First-Class Research: Excellence Chairs to Be Extended

A special research format has proven successful. The cooperation between researchers at the University of Bremen and top international scholars is so successful that seven of the “U Bremen Excellence Chairs” that have existed since 2019 will now be receiving funding for a further three years.

Professor Lucio Colombi Ciacchi is very pleased. Four years ago the materials scientist from the University of Bremen successfully applied for a visiting professorship for his renowned colleague Nicola Marzari from the Swiss École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) as part of the U Bremen Excellence Chairs program. Since then, the two scientists and their staff at the MAPEX Center for Materials and Processes have together been researching the materials of the future.

“The cooperation is going extremely well,” says Colombi Ciacchi, summing up the first four years – and is now delighted that the fruitful collaboration will be able to continue. Following two evaluation processes, the University of Bremen has awarded three further years of funding (January 1, 2023 to December 31, 2025) to seven of the U Bremen Excellence Chairs that have existed since 2019. “Nicola Marzari spends regular blocks of time in Bremen to discuss and guide research questions with his doctoral students and postdocs. His students also spend several weeks a year in Lausanne.” During this international exchange, all of them benefit from Marzari’s special knowledge of material design based on the fundamental electron structure theory.

The fruitful collaboration between the materials experts in Bremen and Lausanne is just one of several examples of how useful and productive the U Bremen Excellence Chairs established in 2019 are. In the case of Nicola Marzari, the successful cooperation with leading international scholars is even topped by the fact that the Italian has submitted to the European Union a project proposal for another research topic stemming from the Excellence Project at the University of Bremen. “The proposal was successful, which will mean an additional 800,000 euros and further positions for young researchers at the University of Bremen over the coming years,” says a delighted Colombi Ciacchi.

What Are the U Bremen Excellence Chairs?

The U Bremen Excellence Chairs are internationally renowned scholars who have set up their own working group at the University of Bremen and conduct research on a selected topic together with the group and other colleagues. These “chairs of excellence” are being funded as part of the Excellence Strategy of the federal and state governments from 2019 to 2025. They were introduced as a strategic tool by the University of Bremen. 

With the successful cluster application of MARUM – Center for Marine Environmental Sciences – as part of the Excellence Strategy, three Excellence Chairs funded by the cluster have been established at MARUM. The successful cluster gave the University of Bremen the opportunity to receive a lump sum for its strategic orientation and strengthening – the so-called university lump sum of one million euros per year. The state of Bremen is increasing this funding by an additional 500,000 euros per year. The university will use these funds for a further eight Excellence Chairs who have initiated their collaborations after two successive selection rounds.

A Boost for International Cooperation

“Our efforts to give research in Bremen and the international cooperation of our university a big additional boost have paid off,” says Professor Michal Kucera, Vice President for Research and Transfer at the University of Bremen. “With the Excellence Chairs, we are attracting highly successful scholars from other countries in very interesting scientific and academic fields and at the same time intensifying professional cooperation. Both sides are able to benefit from the respective networks of those involved.”

From the outset, the concept envisaged a long-term approach. However, this required a thorough review of work and results, which took place for the first seven approved Excellence Chairs in early 2022, with the positive result that the visiting professorships can be continued. In addition to Nicola Marzari’s chair, described above, research will be conducted in this cooperation program with the university lump sum for three more years by:

  • Professor Petar Popovski, Aalborg University, Denmark, electrical engineer, research topic: communication systems. His host is Professor Armin Dekorsy (working group for communications engineering, Faculty of Physics/Electrical Engineering). For the first four years they worked together on the three-dimensional mobile network, which in future will be connected not only by masts on the ground, but also by drones, balloons, aircraft and, above all, satellites. During the extension period, more attention will be paid to the next generation of mobile communications, 6G.
  • Professor Shalini Randeria, rector of the Central European University (CEU), Vienna, social anthropologist and sociologist, research topic: soft authoritarianisms. Her hosts are Professor Michi Knecht and Professor Ingo H. Warnke, spokespersons of the interdisciplinary collaborative research platform “Worlds of Contradiction.” Shalini Randeria and her group are investigating contemporary forms of authoritarianism that seek to legitimize themselves democratically. These entities undermine democratic institutions from within, for example by strategically manipulating electoral majorities. The first four years focused on France, Turkey, and Poland. The extension period will deal with soft-authoritarian strategies with a focus on the identity politics of the majority.
  • Professor Haizhou Li, National University of Singapore and Chinese University of Hong Kong (Shenzhen), electrical and electronic engineer, research topic: machine listening. Together with his host Professor Tanja Schultz (Cognitive Systems Lab and spokesperson for Minds, Media, Machines), Li and his Excellence Chair team are researching the development of biologically inspired computer models that mimic human hearing. Their aim is to take the human ability to selectively pick out individual voices from the vocal chaos of a cocktail party and transfer it to technical systems – an as yet unresolved problem. This fruitful collaboration has already produced numerous publications, and Professor Li has been recruited as a Mercator Fellow for the DFG-funded AI Research Unit “Lifespan AI.” 

The Excellence Chairs anchored at MARUM will also be extended until 2025. They are:

  • Professor Jack Middelburg, Utrecht University, Netherlands, geochemist, research topic: marine carbon cycle
  • Professor Victoria Orphan, Californian Institute of Technology, Pasadena, USA, environmental scientist, research topic: microbial communities
  • Professor Eske Willerslev, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, and University of Cambridge, United Kingdom, research topic: fossil DNA in marine deposits

Excellence Chairs Train Next Generation of Researchers

Within the framework of the U Bremen Excellence Chairs, the University of Bremen finances two junior researcher positions for each visiting professor. The Bremen research group can also be expanded and developed with other funds. The U Bremen Excellence Chairs are closely integrated into the faculty structures in Bremen and also supervise doctoral students.

Further Information:


Funda Togar
Coordinator of U Bremen Excellence Chairs 
University of Bremen
Unit 12 – Research Services and Young Academics 
Tel.: +49 421 218-60308


Professoren reden miteinander
This Excellence Chair is being extended too: Professor Petar Popovski from the Danish Aalborg University (left) has been conducting research on the three-dimensional mobile network with his host Professor Armin Dekorsy (working group for telecommunications) since 2019. The collaboration will now continue until 2025.