The University of Tübingen specializes in the following areas of core research:
- Molecular Biology of Plants
- Cell Biochemistry
- Infectious Diseases
- Environmental and Geoscience
- Astro- and Elementary Particle Physics
- Quantum Physics and Nanotechnology
- Overcoming Therapy Resistance
- Archaeology and Prehistory
- Asian and Oriental Studies
- Empirical Educational Research
The University’s spectrum of research includes a number of collaborative research centers, Transregio collaborative research centers and research groups backed by the German Research Foundation (DFG).
The University plays a crucial role in the training of young researchers in DFG research training groups, as well as in the University’s own doctoral training groups with an interdisciplinary focus. These groups are incorporated into a Graduate Academy, set up to attract graduates both from within Germany and abroad.
Core Research in Neuroscience
Where research is as complex as the brain itself
Tübingen’s neuroscientists are exploring the human brain and its functions in numerous areas using many different methods. This research is carried out within the excellence cluster of the Center for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN).
Scientists are analyzing brain functions such as perception, memory, communication and actions right down to the genetic and molecular-biological levels. Alongside non-invasive experimental procedures such as magnetic resonance tomography and magnetic encephalography, they use computer simulation and animal experimentation to explore the workings of the human brain.
This research into brain function aims to help us better understand the origins of neurological diseases. CIN also works on the further development of neurological diagnostic procedures. In this area, doctors and biologists are assisted by specialists in the fields of Linguistics, Computer Science and Philosophy.
The Center of Neurology strengthens the ties between research in Neuroscience and its practical application. The Center was founded jointly by the non-profit Hertie Foundation, the state of Baden-Württemberg, the University, its Medical Faculty and the University Clinics.
The Center’s scientific activity is part of the Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research (HIH). Researchers here focus on a deeper understanding of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Patient treatment benefits directly from the results of their work. The HIH also carries out cutting-edge research into tumors and infections affecting the brain.
Scientists at the Tübingen Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience (theoretical Neuroscience) investigate how the brain combines sensory information and previous knowledge in order to perceive its surroundings – a feat that computers cannot come close to imitating even today. Researchers employ the latest experimental techniques to precisely and simultaneously measure the activity of large groups of nerve cells. The work aims to open up new clinical and technological applications – for instance in the field of artificial vision and in the development and improvement of sensory prostheses. Scientists working at the Bernstein Center include University and University Clinic researchers and those from CIN and the HIH, as well as researchers from the Max Planck Institute for Biological Cybernetics.
Core Research in Linguistics
Building bridges between the Sciences and Humanities
The many facets of linguistic research at the University of Tübingen are revealed in a combination of far-reaching investigations into various languages and in high-grade interdisciplinary work. The linguistic center, Tübinger Zentrum für Linguistik (TüZLi), serves as a platform for coordinating this research, as well as providing an organizational framework for the interdisciplinary expansion of cooperation both within the faculty and on an interfaculty basis between the disciplines of Linguistics, Cultural Studies, Cognition- and Neuroscience.
The guiding concept is the development of an integrative view of language as a natural and cultural phenomenon. This perspective combines the linguistic investigation of the structure, interpretation, development and processing of language with cognition and neuroscientific research on the biological basis and cultural points of view of the shaping of human language. The center’s aim is to build bridges between the Sciences and Humanities using language as a focus of research.
A current example of this joint research at TüZLi is the collaborative research center 833 "Emergence of Meaning – the Dynamics and Adaptivity of Linguistic Structures" initiated in July 2009. It seeks to understand how meaning arises, both in spoken and unspoken communication, as well as during the processing of language and under the specific conditions of a unique grammar. This research is carried out jointly by the Linguistics department, Cognition Science, Psychology and Neuroscience.
Core research in Plant Molecular Biology
Developmental processes and defensive reactions
The Center for Plant Molecular Biology (ZMBP) brings together knowledge and skills from the departments of Biology, Chemistry and Pharmaceutics: the disciplines of Genetics, Molecular Biology, Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Physiology and Developmental Biology cooperate in complex areas of plant research.
The focus here is on the investigation of basic developmental processes in plants, as well as the reaction of plants to various environmental influences such as heat, cold, aridity and the introduction of pathogens. The plants primarily used in this research are thale cress (arabidopsis thaliana), tobacco and potato.
Core Research into Infectious Diseases
Pooling knowledge from infection research
Research into infections is carried out first and foremost to find more efficient ways of fighting them. But real progress can only be made when the disciplines of Medicine, Biology, Biochemistry, Pharmaceutics and Bioinformatics work together. That has been happening here for decades, giving Tübingen’s infection research an outstanding reputation worldwide.
A key starting-point for combating bacterial infection is the bacteria’s cell envelope. That is the focus of the collaborative research center "The Bacterial Cell Envelope: Structure, Function and Infection Interface". A second area of investigation in this collaborative research center is the interaction between disease-causing bacteria and their host cells in humans, mice and plants.
In the collaborative research center (Transregio) "Pathophysiology of Staphylococci in the Post-Genomic Era" the spotlight is on a bacterium by the name of staphylococcus aureus, which can cause a number of serious infections such as blood poisoning, wound infections, pneumonia and endocarditis.
Core Research in Therapy Resistance
Complex research for patients
When it comes to the big questions of immunotherapy and overcoming resistance to therapy, researchers at the Interfaculty Institute for Cell Biology focus on the body’s complex immune defense mechanisms. Autoimmune diseases and cancer are different ailments with different approaches to treatment, but the basis of further progress is the acknowledgement that the human immune system can react in many different ways, depending on the individual’s genetic makeup.
For example, with multiple sclerosis and diabetes, the assumption is that in patients with a particular genetic disposition, some pathogens are similar to the body’s own structures, and when the immune system comes into contact with the pathogens, it switches on a defense program that also attacks the body. This leads to overreactions. But in the case of cancer, immune reactions must be reinforced. These complex issues are dealt with in the collaborative research center 685 "Immunotherapy: Molecular Basis and Clinical Application." .
A further collaborative research project, 773 "Understanding and Overcoming Therapy Resistance of Solid Tumors" brings together medical and scientific researchers from various disciplines to investigate why some tumors are able to resist being destroyed by radiation and/or chemotherapy. Such tumors appear able to suppress the cells’ aging and normal dying off, and even to introduce targeted survival programs. This work aims to enable new approaches to treatments that can benefit cancer patients as quickly as possible. This collaborative research project has close ties with the Südwestdeutsches Tumorzentrum (Comprehensive Cancer Center).
Core Research in Environmental and Geoscience
Water, climate, energy – issues for the future of mankind
The availability of clean water, the pollution of the environment by harmful chemicals, the supply of raw materials, changes in the world’s climate – the field of Environmental and Geoscience provides plenty of issues affecting the future of mankind. The broad spectrum of research questions meets a broad spectrum of specialists at the Tübingen Center for Applied Geoscience (ZAG) – with knowledge and skills that have developed over many decades. Special subjects include Hydrogeochemistry, Environmental Mineralogy and Chemistry, Geomicrobiology, Geophysics and Sedimentology.
The ZAG is the home of a new DFG special program for research into the Tibetan plateau. The program will examine how the plateau was created over millions of years and how its climate has altered in the last tens of thousands of years – as well as the changes wrought by human activity. The Tibetan plateau, along with the Arctic and Antarctic, is considered one of the key regions of the globe in which relatively minor changes have a major impact on the environment worldwide.
On the basis of its outstanding interdisciplinary network and orientation towards ever more complex environmental issues, the research at the University of Tübingen is to be centralized within a big new Environmental and Geoscience center (GUZ). Applied Geoscience – focusing on “water and the environment,” Biogeology with its focus on evolution, Geodynamics and Mineralogy will be able to cooperate closely within this new center.
Core Research in Archaeology and Prehistory
The cultural development of mankind
At the Tübingen Institute of Prehistory and in the research project "The Role of Culture in Early Expansions of Humans" (ROCEEH), in which the University of Tübingen is participating, the cultural development of the first hominids into human beings is paramount. The development begins more than 2.5 million years ago and goes until the late Paleolithic. Investigations take the researchers to a number of continents – because today it is assumed that all humans originated in Africa, from where they spread out in several waves to almost every part of the planet.
The development of homo sapiens is far from having been covered in every detail. With this major project, the University of Tübingen researchers are seeking to answer such questions as why the ancestors of modern humans were so successful and able to survive when all the other hominids died out. Bearing in mind changing environmental conditions and the biological foundations of human development, Tübingen researchers investigate archaeological finds from all over the world.
Core Research in Cell Biochemistry
The cell: a small entity in big need of research
Countless biochemical processes have to mesh together within every cell of every living thing. Scientists are still far from understanding the details of these highly complex events. Researchers at Tübingen’s Interfaculty Institute for Biochemistry (IFIB), which belongs to the departments of Chemistry and Pharmacy as well as the Medical Faculty, examine the molecular mechanisms underlying these biological and biochemical processes. They also investigate how such processes are disrupted by disease.
The biochemistry of body cells also plays a key role in infection. How do disease-causing viruses and bacteria manage to penetrate cells and hide from the immune system? Answers to questions such as these provide new approaches to the development of more effective treatments.
Other fields of research in cell biochemistry are cell ageing and death, which are linked with cancer and degenerative diseases.
Two of Tübingen’s collaborative research centers, "Immunotherapy: Molecular Basis and Clinical Application" and "Understanding and Overcoming Therapy Resistance of Solid Tumors" are additional parts of the major research area of cell biochemistry.
In addition, the biochemistry of plant cells is one of the areas dealt with by the Center for Plant Molecular Biology (ZMBP).
Core Research in Astro- and Particle Physics
From tiny particles to the universe
The research spectrum of scientists at the Kepler Center for Astro- and Particle Physics could hardly be broader – it stretches from elementary particles to the far reaches of the universe. The universe provides various particles from natural sources – as well as extreme conditions that could only be recreated with tremendous effort on Earth. The observation of particles in space provides new information about where they come from – black holes, neutron stars and supernovas. Finding out more about the development of stars and solar systems can also provide clues as to the origins of life.
The Kepler Center combines the disciplines of experimental and theoretical Physics, Astronomy and Astrophysics.
In the collaborative research center Transregio 7 "Gravitational Wave Astronomy: Methods – Sources – Observation," Tübingen scientists work with other universities and with Max Planck Institutes in order to develop methods for measuring gravitational waves. This rare phenomenon comes about when – for instance – black holes collide. Yet its existence has so far only been proven indirectly.
Tübingen researchers are also involved in a further Transregio collaborative research project – "Neutrinos and Beyond – Weakly Interacting Particles in Physics, Astrophysics and Cosmology" (TR 27). These building blocks of the universe have an only very weak interaction with matter and therefore are able to provide information about inaccessible places – such as the inside of the sun.
Additionally, Tübingen University’s young researchers in the field of astrophysics and particle physics are taking part in the European Research Training Group "Hadrons in Vacuum, Nuclei and Stars.
Core Research in Quantum Physics and Nanotechnology
Small and cold: research into quantum physics
Quantum physics is all about extremely tiny objects at extremely low temperatures – close to absolute zero, particles take on new properties, which lead to phenomena such as superconductivity and superfluidity. At the Center for Collective Quantum Phenomena and their Applications (CQ) scientists produce quantum matter under controlled conditions – which see single electrons and atoms lose their independence and act collectively according to the laws of quantum physics. The researchers are also looking into new technical possibilities arising from this, such as new quantum sensors or quantum computers.
Taking part in this research are specialists in the fields of the quantum physics of atoms, the quantum physics of solids, and in nanotechnology. The CQ works closely with the collaborative research center Transregio 21 "Control of Quantum Correlations in Tailored Matter," in which the University of Tübingen is involved.
Core Research in Pharmacogenomics
Individual therapy is the goal
Scientists envision an individualization of medical therapy – because every person responds differently to certain active ingredients. A treatment’s effectiveness depends, among other things, on the individual production of enzymes – the tools with which the cells process medicines. With the aim of improving the treatment above all of life-threatening conditions, researchers at the Interfaculty Center for Pharmacogenomics and Drug Research (IZEPHA) are seeking to explain the connections between individual genetic makeup, the disposition to illness and the mechanisms via which medicines take effect.
In its research, IZEPHA bears in mind how results can be applied in clinical practice. Every new medical procedure’s effectiveness and safety must be proven in trials. These are devised and carried out at IZEPHA.
Core Research in Asian and Oriental Studies
Close ties with Japan, China and Taiwan and Korea
The University of Tübingen has long had close contacts with Japan and China. It has branches at Peking University’s European Center for Chinese Studies (ECCS) and the Center for Japanese Language at Doshisha University in Kyoto. There are long-term plans to turn the ECCS into a center for Sinology research. As of 2012, Tübingen has a third branch, the Tübingen Center for Korean Studies at Korea University in Seoul.
Taiwan has also joined Tübingen’s selection of East Asian research areas in the form of the European Research Center on Contemporary Taiwan (ERCCT), a joint project of the University of Tübingen and Taiwan’s Chiang Ching-kuo Foundation for Scholarly Research. Its aim is to pool European Taiwan expertise in Tübingen.
The University’s research on Japan, China and Taiwan has been linked up with other disciplines – Ethnology, Indian Studies, Oriental and Islamic Studies – in the Institute of Asian and Oriental Studies.