullmeine.

The overall picture of the reception he traces and uncovers in his dissertation is that of a bubbling undercurrent over many centuries: The Planetary Hypotheses were constant food for thought for all cosmologically minded astronomers and for all astronomically trained philosophers, above all in the Islamic world.

“For the history of cosmology between Ptolemy and Copernicus, for ancient Ptolemy research, and for understanding the Ptolemaic worldview and its more than thousand-year history, this work is a milestone,” says the BAdW.

Worth EUR 3,000, the Academy Prize of the Karl Thiemig Foundation for the Promotion of Young Scientists, which Hullmeine is now being awarded, was established to support academy staff. It is funded by the Karl Thiemig Foundation for the Promotion of Art and Science in Bavaria.

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