Six outstanding young researchers to receive grants under the START Programme 

During a recent trip to Israel for the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding by FWF and Israel’s Ministry of Science, FWF President Klement Tockner also had to see about some “home business”. While the MoU was duly signed in the presence of Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the international START/Wittgenstein jury presented its candidates for the 2018 Wittgenstein Awards following a weekend meeting in Vienna. President Tockner therefore had the pleasant duty to inform the award winners, mathematician and computer scientist Herbert Edelsbrunner from the Austrian Institute of Science and Technology (IST) and ethnomusicologist Ursula Hemetek from the Department of Folk Music Research and Ethnomusicology at the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts, of the jury’s decision.

“The Wittgenstein Award is Austria’s most generously endowed and prestigious award in the field of science and research. Receiving this distinction means that the winning candidate has produced work of outstanding excellence over a prolonged period of time,” said President Klement Tockner, expressing his “heartfelt congratulations to the two Wittgenstein Award winners and the six young researchers who were selected for the START Awards. These awards are an extraordinary token of recognition, but also of the candidates’ commitment to future international scientific work.”

Herbert Edelsbrunner is the third Wittgenstein Award winner from IST Austria (2012: Thomas Henzinger; 2016: Peter Jonas), whereas Ursula Hemetek is the first scholar from an arts university to have won the award since its inception in 1996.

Wittgenstein Award and START Programme 

The Wittgenstein Award is bestowed for excellence in research and open to outstanding scholars from all disciplines. Endowed with a prize sum of EUR 1.4mn per award this year, the distinction supports award winners in their research activities, ensuring their independence and flexibility in conducting outstanding scientific work. The additional funding helps to boost the winners’ scientific productivity in an extraordinary manner. In 2018, the list of candidates for the Wittgenstein Award included 21 scholars. The winners of the START and Wittgenstein Awards are selected by a panel of scientists of high international standing from Europe and overseas, who ensure utmost objectivity. The jury is chaired by Janet Wolff from the University of Manchester, UK.

The START Programme has been launched to support outstanding young researchers. Its goal is to provide sufficiently reliable funding for them to be able to plan their research projects on a longer-term basis. Through creating, developing and managing project teams, START project leaders acquire skills and know-how that enable them to take up senior positions in research institutions later in their careers. START projects receive funding of up to EUR 1.2mn per project.

Wittgenstein 2018

Herbert Edelsbrunner is one of the world’s leading researchers in computational geometry and computational topology. These research areas are part of the wider fields of computer science and mathematics. They involve the development of algorithms to solve geometrical and topological problems, with applications in many areas of natural science and engineering. Edelsbrunner made a significant contribution to the development of computational geometry in the last quarter of the 20th century and went on to become one of the founders of computational topology around the turn of the millennium. The latter discipline may be regarded as a logical extension of computational geometry. It is based on different mathematical foundations, however, which explains why only a few researchers work in both fields.

Drawing on the Wittgenstein Award funding, Edelsbrunner will be able to develop Vienna (and Austria) as a leading international research hub of computational geometry and computational topology. The additional funds will help to achieve defined objectives faster and to devise new topological approaches, enriching applications that have up to now remained outside the scope of this research work. In some cases, this will give rise to alternative solutions with advantages as well as drawbacks in comparison to conventional approaches. In others, however, windows may be opened on novel and completely unforeseen potentials.

Ursula Hemetek is one of the most influential participants in international academic debates about ethnomusicological questions. In particular, she has earned a reputation as a pioneer of minority research, a sub-discipline within her field. Developing new approaches, methods and theories in the context of studying marginalized groups and their music, she has made a lasting impact on the whole field of ethnomusicology. The discourses thus started were taken to an international level through the establishment of an international study group. In 2017, Ms. Hemetek was appointed Secretary General of the International Council for Traditional Music, the largest international association in the field, underlining her role as a trailblazer in ethnomusicology.

For her, ethnomusicology is a participatory science and a field that comes with social responsibility. She therefore plans to use the Wittgenstein Award funding to found an international research centre for ethnomusicological minority research at the Vienna University of Music and Performing Arts. The centre will be committed to the principle of sustainability – which in research means the promotion of young researchers, among other things. Establishing the centre within a university is also meant to ensure the sustainability of its activities. Researchers from different parts of the world and at different stages of their careers will be able to pursue research projects and work in their specific areas of interest at the centre, joining forces to further develop minority research in ethnomusicology and to find ways to apply their insights through social policy actions. They will thus be able to use the power of music to develop a more equitable society.

START 2018

The 2018 START Awards were bestowed on six outstanding young researchers. The winners were selected from a list of 84 candidates. They are (in alphabetical order):

Emanuela BIANCHI
“Heterogeneously charged colloids for materials design”
Institute of Theoretical Physics, Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien)

Josef Norbert FÜSSL
“Making wood predictable through computational methods”
Institute of Mechanics of Materials and Structures, Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien)

“Atom interferometry in an optical resonator”
Institute of Atomic and Subatomic Physics, Vienna University of Technology (TU Wien)

Institute of Solid State Physics, Graz University of Technology

Robert R. JUNKER
“Successional generation of functional multidiversity”
Department of Biosciences, Paris Lodron University of Salzburg

Gina Elaine MOSELEY
“Northeast Greenland speleothem project”
Department of Geology, University of Innsbruck


Link to press kit (in German) (pdf, 707KB)


Marc Seumenicht
Head of Public Relations and Science Communication

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