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Outstanding: The best doctoral theses in 2019

Published on 27. Januar 2020, 10:00 h
The Bielefeld University Society (UGBi) awards prizes for the best doctoral theses at the university. Topics range from genetic diversity in seals across nanomembranes to a sense of responsibility in artificial intelligence.

Awards are being given for the best dissertations completed at the faculties in 2019. All doctoral theses were awarded the top grade "summa cum laude" (excellent). This year, an additional prize is being awarded to an outstanding work at the Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science.

The University Society has been awarding dissertation prizes since 1983. They are each endowed with 1,000 euros through the generous support of both individuals and well-known companies in the Ostwestfalen-Lippe region.

The awardees: 


Dr Martin Stoffel (Faculty of Biology): ‘My dissertation covered a lot of aspects, but always with a focus on genetic diversity. I worked on several research questions, for example: What influence did seal hunting in past centuries have on the various seal populations and their genetic diversity? Which chemical and genetic mechanisms are responsible for odour recognition in Antarctic sea bears? How does the microbiome—that is, the community of microorganisms—form in the intestines of the northern elephant seal? I am now working as a postdoc at the University of Edinburgh where I am investigating the influence of genetics and the environment on the fitness of wild sheep in the Scottish archipelago of St Kilda.’ Dissertation title: Causes and consequences of genetic diversity in pinnipeds: demographic, chemical, microbial and methodological studies. Photo: Luke Eberhardt-Phillips
Dr Martin Stoffel (Faculty of Biology): ‘My dissertation covered a lot of aspects, but always with a focus on genetic diversity. I worked on several research questions, for example: What influence did seal hunting in past centuries have on the various seal populations and their genetic diversity? Which chemical and genetic mechanisms are responsible for odour recognition in Antarctic sea bears? How does the microbiome—that is, the community of microorganisms—form in the intestines of the northern elephant seal? I am now working as a postdoc at the University of Edinburgh where I am investigating the influence of genetics and the environment on the fitness of wild sheep in the Scottish archipelago of St Kilda.’ Dissertation title: Causes and consequences of genetic diversity in pinnipeds: demographic, chemical, microbial and methodological studies. Photo: Luke Eberhardt-Phillips
Dr Timo Brändel (Faculty of Chemistry): ‘In times of dwindling resources, nanoparticles are very much in demand as catalysts for important chemical reactions because they are highly effective with a comparatively low material input. To ensure their stability, they can be embedded in a polymer matrix. My dissertation dealt with the production of such hybrid systems based on intelligent polymer materials for the generation of switchable catalysts. I am currently conducting research on polymer-based model systems for intrinsically disordered proteins at a scientific institute in San Sebastián. These play an important role in human physiology.’ Dissertation title: Intelligent microgels and microgel/nanoparticle hybrids - from fundamental aspects to applications in catalysis. Photo: Hirschmeier Media
Dr Timo Brändel (Faculty of Chemistry): ‘In times of dwindling resources, nanoparticles are very much in demand as catalysts for important chemical reactions because they are highly effective with a comparatively low material input. To ensure their stability, they can be embedded in a polymer matrix. My dissertation dealt with the production of such hybrid systems based on intelligent polymer materials for the generation of switchable catalysts. I am currently conducting research on polymer-based model systems for intrinsically disordered proteins at a scientific institute in San Sebastián. These play an important role in human physiology.’ Dissertation title: Intelligent microgels and microgel/nanoparticle hybrids - from fundamental aspects to applications in catalysis. Photo: Hirschmeier Media
Dr Stephan Dahmen (Faculty of Educational Science): ‘I conducted research on how transitions from school to vocational training are regulated by transitional measures such as preparatory vocational education courses. The aim of such measures is for young people to take personal responsibility for organizing the transition and to be willing to work on developing their own competencies. I used ethnographic methods to study how these biographical demands are translated in concrete interactions between welfare state professionals and young people—that is, which technologies are applied to bring about change in people. Since the beginning of this year, I have been working as a postdoc at the Faculty of Educational Science where I am focusing particularly on childhood and adolescence research.’ Dissertation title: Regulating Transitions from School to Work. An Institutional Ethnography of Activation Work in Action. Photo: private
Dr Stephan Dahmen (Faculty of Educational Science): ‘I conducted research on how transitions from school to vocational training are regulated by transitional measures such as preparatory vocational education courses. The aim of such measures is for young people to take personal responsibility for organizing the transition and to be willing to work on developing their own competencies. I used ethnographic methods to study how these biographical demands are translated in concrete interactions between welfare state professionals and young people—that is, which technologies are applied to bring about change in people. Since the beginning of this year, I have been working as a postdoc at the Faculty of Educational Science where I am focusing particularly on childhood and adolescence research.’ Dissertation title: Regulating Transitions from School to Work. An Institutional Ethnography of Activation Work in Action. Photo: private
Johanna Wagner (Faculty of History, Philosophy and Theology): ‘Will artificial intelligences one day be so advanced that one could justifiably hold them responsible for what they do in the world? This is the question I pursued in my dissertation. The work can be read as basic research on the topic of responsibility while simultaneously contributing to the debates in society on the issues of responsibility surrounding the development of artificial intelligence. I am currently working as a research assistant in the Department of Philosophy at Bielefeld University.’ Dissertation title: Künstliche Intelligenzen als moralisch verantwortliche Akteure? Begriffliche Möglichkeiten und pragmatische Notwendigkeiten [Artificial intelligences as morally responsible actors? Conceptual possibilities and pragmatic necessities]. Photo: private
Johanna Wagner (Faculty of History, Philosophy and Theology): ‘Will artificial intelligences one day be so advanced that one could justifiably hold them responsible for what they do in the world? This is the question I pursued in my dissertation. The work can be read as basic research on the topic of responsibility while simultaneously contributing to the debates in society on the issues of responsibility surrounding the development of artificial intelligence. I am currently working as a research assistant in the Department of Philosophy at Bielefeld University.’ Dissertation title: Künstliche Intelligenzen als moralisch verantwortliche Akteure? Begriffliche Möglichkeiten und pragmatische Notwendigkeiten [Artificial intelligences as morally responsible actors? Conceptual possibilities and pragmatic necessities]. Photo: private
Dr Oliver Damm (School of Public Health): ‘I used mathematical models to study how various vaccinations in Germany influence the frequency and distribution of diseases in the long term and which effects they have in terms of health economics. The selection of evaluated vaccinations included vaccines against human papillomaviruses, the varicella zoster virus, and seasonal influenza. I have remained true to my previous research specialization and am now working for a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Berlin where my job is to carry out epidemiological and health economics analyses.’ Dissertation title: Die Anwendung von Modellierungsmethoden im Rahmen der gesundheitsökonomischen Evaluation von Impfungen in Deutschland [Applying modelling methods to evaluate vaccinations in Germany in terms of health economics]. Photo: private
Dr Oliver Damm (School of Public Health): ‘I used mathematical models to study how various vaccinations in Germany influence the frequency and distribution of diseases in the long term and which effects they have in terms of health economics. The selection of evaluated vaccinations included vaccines against human papillomaviruses, the varicella zoster virus, and seasonal influenza. I have remained true to my previous research specialization and am now working for a pharmaceutical manufacturer in Berlin where my job is to carry out epidemiological and health economics analyses.’ Dissertation title: Die Anwendung von Modellierungsmethoden im Rahmen der gesundheitsökonomischen Evaluation von Impfungen in Deutschland [Applying modelling methods to evaluate vaccinations in Germany in terms of health economics]. Photo: private
Dr Nils Rottschäfer (Faculty of Linguistics and Literary Studies): ‘My dissertation studied the underlying link between the concepts of homeland and religiosity in the work of the major contemporary author Arnold Stadler. The work permits a new insight into the discourse over belonging, arriving, and being accepted in a globalized world. For Stadler, the German concept of ‘Heimat’ [homeland] is simultaneously both a poetic challenge and a cipher for a fundamental loss and the desire to regain it. Currently, I am conducting research at the Faculty of Linguistics and Literary Studies in a project focusing on processes of searching for meaning in German-language literature between 1945 and 1949.’ Dissertation title: Heimat und Religiosität im Werk Arnold Stadlers [Homeland and religiosity in the work of Arnold Stadler]. Photo: private
Dr Nils Rottschäfer (Faculty of Linguistics and Literary Studies): ‘My dissertation studied the underlying link between the concepts of homeland and religiosity in the work of the major contemporary author Arnold Stadler. The work permits a new insight into the discourse over belonging, arriving, and being accepted in a globalized world. For Stadler, the German concept of ‘Heimat’ [homeland] is simultaneously both a poetic challenge and a cipher for a fundamental loss and the desire to regain it. Currently, I am conducting research at the Faculty of Linguistics and Literary Studies in a project focusing on processes of searching for meaning in German-language literature between 1945 and 1949.’ Dissertation title: Heimat und Religiosität im Werk Arnold Stadlers [Homeland and religiosity in the work of Arnold Stadler]. Photo: private
Dr Chrizaldy Neil Mañibo (Faculty of Mathematics): ‘In my PhD thesis, I studied mathematical models of solids that although not periodic, are far from being random: so called quasicrystals. In particular, I worked on the spectral theory of these structures. This is a mathematical generalization of what happens when such objects are subjected to radiation in a diffraction experiment. Together with my advisors and several international collaborators, I developed a sufficient criterion under which the spectrum of such a system lacks a certain component. This is applicable under mild assumptions and in higher dimensions. I am currently a postdoc at Bielefeld University in the CRC 1283.’ Dissertation title: Lyapunov Exponents in the Spectral Theory of Primitive Inflation Systems. Photo: private
Dr Chrizaldy Neil Mañibo (Faculty of Mathematics): ‘In my PhD thesis, I studied mathematical models of solids that although not periodic, are far from being random: so called quasicrystals. In particular, I worked on the spectral theory of these structures. This is a mathematical generalization of what happens when such objects are subjected to radiation in a diffraction experiment. Together with my advisors and several international collaborators, I developed a sufficient criterion under which the spectrum of such a system lacks a certain component. This is applicable under mild assumptions and in higher dimensions. I am currently a postdoc at Bielefeld University in the CRC 1283.’ Dissertation title: Lyapunov Exponents in the Spectral Theory of Primitive Inflation Systems. Photo: private
Dr Yang Yang (Faculty of Physics): ‘I developed measurement techniques to quantify mass transport through 1.2 nanometre—a millionth of a millimetre—thick carbon nanomembranes: the CNMs. I found that these membranes block most gases, liquids, and ions; but they allow water to pass through at an extremely high flow rate. I showed that water molecules move very quickly through CNM nanochannels, similar to the way they cross membrane proteins in biological cells. Following my work, CNMs are now being tested as osmosis membranes and optimized for use in material separations. I am currently working as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow at Imperial College London.’  Dissertation title: Mass Transport Through Freestanding Carbon Nanomembranes . Photo: private
Dr Yang Yang (Faculty of Physics): ‘I developed measurement techniques to quantify mass transport through 1.2 nanometre—a millionth of a millimetre—thick carbon nanomembranes: the CNMs. I found that these membranes block most gases, liquids, and ions; but they allow water to pass through at an extremely high flow rate. I showed that water molecules move very quickly through CNM nanochannels, similar to the way they cross membrane proteins in biological cells. Following my work, CNMs are now being tested as osmosis membranes and optimized for use in material separations. I am currently working as a Marie Skłodowska-Curie Individual Fellow at Imperial College London.’ Dissertation title: Mass Transport Through Freestanding Carbon Nanomembranes . Photo: private
Dr Alexandra Zapko-Willmes (Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science): ‘The methodological approach in my dissertation was based on working with twins. My topic was how people differ in their attitudes towards social and political issues and what is the influence of heredity and what is that of the social environment. For example, I investigated why some people are more homophobic than others. In another study, I analysed how authoritarianism is influenced by childrearing. I am currently conducting research at the University of Bremen on the political participation of adolescents and young adults.’ Dissertation title: Sources of Individual Differences in Sociopolitical Orientations: Findings from Combining Behavior Genetic with Multi-Rater Approaches. Photo: private
Dr Alexandra Zapko-Willmes (Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science): ‘The methodological approach in my dissertation was based on working with twins. My topic was how people differ in their attitudes towards social and political issues and what is the influence of heredity and what is that of the social environment. For example, I investigated why some people are more homophobic than others. In another study, I analysed how authoritarianism is influenced by childrearing. I am currently conducting research at the University of Bremen on the political participation of adolescents and young adults.’ Dissertation title: Sources of Individual Differences in Sociopolitical Orientations: Findings from Combining Behavior Genetic with Multi-Rater Approaches. Photo: private
Dr Rümeysa Gündüz Can (Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science): ‘My dissertation focused on understanding the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying manual action control. That is, how does the human brain orchestrate sensorimotor systems and cognitive processes to plan, execute, and adjust a variety of skilled manual actions? In particular, I investigated the neurophysiological correlates of the functional interactions between grasping movements and working memory by applying  a cognitive-motor dual-task paradigm. Currently, I am working on a spinoff project in the field of digital health, while at the same time applying for postdoctoral positions in Germany.’ Dissertation title: Neurophysiological investigation of the functional interactions between manual action control and working memory. Photo: private
Dr Rümeysa Gündüz Can (Faculty of Psychology and Sports Science): ‘My dissertation focused on understanding the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying manual action control. That is, how does the human brain orchestrate sensorimotor systems and cognitive processes to plan, execute, and adjust a variety of skilled manual actions? In particular, I investigated the neurophysiological correlates of the functional interactions between grasping movements and working memory by applying a cognitive-motor dual-task paradigm. Currently, I am working on a spinoff project in the field of digital health, while at the same time applying for postdoctoral positions in Germany.’ Dissertation title: Neurophysiological investigation of the functional interactions between manual action control and working memory. Photo: private
Dr Julia Ludwigkeit (Faculty of Law): ‘In my dissertation , I studied how to design the implementation of European guidelines on consumer rights in national civil law. This design refers to the legal techniques: the written form, the structure of the norm, the decision on the location, and the systematic linkage with existing structures. I approached this by using individual guidelines to study European and national design specifications and the previous design practice in implementation law. I used this to develop my own design proposal: a consumer law code in the BGB [German Civil Code]. I am currently working as a lawyer in Düsseldorf where my specialization is disputes in civil and corporate law.’ Dissertation title: Richtlinienumsetzung und Kodifikation [Implementing and codifying guidelines]. Photo: private
Dr Julia Ludwigkeit (Faculty of Law): ‘In my dissertation , I studied how to design the implementation of European guidelines on consumer rights in national civil law. This design refers to the legal techniques: the written form, the structure of the norm, the decision on the location, and the systematic linkage with existing structures. I approached this by using individual guidelines to study European and national design specifications and the previous design practice in implementation law. I used this to develop my own design proposal: a consumer law code in the BGB [German Civil Code]. I am currently working as a lawyer in Düsseldorf where my specialization is disputes in civil and corporate law.’ Dissertation title: Richtlinienumsetzung und Kodifikation [Implementing and codifying guidelines]. Photo: private
Daniela Russ (Faculty of Sociology): In my d issertation, I asked why is it that we understand nature as energy—as working nature? Specifically, I analysed engineering efforts to put nature to work. These practices are not merely the application of physical laws. Instead, they led engineers to raise their own questions: What is the value of fuel? How can a profitable power system be constructed? What is the impact of electricity on prosperity? These studies show energy not as an object, but as a physical-economic effect that can never be grasped in full. Currently, I am conducting research on Soviet resource planning and the possibility of non-growing energy systems as a postdoc at the University of Toronto.’ Dissertation title: Working Nature: A Historical Epistemology of the Energy Economy. Photo: private
Daniela Russ (Faculty of Sociology): In my d issertation, I asked why is it that we understand nature as energy—as working nature? Specifically, I analysed engineering efforts to put nature to work. These practices are not merely the application of physical laws. Instead, they led engineers to raise their own questions: What is the value of fuel? How can a profitable power system be constructed? What is the impact of electricity on prosperity? These studies show energy not as an object, but as a physical-economic effect that can never be grasped in full. Currently, I am conducting research on Soviet resource planning and the possibility of non-growing energy systems as a postdoc at the University of Toronto.’ Dissertation title: Working Nature: A Historical Epistemology of the Energy Economy. Photo: private
Dr Benjamin Paaßen Faculty of Technology): ‘My dissertation studied two problems: First, how students change their code when trying to solve a programming task and how to predict this through machine learning. Such a prediction can help students who get stuck while trying to solve the task. The second problem is how to control arm prostheses by muscle signals alone, even if the sensors are dysfunctional in everyday life. This  can help amputee patients. At the University of Sydney, I am now continuing to work on helping students to learn programming through machine learning. Bielefeld University helped me to obtain a research grant for this.’ Dissertation title: Metric Learning for Structured Data. Photo: private
Dr Benjamin Paaßen Faculty of Technology): ‘My dissertation studied two problems: First, how students change their code when trying to solve a programming task and how to predict this through machine learning. Such a prediction can help students who get stuck while trying to solve the task. The second problem is how to control arm prostheses by muscle signals alone, even if the sensors are dysfunctional in everyday life. This can help amputee patients. At the University of Sydney, I am now continuing to work on helping students to learn programming through machine learning. Bielefeld University helped me to obtain a research grant for this.’ Dissertation title: Metric Learning for Structured Data. Photo: private
Dr Lasha Chochua (Faculty of Business Administration and Economics): ‘My dissertation consists of three independent research articles. In the first article, we try to understand why we observe tariffs and other trade policy instruments in small countries, even though there is a general agreement that in such cases, free trade is the best option. In the second paper, we examine the role of preferential trade agreements on the structure of the world trading system. In the last paper, we deal with the societal decision-making process under ambiguity and try to understand how rational people can make such societal decisions. I am currently a postdoc at Bielefeld University. I am working on analysing the possible effects of introducing new trade-related rules in the World Trade Organization regulations.’ Dissertation title: Essays in International Trade Policy and Social Choice under Ambiguity. Photo: private
Dr Lasha Chochua (Faculty of Business Administration and Economics): ‘My dissertation consists of three independent research articles. In the first article, we try to understand why we observe tariffs and other trade policy instruments in small countries, even though there is a general agreement that in such cases, free trade is the best option. In the second paper, we examine the role of preferential trade agreements on the structure of the world trading system. In the last paper, we deal with the societal decision-making process under ambiguity and try to understand how rational people can make such societal decisions. I am currently a postdoc at Bielefeld University. I am working on analysing the possible effects of introducing new trade-related rules in the World Trade Organization regulations.’ Dissertation title: Essays in International Trade Policy and Social Choice under Ambiguity. Photo: private
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