Three award-winning Goethe University personalities

Every two years, the Alfons und Gertrud Kassel-Stiftung awards the “Scientist of the Year” Award as well as the “Public Service Fellowship Prize” to researchers at Goethe University Frankfurt. In addition, each year the President of Goethe University also awards the “New Horizon Prize”. For the first time, all three prizes were presented together at a public award ceremony held yesterday. And the winners are: microbiologist Inga Hänelt, law professor Indra Spiecker and educational scientist Lukas Gerhards.

The three academics honored at Goethe University yesterday evening “conduct extraordinary scientific work, and, at the same time“, in the words of University President Enrico Schleiff, “they let others share in the results of and profit from this science – in a manner that far exceeds the economic component of this term.” In so doing, they stand for an essential feature of Goethe University, namely “that we do not keep the treasures of knowledge we have gathered to ourselves, but consciously share them: in the scientific world, and – as part of intelligently structured dialogs and using modern methods – with society.”

The Alfons und Gertrud Kassel-Stiftung’s “Scientist of the Year” Award 2022 goes to microbiologist Prof. Inga Hänelt for her outstanding research and strong commitment to promoting young talent. The Heisenberg Professor, who works at Goethe University’s Institute of Biochemistry, was honored for her contribution to understanding processes that enable bacteria to survive under various stress conditions; specifically, for her work on microbial potassium homeostasis, i.e. the processes by which bacteria adapt to salty environments, drought or extreme pH values by absorbing or releasing potassium. Hänelt’s multi-award-winning work is highly regarded both nationally and internationally and has been published in the most prestigious scientific journals. As a result of her excellent accomplishments, the microbiologist is also a member of many research networks operated by the German Research Foundation. At Goethe University, she is one of the scientists in charge of the SCALE (SubCellular Architecture of LifE) cluster initiative.

Inga Hänelt also received the “Scientist of the Year” Award, which is endowed with 25,000 and awardedevery two years, for her excellent mentoring and support of young scientists. In their laudatory speech, the members of Hänelt’s working group praised their mentor, whose commitment to the advancement of young scientists extends far beyond her own working group.

This year’s “Public Service Fellowship Prize”, also awarded by the Alfons und Gertrud Kassel-Stiftung, went to Prof. Indra Spiecker genannt Döhmann. Spiecker has been teaching public law, information law, environmental law and administrative sciences at Goethe University Frankfurt since 2013. She heads the Data Protection Research Center and is scientific director of the Institute for European Health Policy and Social Law (ineges). She is the first lawyer ever to be a member of the National Academy of Science and Engineering (acatech). Among others, she also is a member of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina’s “Digitalization and Society” steering group. Indra Spiecker is a leading and internationally renowned legal expert, whose research focuses, among others, on the digital world’s regulatory conditions and possibilities, and related power shifts. As part of this, she also analyzes decisions in situations of uncertainty or the relationship between trust and conflict, which stands at the center of the ConTrust cluster initiative. Spiecker is frequently consulted as an expert by many institutions, particularly on the legal aspects of digitalization, including for the German government’s Third Gender Equality Report, by data protection authorities or the Federal Anti-Discrimination Agency.

The “Public Service Fellowship Prize”, endowed with 10,000, is awarded every two years by the Alfons und Gertrud Kassel-Stiftung to Goethe University researchers who play an active role in important scientific or science policy committees. The prize money is intended to enable projects that could not be continued due to the special commitment they require. Prof. Spiecker is the fourth person to be awarded the prize – following in the footsteps of educational scientist Sabine Andresen, financial scientist and former member of the German council of economic experts Prof. Volker Wieland, and medical scientist and long-standing chairman of the German government’s Expert Council on Health Prof. Dr. Ferdinand Gerlach. The laudatory speech for Indra Spiecker genannt Döhmann was held by Hessian Minister of Justice Prof. Roman Poseck.

The winner of the 2023 President’s New Horizon Prize is inclusion researcher Lukas Gerhards. The prize, endowed with €5,000, supports young researchers at Goethe University who are breaking new ground in their research and thinking. Following his studies in special needs education, PhD student Lukas Gerhards has devoted himself to inclusion research. As part of his neurophilosophically-oriented doctorate, he is investigating, for example, what neurodiversity means, i.e. how different perceptions of the environment come about. As a research assistant in the team of inclusion researcher Prof. Dr. Vera Moser, Lukas Gerhards plays a leading role in the innovative research network “schAUT” (School & Autism), funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. Working together with autistic people, the project aims to identify barriers for autistic pupils in schools for the first time, and explore ways of overcoming them. What factors interfere with autistic pupils’ learning? Initial findings show that autistic and non-autistic schoolchildren are disturbed by the same factors – including bright light and high noise levels – which means that everyone benefits from a reduction in these barriers. At the same time, the project also promotes knowledge transfer to society: it includes a barrier questionnaire, a handout on how to use the tool, as well as a training concept for schools and information material for the interested public.

The New Horizon Prize was awarded for the first time in 2022 to business teacher Dr. Christin Siegfried.

The Alfons und Gertrud Kassel-Stiftung was established in 2007 with the aim of promoting science, research and teaching at Goethe University. It is based on an endowment bequeathed by its founder, Gertrud Kassel. The foundation supports numerous university projects.

The prizewinners at yesterday’s award ceremony held on Westend Campus. From left to right: Gunther Ruppel (Chairman of the Board of the Alfred und Gertrud Kassel-Stiftung), Lukas Gerhards (New Horizon award winner), Prof. Inga Hänelt (Scientist of the Year award winner), University President Prof. Enrico Schleiff and Prof. Indra Spiecker genannt Döhmann (Public Service Fellowship award winner).

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