Topical Programs

Topical programs address key topics of future research at the University of Münster and explore opportunities to engage in large-scale collaborative research projects. The University hopes these programmes will serve to strengthen ties to external researchers and other university and non-university research institutions, as well as promote international collaboration. The Rectorate is currently financing eleven Topical Programs.

  • 1. 3T: Animal Protection, Animal Welfare, Animal Ethics

    Animals are held as pets in homes, displayed in zoos, raised and used for food production in farms and explored as experimental models in research institutions. Irrespective of the diverse applications, inquiries into their ethical treatment have become a matter of concern. The topical program “3T: Animal Protection, Animal Welfare and Animal Ethics” aims to develop policies taking into consideration its diversity and integrating relevant academic disciplines. Researchers with backgrounds in philosophy, biology, medicine, theology and related disciplines will collaborate. They will explore practical, organisational and institutional measures to describe adequate and appropriate means towards animal protection. One primary goal is the definition of measures to define animal wellbeing. Animal welfare should best be determined on the basis of defined contexts and depends on normative prerequisites. Animal ethics may be funded on transparency and evidence-based rules to animal handling. Taking into consideration principles such as satisfaction, comfort and happiness, the welfare of animals is promoted when put into practice. The topical program “3T” combines basic research with research practice and serves to interconnect subject-relevant research activities at the WWU. Ultimately the program intends to raise public sensitivity for animal protection via knowledge transfer.

    Prof. Dr Arnulf von Scheliha (Institute for Ethics and Associated Social Sciences), PD Dr Johann S. Ach (Centre for Bioethics), Faculties of Protestant Theology (FB 1), Medicine (FB 5) and Biology (FB 13)

  • 2. Social and Legal Impact of Artificial Decision-Making

    For centuries, people have been fascinated by the idea that machines (or artificial intelligence, AI) could one day match or even surpass the abilities of human beings. In recent decades, we have come significantly closer to reaching this goal. The topical program “Social and Legal Impact of Artificial Decision-Making” closely examines the opportunities and primary risks of AI facing all societies. The participants include legal scholars, as well as researchers from the areas of the humanities, social sciences, political studies, economics and computer science. The key research questions are: What social, economic and political consequences might we expect if human decisions are partially or entirely replaced by machine-based decisions? What methods and goals can law apply to them? The objective of the project is to draft legal rules with which recent developments in AI-based decision-making can be properly steered. Research fields such as data sovereignty, electronic communication, financial services, the administration of justice, sustainability and environmental concerns will be examined from the perspective of three aspects – “autonomy”, “responsibility” and “surveillance and control”.

    Prof. Dr Matthias Casper (Institute of Corporate and Capital Markets Law), Faculty of Law (FB 3)

  • 3. Algorithmization and Social Interaction

    Imagine you call a company and your request is no longer answered by a human being but by an artificial assistant - how does this affect you as an individual and society at large? And does the customization of information in social media and online environments limit our horizon, or even keeps us in a ‚filter bubble‘? These are just a few of the socially and politically relevant core questions of the interdisciplinary topical program „Algorithmization and Social Interaction“. Scholars from information systems, economy, social sciences, law and communication studies work together to explore, first, how (artificially intelligent) algorithms can be used to influence social interaction. Second, the topical program is interested in how society (including the public as well as political and societal elites) reacts to this increasing algorithmic governance. In a multi-disciplinary workshop, the project partners will present their own research outlines/plans and discuss avenues for future research cooperation in the form of both national and international project proposals.

    Prof. Dr Heike Trautmann (FB4, Department of Information Systems), Faculty of Law (FB 3), School of Business and Economics (FB 4) and Faculty of Educational and Social Science (FB 6)

    Webpage "Algorithmization and Social Interaction" [en]

  • 4. M2I2 – Münster Microbe Interaction Innovation

    The topical program “M2I2 – Münster Microbe Interaction Innovation” investigates the complex interaction between the host and pathogenic microbes. In a broad, interdisciplinary initiative, working groups from 16 institutes and clinics will collaboratively investigate whether and how interaction between the host and microbes can harm the host, and how this knowledge can be used for developing innovative therapeutic strategies. This thematic focus is possible thanks to the close cooperation that exists between biologically oriented basic research and biomedical research activities in Münster. By more strongly integrating researchers from the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy greater attention can be placed on therapeutic intervention and the application of preclinical models in the future. The project builds on the activities of the phi-Club, an interdisciplinary research network open to all who are interested in researching pathogen-host dynamics in Münster.

    Prof. Dr Ulrich Dobrindt (Institute of Hygiene), Prof. Dr Ursula Rescher (Institute of Medical Biochemistry), Faculty of Medicine (FB 5) and Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy (FB 12)

  • 5. Reproduction – from Genes to Molecules and Function

    Sexual reproduction requires the formation, maturation, and fusion of male and female gametes, followed by embryonic development, pregnancy, and birth. Each of these steps is coordinated by complex genetic, cellular, and hormonal processes, which are not yet fully understood. The topical program “Reproduction – From Genes to Molecules and Function” bundles several translational and multidisciplinary projects dedicated to the reproductive cycle. The aim is to investigate the function of sperm and oocytes, the fertilisation process, embryonic development, and the tissues and organs involved in the reproductive process during various life phases. The program will examine how age, lifestyle, and environmental factors affect reproductive functions, and it will investigate the causes of infertility and the risk of disease associated with it. In the clinical research group “Male Germ Cells” (CRU326), funded in 2017, biologists, biochemists, bioinformatics, physicists, and clinicians have been studying the genetics and function of male germ cells. Their work will form the core of this larger-scale topical program. The program shall focus on the function of male and female germ cells, which involves, e.g., the analysis how female hormones influence flagella movement of sperm cells.

    We now need to identify the local groups and projects that could participate and define potential research areas/core projects. To this end, we organise a virtual workshop on 24/25th June 2021. The aim of this workshop is to bring together WWU researchers that directly or indirectly work in the field of reproduction and/or could contribute to this research area.

    Further information about the project

    Prof. Dr Frank Tüttelmann (Institute of Reproductive Genetics), Prof. Dr Timo Strünker (Centre of Reproductive Medicine and Andrology), Faculties of Medicine (FB 5), Mathematics and Computer Science (FB 10), Chemistry and Pharmacy (FB 12), Biology (FB 13)

  • 6. Science Communication and Knowledge Transfer in Digital Media Environments

    The coronavirus pandemic has shown that many are willing to accept measures that are based on scientific evidence. However, there is increasing public debate on the potential loss of trust in science amid the spread of misinformation. Digitalisation and new developments in the scientific system – through Open Science, for example – offer opportunities and challenges for communicating scientific findings to policymakers and society. As part of the topical program “Science Communication and Knowledge Transfer in Digital Media Environments”, researchers will investigate how science communication and knowledge transfer can be presented in new media environments to bolster and maintain trust in science, and in so doing, meet the demands of various stakeholders. The project includes a workshop to lay the groundwork for collaborative research and identify relevant research fields in the area of science and knowledge communication.

    Prof. Dr Julia Metag (Department of Communication (IfK)), Faculties of Educational and Social Science (FB 6), History and Philosophy (FB 8), Biology (FB 13) and Geosciences (FB 14)

  • 7. Cultures of Debate and Media in Transition

    The debate is a specific cultural technique based on the exchange of reasonable arguments between participants who are reciprocally recognised as equals. In democratic societies in particular, debates are held in high esteem. This applies to politics as well as to academia, as debating represents the core of the political and academic communication cultures. The debate and its cultural conditions are however increasingly contested with the significant role that has been attributed to media transformation in this respect. The topical program “Cultures of Debate and Media in Transition” take such current developments as a starting point while examining them in a larger context: As a cultural technique, the debate occurs in multiple and changing forms in different epochs and cultural contexts. Furthermore, processes of media transformation have led to changes in cultures of debate in the past with, for instance, the dissemination of print media. Only through interdisciplinary exchange that connects different approaches from various disciplines is it hence possible to understand such developments more precisely and to examine them in a cross-cultural perspective. The interdisciplinary orientation of the research initiative is already reflected in the group of principal applicants that consists of Barbara Winckler (Arabic Studies; spokesperson), Ursula Frohne (Art History), Philip Hoffmann-Rehnitz (History) and Annie Waldherr (Communication Science). It is significantly enriched by the participation of more than 20 scholars from various branches of the humanities and social sciences – including political science, sociology, anthropology, literary and cultural studies, philosophy and theology – from the University of Münster and other universities in Germany and abroad.

    Dr Barbara Winckler (Institute of Arabic and Islamic Studies), Faculties of Educational and Social Science (FB 6), History and Philosophy (FB 8) and Philology (FB 9)

  • 8. Cell Dynamics and Mathematical Modelling

    The cellular movement, cell division, cell differentiation, and communication between cells rely strongly on biochemical signalling and biomechanics. Biomechanics and biochemical signalling are fundamental to the development of all embryos. Measurements and experiments in this context are based on fundamental principles of physics, which means that mathematical thought experiments are relevant as well. The new topical program “Cell Dynamics and Mathematical Modelling” aims to further strengthen this basis shared by experimental biology and mathematics. Biomechanical properties and dynamic changes in cell shape are closely tied to their specific cellular functions. Changes in cell shape are observed during the migration of cells in model organisms (e.g. Drosophila, zebrafish and mouse), processes that can be described mathematically and accordingly analysed theoretically. Importantly, this research line is relevant to cell dynamics in the context of pathological conditions such as wound healing, tumour growth and metastasis, which resemble morphogenetic events in normal embryonic development.

    Prof. Dr Angela Stevens (Institute for Analysis and Numerics), Prof. Dr Erez Raz (Institute of Cell Biology), Faculties of Medicine (FB 5), Mathematics and Computer Science (FB 10) and Biology (FB 13)

  • 9. Evolutionary Protein Design

    Proteins have been the most important and diverse building blocks of all forms of life for billions of years. Evolution has produced myriads of proteins with different structures and functions, but so far science has had only limited success at designing custom-made proteins equipped with special characteristics. In the topical program “Evolutionary Protein Design”, researchers aim to apply and refine innovative methods for designing proteins with desired functions. To this end, the project will use traditional laboratory methods as well as cutting-edge high through-put technologies, aided by computer simulations and theoretical modelling. In addition to established model proteins, researchers will also study new proteins and protein functions. They will draw upon discoveries in protein evolution, based on enormous amounts of data generated from newly sequenced genomes. In this way, researchers hope to better understand the fundamental relationships between the thermal stability of proteins, their structural and functional resistance to mutation, and their multifunctionality. The project comprises research groups from the Faculty of Biology and the Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy at the University of Münster in cooperation with colleagues from Bayreuth, Regensburg and Greifswald.

    Prof. Dr Erich Bornberg-Bauer (Institute of Evolution and Biodiversity), Faculties of Chemistry and Pharmacy (FB 12) and Biology (FB 13)

  • 10. The Individual in the Focus of Life Sciences

    Individuals differ from one another. Although seemingly banal, this basic premise occupied the philosopher Aristotle almost 2,500 years ago. It not only applies to humans, but to all organisms – individuality and individualisation have become increasingly significant. The reason for this might be the transformation that our planet and society are currently experiencing: climate change, changing habitats, globalisation and the changing world of work. The topical program “The Individual in the Focus of Life Sciences” addresses the question of whether change engenders increasing individualisation and whether such individualisation offers us the chance to master the effects of change. In the field of biology, rapid change increases the necessity for individuals to come up with response strategies. Individualisation offers enormous potential for adaptation when organisms face rapidly changing environmental conditions. Because this research area is of growing cross-faculty interest, this program comprises several joint transdisciplinary projects which investigate individualisation in the context of changing environmental conditions or systems in the process of change.

    Prof. Dr Jürgen Gadau (Institute for Evolution and Biodiversity), Faculties of Medicine (FB 5), History and Philosophy (FB 8) and Biology (FB 13)

  • 11. Multiscale Green Biology Münster

    Plants are essential for preserving living environments and biological diversity, for sustainably supplying food and raw materials, and for stabilising the global climate. Protecting and cultivating them as high-yield agricultural crops are among the greatest challenges that present and future generations face. As the global population steadily grows, the demand for high-quality and healthy food is sure to increase. This trend, however, coincides with a significant reduction of arable land and an increasing loss of biodiversity. It is crucial that all of society address these alarming developments. “Multiscale Green Biology” plays a key role in this process – and the topical program of the same name aims to explore this concept. It serves to analyse and evaluate past and current climate changes and their effects on the function of complex natural and agricultural ecosystems. The concept fundamentally studies molecular, cellular biological and organism-based processes and produces resistant and beneficial high-yield organisms. It also advances the transfer of generated knowledge and tested innovations to society with the goal of influencing expectations and behaviours. The topical program will organise an international workshop to further strengthen this cross-disciplinary research field.

    Prof. Dr Dirk Prüfer (Institute of Plant Biology and Biotechnology), School of Business and Economics (FB 4), Faculties of Educational and Social Science (FB 6), Chemistry and Pharmacy (FB 12), Biology (FB 13) and Geosciences (FB 14)