Paola Pinilla receives Sofja Kovalevskaja Award from the Humboldt Foundation

As one out of six international research talents, Paola Pinilla will be awarded the prestigious Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in November 2018. This will enable the young scientist to set up her own research group at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg starting next year. 

Paola Pinilla Zoom Image
Paola Pinilla

With a prize money of up to 1.65 million Euros, the Sofja Kovalevskaja Prize is one of the most renowned scientific awards in Germany. It is financed by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research and aims in enabling outstanding young scientists to set up a working group for an innovative project at a German research institute of their choice.

One of the prize winners is Dr. Paola Pinilla from Colombia, who will start in 2019 at the MPIA to investigate the formation of new planets. She will set up her new research group in the Planet- and Star Formation - department (PSF) of MPIA Director Prof. Dr. Thomas Henning.

Paola Pinilla already knows Heidelberg and its astronomical research very well since she completed her PhD in 2013 at this place. After moving to the University of Leiden in the Netherlands, she is currently researching with a NASA Hubble Fellowship at the University of Arizona in Tucson, USA.

Press Release (Humboldt Foundation)

2017 Cozzarelli Prize

Physical and Mathematical Sciences

Origin of the RNA world: The fate of nucleobases in warm little ponds
Ben K. D. Pearce, Ralph E. Pudritz, Dmitry A. Semenov, and Thomas K. Henning

A commentary by David Deamer is available.

Listen to an interview with Ben K. D. Pearce

MPIA scientist awarded renowned Cozzarelli Prize

During the weekend, the National Academy of Sciences of the USA presented this year's Cozzarelli Prize in a festive ceremony. Together with their Canadian colleagues Ben Pearce and Ralph Pudritz, Dimitry Semenov and Thomas Henning from the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA) were awarded for one of their outstanding publications to explore the origins of life, which appeared in the PNAS Journal in 2017.

Dimitry Semenov (l.) and Thomas Henning Zoom Image
Dimitry Semenov (l.) and Thomas Henning

Since 2005, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America has awarded the Cozzarelli Prize. Yearly, the academy honours research publications of outstanding scientific excellence and originality published the year before in the renowned PNAS Journal (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). PNAS exists since 1915 and covers a broad range of cutting-edge research in the fields of biology, physics and social sciences. Since 2007, the award has been named after the well-known American biochemist Nicholas Robert Cozzarelli (1938-2006), who was editor-in-chief between 1995 and 2006. The prize is awarded annually by the editors. The selection is based on all publications from the previous year.

Ralph Pudritz (l.) and Ben Pearce from McMaster University in Hamilton (Canada) Zoom Image
Ralph Pudritz (l.) and Ben Pearce from McMaster University in Hamilton (Canada)

Last Sunday (29.04.2018), Ben Pearce, Ralph Pudritz, Dimitry Semenov and Thomas Henning were awarded the Cozzarelli Prize for 2017 at the PNAS Editorial Board Meeting in Washington DC in a ceremony for their publication Origin of the RNA world: The fate of nucleobases in warm little ponds (PNAS Oct 2017, 114 (43) 11327-11332).

For many decades it has been a hot research topic to explore how the first building blocks of life - i.e. substances from organic chemistry - appeared on earth about four billion years ago. How could so-called nucleobases such as Adenine, which formed the basis for the first life on Earth, be enriched?
In fact, the publication of the Canadian and Heidelberg authors can be described as outstanding and of originality, because the authors have chosen an extremely interesting and currently still rather unusual approach to investigate this question.
They chose carbon-containing meteorites as the source of the original building blocks and modeled the life-span of the nucleobases in small warm freshwater ponds on volcanic land masses, in which biological evolution could then start.
With this approach, however, the authors argue against the usual way of thinking, the paradigm of biologists, namely that life was created in the oceans and the original building blocks evolved due to the triggering by chemical energy.

However, this approach may seems obvious to modern astronomers, since astrophysicists have already found complex organic molecules even in extremely cold clouds of gas and dust in the Milky Way and also in other hostile to life environments in space. And in particular in meteorites and comets numerous organic substances have been found, making such objects to interesting candidates for possible sources of the original building blocks of life, because our planet was exposed to a bombardment from these celestial bodies in its early days.

The work of Pearce, Pudritz, Semenov and Henning documents the remarkable rise of this reserach area and of astrochemistry to an extremely modern, forward-looking field of research over the last 15 years in which interdisciplinarity plays an important role. With the HIFOL initiative (Heidelberg Initiative for the Origins of Life, see launched by Thomas Henning and Oliver Trapp, MPIA has been trying for several years to bring scientists together for the research in this field.

Further infomation related to the publication:

Awards for MPIA researchers: Otto Hahn Medal for Paul Mollière. EPoS-Poster Award for Asmita Bhandare

Paul Mollière has been awarded the renowned Otto Hahn Medal by the Max Planck Society (MPG). The award at the annual meeting of the MPG in Heidelberg honored his comprehensive investigation of the structure of atmospheres of extrasolar planets and the analysis of their spectra. Asmita Bhandare received another award for her poster on star formation at the EPoS conference in Ringberg.

Otto-Hahn-Award winner Paul Molliere (right) at the award ceremony with MPG-Vice-President Ferdi Schüth. Zoom Image
Otto-Hahn-Award winner Paul Molliere (right) at the award ceremony with MPG-Vice-President Ferdi Schüth.

With the Otto Hahn Medal - named after the famous German chemist and Nobel Prize winner - the Max Planck Society (MPG) annually honors some of its outstanding young scientists. At the Annual Meeting of the MPG 2018 in Heidelberg, Paul Mollière was awarded as one of 10 scientists of the Chemical-Physical-Technical Section of the MPG.
Paul Mollière worked until autumn 2017 at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy (MPIA Heidelberg) in the Planet- and Star Formation department (PSF) headed by Director Thomas Henning. Then he moved to the Leiden Observatory (Netherlands). During his current postdoc position, he continues his work within the scope of his former dissertation in Heidelberg in the field of exoplanets and their atmospheres.

Asmita Bhandare Zoom Image
Asmita Bhandare

Another award went to PhD-student Asmita Bhandare, who also works in the MPIA PSF-Department. She received the prize for the best scientific poster ("First core properties: from low- to high-mass star formation", Bhandare, A., Kuiper, R., Henning, Th., Fendt, C., Marleau, G. D. and Kölligan, A.) at this year's EPoS conference at Ringberg Castle at Lake Tegernsee. EPoS stands for "The Early Phase of Star Formation" and is a renowned conference with international participants that has been taking place every two years since 2006.

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