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Two professors of the University of Cologne win the most prestigious European research grants

Cultural anthropologist Michael Bollig and physicist Stephan Schlemmer receive an ERC Advanced Grant for new research projects

The European Research Council (ERC) has awarded the two UoC researchers Professor Dr Michael Bollig and Professor Dr Stephan Schlemmer with an ERC Advanced Grant. Bollig is being funded with approximately 2.5 million euros for his REWILDING project. Schlemmer will also receive 2.5 million euros in funding for his project ‘MissIons’. The ERC Advanced Grant is considered the most important funding award in the European research landscape.
ERC Advanced Grants are awarded to outstanding scholars and scientists for projects that are associated with uncertainties due to their innovative approach, but which may open up ground-breaking new paths in their respective fields. Funding is granted to researchers who have worked consistently and successfully at the highest level for many years.

Professor Dr Michael Bollig / Project: REWILDING
Michael Bollig is a professor at the Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology and spokesperson of the Global South Studies Center (GSSC). One focus of his research is human–environment relations. With his project REWILDING, Bollig aims to contribute to the increasingly important field of environmental anthropology in general, with a particular focus on the complex and ever-changing interactions among humans, flora, and fauna in the Kavango-Zambezi Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA, involving the states of Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Zimbabwe) in southern Africa. Established in 2011, the KAZA TFCA is the largest transboundary nature and landscape reserve in the world. The area, known around the world for its pioneering conservation, bears traces of the region’s colonial and post-colonial past. Repressive colonial conservation efforts, large-scale (successful) control of insect-borne diseases, and extensive human resettlement structure current human–environment relations as well as conservation efforts.
REWILDING is a unique attempt to capture the changing socio-ecological relationships between humans and other species in one of the largest and most comprehensive conservation experiments in the world. REWILDING consists of six field studies, addressing, e.g., elephants, various carnivores, and also microbe-borne pathogens in their dynamic relationships with human-made environmental infrastructures and technologies, organizations, and also scientific activities against the backdrop of comprehensive conservation efforts.

REWILDING cooperates closely with Collaborative Research Centre TR228 – Future Rural Africa, which explores the impacts of changing land use, ecological dynamics, and changing societies in eastern and southern Africa. Together with the CRC’s projects, REWILDING is interested in the socioeconomic impacts of the rapid commercialization of diverse flora and fauna and the social consequences of rapidly increasing tourism. REWILDING is uniquely positioned and was specially designed to provide new empirical insights for future monitoring and planning of large-scale conservation efforts.
Funding from the European Research Council (ERC) contributes to the further consolidation of the research area Environmental Humanities at the UoC’s Faculty of Arts and Humanities, which focuses on human–environment research within cultural studies and the humanities. The Faculty has already strengthened this area by establishing a professorship at the interface of different disciplines conducting research on the topic in January 2021.

Michael Bollig studied social and cultural anthropology, history, African studies, and agricultural sociology at the Universities of Bonn and Cologne from 1981 to 1986. He received his doctorate from the Institute of Ethnology at the University of Tübingen in 1991. He then came to the University of Cologne, where he completed his Habilitation in 1999 and where he has been a professor of anthropology since 2000. He has also served as deputy speaker of the CRC TR – Future Rural Africa since 2018, and as spokesperson of the Cologne Global South Studies Center (GSSC) since 2020. In 2017, Bollig was awarded the Leo Spitzer Award, with which the University of Cologne recognizes excellent top researchers.

Professor Dr Stephan Schlemmer / Project: MissIons
Stephan Schlemmer is professor of experimental physics at the University of Cologne’s Institute of Astrophysics. In his laboratories in Cologne, the colour spectra of molecules are recorded in high-precision measurements. These spectra are as clearly associated with the molecules as fingerprints can be uniquely assigned to a person. In this way, numerous molecules have already been found in space for the first time through laboratory investigations in Cologne. The ERC Advanced Grant for the ‘MissIons’ (= missing ions) project is being used to search for specific ionic molecules. These ions are missing keys to understanding the evolution of the interstellar medium, i.e., the space between stars. Thus, it is conceivable that building blocks of life are formed from precisely these ions in interstellar space.

Schlemmer’s team is developing experimental and theoretical methods that make these studies possible in the first place. One challenge is to make these highly volatile substances available in sufficient quantities for those colour analysis. Here, the working group has already made some major breakthroughs in the past. Another challenge is that the spectral fingerprints for these special ions consist of thousands of snippets that must first be assembled into an image. This painstaking work not only produces the template for observation with telescopes. Rather, the fingerprints can also be used to infer the structure of the molecules. Until now, this was impossible for the molecules in question, but the MissIons project will make it possible for the first time. The project thus connects the world of the smallest (molecules) with the world of the largest (outer space), both of which still pose great mysteries.

Stephan Schlemmer studied physics at the universities of Wuppertal and Göttingen, where he earned his doctorate at the Max Planck Institute for Flow Research, for which he was awarded the Otto-Hahn-Medal. He then held postdoc positions at the Università degli Studi di Perugia (Italy) and at the University of California at Berkeley (USA). He completed his Habilitation at TU Chemnitz in 2001. In 2003, he joined the faculty of the Observatory of the Universiteit Leiden (Netherlands), and came to the University of Cologne in 2004. At the Institute of Astrophysics, he serves as speaker of Collaborative Research Centre 956. He heads the Molecular Physics Section of the German Physical Society. In 2009 and 2011, he was also a visiting professor at the Université Paul Sabatier in Toulouse (France) and received the Gay-Lussac-Humboldt Prize from the French Ministry of Research in 2016 for his research.

Media Contacts:
Professor Dr Michael Bollig
Department of Social and Cultural Anthropology
+49 221 470-3501

Professor Dr Stephan Schlemmer
Institute of Astrophysics
+49 221 470-7880

Press and Communications Team:
Mathias Martin
+49 221 470-1705

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