The University of Tübingen specializes in the following areas of core research:
Teaching computers to think and machines to see
The cluster of excellence Machine Learning: New Perspectives for Science focuses on developments in the field of machine learning and the effects it may have on widely differing areas of science and academia. The researchers involved are exploring possible applications in subject areas, from medicine, to earth sciences, to social sciences.
At the heart of the cluster’s research are algorithms which recognize complex structures and causal links in data sets, and methods to quantify uncertainties in data-driven scientific models. The cluster is also exploring techniques which enable the researchers to better understand and interpret phases of machine learning – so that they can intervene and direct them. Additionally, the researchers are investigating the ethical and scientific theory issues which arise when algorithms take on an ever-greater role in unlocking new scientific and academic knowledge.
A great challenge for machine learning is to reproduce the robustness of human intelligence in artificial systems. The collaborative research center CRC 1233 – Robust Vision – Inference Principles and Neural Mechanisms is tackling the issues at the very foundation of how biological organisms see – and how machines can learn from them.
In cooperation with the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems, researchers in the Robust Vision center seek to better understand the principles and algorithms underlying the calculations of biological visual systems that enable robust vision. To this end, the researchers take an integrated approach, using methods from neuroscience, computer vision research, and machine learning. They are concentrating on the fields in which there are fundamental differences between the neurobiology of vision and the current algorithms of machine vision.
The Tübingen AI Center, our competence center for machine learning, provides research groups at the University and at the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems with a joint organization in which to develop robust learning systems. . The researchers are teaching algorithms to deal with external and unforeseen influences. At the same time, the algorithms’ output needs to become more predictable and transparent. The Center seeks to build a bridge between basic and applied research in the field.
A research alliance for artificial intelligence
Tübingen has grown dynamically in the fields of artificial intelligence and machine learning, and is considered one of the leading places for research in these areas worldwide. A visible sign of this strength is the Cyber Valley initiative, established in 2016. It is a network of researchers in both science and industry who are working together to investigate and develop the potential of artificial intelligence. Along with the Universities of Tübingen and Stuttgart, the Max Planck Society and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the state of Baden-Württemberg and many global industrial enterprises are also on board.
World-class brain research
For more than 30 years, Tübingen has been a top international address for brain research. From the very beginning, the neurosciences in Tübingen have relied on interdisciplinary collaboration. The Hertie Institute for Clinical Brain Research (HIH) and the University Hospitals’ Neurological Clinic together make up the Center for Neurology. The center brings together top-level research, training and patient care. The focus is on neurodegenerative and inflammatory brain diseases, epilepsy, strokes and brain tumors, sharpened by research into the underlying phenomena of perception, consciousness, motor skills and learning. Translational research approaches are typical of the HIH’s work. The goal is to incorporate scientific findings quickly into improved treatments.
One of the Hertie Institute’s important partners in Tübingen is the Werner Reichardt Center for Integrative Neuroscience (CIN), the joint platform for systems-oriented neurosciences at the university. Scientists from three faculties cooperate here with non-university partners. In five complementary research areas, researchers at CIN investigate how the brain carries out functions such as perception, memory, emotions, communication and action – and how brain diseases affect these functions. The researchers also take an interactive approach in order to understand the function of individual nerve cells and their complex interaction in circuits and networks. This enables the scientists to discover the information theory and biological basis of the brain’s many functions.
Another pillar of the neurosciences is the Center for Neurosensory Systems (ZfN), a merger of the Department of Ophthalmology and the Ear, Nose, and Throat Hospital. The ZfN conducts systemic analyses of the causes and treatment of neurosensory diseases. The Department of Ophthalmology’s clinical gene therapy studies have pioneered new treatments for genetic retinal diseases; while the Ear, Nose and Throat Hospital is a leader in the development of cochlear implants.
A key non-university player in brain research in close cooperation with CIN, HIH and the University Hospitals is the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (DZNE) in Tübingen. Researchers at this Helmholtz Association institution are investigating how diseases such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's develop, and are seeking new strategies for diagnosing, preventing and treating them. The collaboration was formalized in 2018 with the establishment of the Tübingen NeuroCampus (TNC), an umbrella structure for the more than one hundred neuroscience research groups in Tübingen.
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New strategies to tackle tumors
The University of Tübingen has played a leading role in cancer research in Germany and in Europe for many years. Our cluster of excellence Image-Guided and Functionally Instructed Tumor Therapies (iFIT), funded under the German government’s 2018 Excellence Strategy, seeks a comprehensive understanding of the biological processes inside tumors to devise clinical studies for the development of sustainable, personalized cancer treatments. Many of the therapies currently in use are not effective in the long term as the disease can develop resistance to the treatment. iFIT Researchers are using functional genetic techniques to find the tumors’ weak points – places where new drugs can most effectively attack. The cluster pools the expertise of oncologists, immunologists, and clinical imaging experts with that of researchers from the Max Planck Institutes for Developmental Biology and for Intelligent Systems, the Natural and Medical Sciences Institute in Reutlingen, and the Margarete-Fischer-Bosch Institute for Clinical Pharmacology in Stuttgart.
Working together to fight cancer
Tübingen's cancer research activities are concentrated in the Comprehensive Cancer Center Tübingen-Stuttgart (CCC), which is part of the University Hospitals and one of the country’s top oncological centers; it cooperates with the Robert Bosch Hospital in Stuttgart. At the CCC, experts from 14 institutions specializing in the treatment of various types of tumors work closely together to ensure the best possible treatment of patients based on state-of-the-art medical knowledge. The center maintains continual feedback between the relevant fields of scientific research and clinical practice. A special focus at the center is on cancer immunotherapy, in which researchers seek to turn the patient's own immune system against cancer cells.
The CCC is also a partner in the German Consortium for Translational Cancer Research (DKTK), which connects universities and hospitals focusing on oncology. The DKTK’s mission is furthered by Tübingen's expertise in functional genomics, drug development and molecular imaging. In addition, the Tübingen University researchers work in close cooperation with the Werner Siemens Imaging Center and the Tübingen Center for Academic Drug Discovery (TüCAD2) – where innovative approaches to translational cancer research go hand-in-hand with clinical practice.
Understanding the immune system
The Interfaculty Institute of Cell Biology (IFIZ) brings together experts from the fields of biology, medicine, chemistry and pharmacy. Its particular strength lies in translational immunology. IFIZ researchers laid the foundations which led to the development of new immunotherapies to combat various types of cancer. Immunotherapy seeks to activate the patient's immune system so that it will actively recognize and eliminate tumor cells. In addition to cancer-fighting antibodies, Tübingen researchers are working on various vaccines based on the body’s own proteins. The greatest challenge is finding treatments which can be adapted, as each patient has different immune defenses, and every tumor is different. While the body's immune defenses need to be strengthened for cancer treatment, when it comes to autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis it is important to weaken or suppress them – here too, IFIZ researchers are working on solutions.
In the transregional collaborative research center The Skin as a Sensor and Effector Organ Orchestrating Local and Systemic Immune Responses (SFB/TR 156), researchers from Tübingen and their colleagues at the Universities of Heidelberg and Mainz are investigating the skin’s key protective mechanisms; this involves the disciplines of dermatology, immunology and microbiology. The skin’s interaction with the immune system allows it to communicate with the entire body. The researchers in this group are investigating how the individual cells in the skin's microenvironment interact with each other, and how the interaction between microorganisms and skin contributes to the development of inflammatory diseases, especially in their early phases. To this end, the researchers are making a precise analysis of the key messenger chemicals in the skin’s communication with microbes. Their work’s aim is to help develop more specific treatments – with fewer side effects – for skin diseases, particularly for atopic dermatitis, psoriasis and scleroderma.
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Investigating pathogens – protecting people
Researching the threats posed by microbial pathogens, while developing effective drugs to combat them, is the goal of the Interfaculty Institute for Microbiology and Infection Medicine at the University of Tübingen (IMIT). IMIT integrates biology expertise regarding pathogens with the medical experience of infections. The institute’s areas of core research are in the physiology of bacteria, antibiotics research, and infection and microbiome research. The aim is to improve the diagnosis and treatment of infectious diseases, also in order to prevent the spread of hard-to-treat pathogens. IMIT works closely with the Max Planck Institute for Biology.
IMIT’s outstanding profile and its collaborative work with other local institutions were behind the decision to approve Tübingen as a location for the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF). All partners in the center cooperate to promote translational research and to develop new methods for the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of infectious diseases. Among other things, Tübingen’s researchers contribute expertise regarding tropical diseases and the development of antibiotics.
The goal of the researchers in the University of Tübingen’s cluster of excellence Controlling Microbes to Fight Infections (CMFI) is to find new strategies to combat infections beyond broad-spectrum antibiotics. The researchers at CMFI study the microbiome and analyze the interactions of the microorganisms with each other and with their host. Instead of killing off the pathogens along with many other organisms, their aim is to develop specifically-targeted agents which will have a positive effect on the microbiome overall. The cluster brings together research from the University, the University Hospitals, the Max Planck Institute for Biology, and the DZIF in an integrative approach. Medical microbiology is mainly concerned with pathogens as the cause of infections, while molecular microbiology usually looks at individual mechanisms and metabolic processes. The cluster combines both and also involves environmental microbiologists and bioinformaticians in order to identify and research useful, "probiotic" bacteria and to understand microbial communities in all their complexity. From in-vitro models to controlled human colonization studies, participants in the cluster are investigating how the microbiome is able to fend off invading pathogens. Novel microbiome-specific interventions will be tested in preclinical and early clinical studies.
New ways to beat infections
The collaborative research center ANTIBIOTIC CellMAP – Cellular Mechanisms of Antibiotic Action and Production (SFB/TR 261) enables researchers from the disciplines of microbiology, bioinformatics, biochemistry, chemistry, pharmacy and medicine to work together to investigate the molecular production and active mechanisms of antibiotics. Even though more and more pathogens are exhibiting multiple resistances to the known antibiotics, only few new ones are in development. Even with tried and tested antibiotics, it is often not entirely clear which cascade of effects they trigger in bacteria. The researchers are investigating this antibiotic activity in the target cells. They hope to derive principles from the mechanisms involved so they can better select and develop new antibiotics. Bacteria are not only targets of antibiotic treatment, bacteria are also the producers of most agents that are used as antibiotics. Therefore, the researchers want to understand how antibiotic-producing bacteria alter their metabolism to make their deadly products. Nature is considered to have a far greater and more promising potential to produce antibiotics than any laboratory. The findings of this research may enable the production of new bacteria-grown antibiotics under laboratory conditions. In the collaborative research center, the Tübingen scientists are working with researchers from the University of Bonn.
The Institute of Tropical Medicine, Travel Medicine and Human Parasitology is also an important institution in Tübingen's infection research. It has been selected as a center of excellence by the state of Baden-Württemberg and is one of the world's leading institutes for research into often fatal tropical diseases. One area of core research here is the development and clinical testing of new drugs and vaccines to treat Plasmodium falciparum, which causes malaria. The institute also conducts research into viral hepatitis, multi-resistant tuberculosis and a variety of worm infections. One of its key partners is the Albert Schweitzer Hospital and Centre de Recherches Médicales de Lambaréné (CERMEL) in Gabon.
Additional institutions and projects
Interpreting plant signals
The cell, containing all genetic information of an organism, is the key component of all living things. The physiological mechanisms that underpin life are the subject of molecular biology. Research at the Center for Plant Molecular Biology (ZMBP) is on mechanisms at the cellular and molecular level which influence plant growth and sensory perception. Many of the questions about the complex processes in plants can only be answered with input from a number of different disciplines. Therefore, the ZMBP has taken an interdisciplinary approach since its founding in 1999. Using the model organism thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana) and widely-cultivated plants such as tomatoes and maize, the researchers are investigating how plants grow and develop, how they communicate with each other and with other living things, as well as how they adapt to environmental influences and changes – such as pests and diseases, drought, and competition for nutrients. Basic research at the ZMBP is a valuable contribution to secure food supply for a growing world population – not least against the background of climate change.
Since 2014, the ZMBP has also been home to the collaborative research center Molecular Coding of Specificity in Plant Processes (SFB 1101). In recent years, the researchers have identified numerous key proteins contributing significantly to plant development – such as the formation of leaves and flowers – and how they adapt to environmental factors such as light or a lack of water. The collaborative researchers are investigating the principles behind these processes – how they are regulated, and how they affect one another in detail. Using fast-growing thale cress, the scientists are experimenting to find out exactly how key proteins trigger individual processes and enable particular activities. The collaborative research center is also refining high-resolution microscopic methods which can be used to collect data for mathematical modeling and simulation of specificity-coding mechanisms. Its long-term aim is to contribute to the creation of new functional cell properties in plants using a synthetic biological approach.
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Focus on water, energy and the environment
Tübingen's geoscience and environment researchers are investigating anthropogenic interventions in nature and the environment worldwide – and the effects of this human activity on the Earth's ecosystems. Covering numerous fields of expertise ranging from geomicrobiology to environmental toxicology, the research area geo- and environmental sciences looks into diverse and complex questions. The spectrum extends from basic research to practical applications, from the functioning of biogeochemical processes to the sustainable use of raw materials. The researchers frequently focus on highly topical issues such as the availability of clean water, the development of new energy sources, the influence of a changing climate and the effects of pollution in the environment. Tübingen's geo- and environmental sciences are part of comprehensive international networks.
As part of the German government’s Excellence Initiative, the University of Tübingen established an interdisciplinary Platform for Environmental Systems. This forum links the geosciences with the associated disciplines of biology, chemistry and physics and also involves economists and social scientists, lawyers and ethicists. Close cooperation with the nearby universities of Stuttgart and Hohenheim broadens the spectrum to include engineering and agricultural sciences as well as socioeconomics. Members of this network conduct research in cooperation with environmental authorities, consulting firms and national research laboratories. With the Environmental Systems platform, the University of Tübingen is contributing to the search for solutions to global challenges relating to climate change, water supplies and pollution.
Earth surface and atmosphere
We have long known that the surface of the Earth is shaped primarily by erosion and tectonic processes. EarthShape: Earth Surface Shaping by Biota is a DFG-sponsored priority program coordinated by the University of Tübingen that seeks to expand and improve our knowledge of these processes. Its participating researchers investigate biological processes – such as the activity of microorganisms – as factors influencing the Earth's surface. While the effects of such biological processes are still little known, they may yet turn out to be very important in the way climate change alters the face of the Earth. The program’s research focuses on the mountainous coast of Chile as a model region and natural laboratory, where climatic extremes are close together and are reflected in biological differences. In the EarthShape program, Tübingen researchers are working with scientists from universities and research institutions in the German-speaking world as well as in Chile.
Tracing the early paths of humankind
Few things capture our imagination like the origin of mankind. World-renowned researchers at the University's Institute of Prehistory, Early History and Medieval Archaeology and the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment Tübingen are seeking the paths walked by early humans. In a special alliance of disciplines, a number of University institutes have joined forces under the umbrella of the Tübingen Center for Archaeology (TZA), an interfaculty institution dedicated to archaeological research spanning the entire arc from the Palaeolithic to the Middle Ages. All these researchers benefit from the new perspectives of other disciplines; their collaboration also enables them to employ the latest scientific methods of analysis.
Paleoanthropologists from Tübingen have made several groundbreaking discoveries in recent years. Skeletal remains of a previously unknown primate species found in the Allgäu region of southern Germany indicated the primate could walk upright. Dubbed Danuvius guggenmosi, the find challenges previous hypotheses on the evolution of the upright gait. And some of the oldest pieces of figurative art have been excavated in caves in the Swabian Jura – animal figures, flutes and jewelry made of mammoth ivory and bone. These pieces, created during the last Ice Age some 40,000 years ago, give evidence of the art, music and religious beliefs of early mankind.
In the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (SHEP), the University of Tübingen has entered into a highly productive collaboration with the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research. The SHEP comprises seven working groups, which are headed by professors from the University. Their work focuses on the biological and cultural evolution of humans. They are investigating the complex relationships between biology, culture and the environment as factors in human development, bringing them together in an integrative approach. For this, the researchers employ a wide range of methods from artifact analysis to geochemical and geochronological methods and reconstructions of past environmental conditions. This careful processing of information enables fossil finds to provide information on earlier ecosystems. The researchers of the SHEP are active worldwide and involved in numerous important excavations; time and again they attract considerable attention with groundbreaking publications.
The central methodological approach in research into human evolution and archaeology is archaeometry – the use of scientific techniques to determine the origin, age or authenticity of archaeological finds or to solve questions concerning the technical or cognitive development of mankind. This includes dating methods such as the radiocarbon method and dendrochronology as well as the latest chemical, physical and biological analyses to provide information about ancient materials. The Institute for Archaeological Sciences and the Competence Center Archaeometry - Baden-Württemberg (CCA-BW) at the University of Tübingen specialize in archaeometric methods and their further development. The University also benefits from collaboration with the Curt Engelhorn Center for Archaeometry (CEZA) in Mannheim.
The Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities supports a long-term project in palaeoanthropology – The Role of Culture in Early Expansions of Humans (ROCEEH) – run by archaeologists from the University in cooperation with colleagues from the Senckenberg institute in Frankfurt. The researchers are investigating the conditions under which different forms of human expansion took place, and the effects it had in Africa and Eurasia in the period between 3 million years and 20,000 years ago. The aim is to gain an understanding of the biological and cultural history of mankind in its evolutionary, historical, social and ecological dimensions.
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The Tübingen Center for Linguistics (TÜZLi) brings together researchers from the fields of general and theoretical linguistics, the institutes of various languages, and from computational linguistics. They are investigating language structures and developmental processes, language acquisition and processing, and the interpretation of language. In this work, the TüZLi researchers also draw on expertise in the fields of biology, information and cognition science, and cultural studies. Our understanding of language enables us to process acoustic signals in a fraction of a second. The TüZLi researchers seek to develop an integrative understanding of the processes at work when this happens. Their work integrates the methodology of the humanities with approaches from cognition science and the neurosciences.
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Learning from the past
How do raw materials, products and networks contribute to social cohesion? What social developments result from the exploitation of such resources? Some 70 researchers from disciplines such as history, archaeology, geography, classical philology and ethnology are investigating these questions at the ResourceCultures collaborative research center (SFB 1070). Their work uses examples from various cultures around the world and over a period of more than 30,000 years. The researchers are looking beyond the conventional economic definition of ‘resources’ to include sociological and cultural dimensions, investigating not only raw materials and goods, but also intangible things such as knowledge and services. They focus on processes and events that bring about a change in resources, which could, for example, become the cause of migration or war – phenomena that we continue to observe. Research into the past, conducted at the University of Tübingen, should always shed light on the problems of today.
Further proof of Tübingen’s outstanding historical scholarship is evidenced by the research unit Historical-Philological Commentary on the World Chronicle of John Malalas. The project, sponsored by the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and Humanities, began in 2013 and is scheduled to run for twelve years. The aim is to produce a comprehensive historical-philological commentary on the world history written in the 6th century CE by Malalas, a Byzantine historiographer. His work will also be used to gain new insights into how the past was conceived during the period of upheaval between Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. It also yields important information about the political history of the 5th to 6th centuries as well as giving insights into the mentality, culture and religion of the time.
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Research on Education in the 21st century
At the Hector Research Institute of Education Sciences and Psychology, some 40 researchers are investigating which individual, social and institutional factors influence successful teaching and learning – from primary school level through to working life. The research program comprises five main areas – educational effectiveness, teaching quality and professional competence of teachers, talent development and giftedness, personality, and motivation. Among other things, the researchers study the effects of enrichment classes on gifted students; analyze how teachers need to design lessons so that pupils are motivated to learn; and examine how digitization is also changing teacher training and teaching at universities. To this end, they work with methods such as systematic sets of randomized controlled field trials; virtual reality to simulate various learning environments; and eye tracking to discover what really attracts the attention of those teaching and those learning.
Researchers at the Hector Institute are also central to the LEAD Graduate School & Research Network. LEAD stands for Learning, Educational Achievement, and Life Course Development. The network brings together over 100 researchers from a wide range of disciplines. Using various methodological approaches, study designs and data analysis techniques, the researchers seek to understand and promote educational processes. The focus is on language and education, learning in core domains, self-regulation in education, technology-enhanced teaching and learning, and theory testing in educational field trials. Another focus of the LEAD network is the practical and theoretical training of early-career researchers.
An important external partner for the university’s education researchers is the Leibniz Association’s IWM media research center in Tübingen. Its work focuses on the use of digital technologies in teaching.
New dimensions in teacher training
In founding the Tübingen School of Education (TüSE) in 2015 with 15 new professorships in Didactics and Education, the University of Tübingen established an inter-faculty institution that addresses the manifold aspects of modern teacher education. It is designed to integrate all teacher-training actors and activities and includes TüSE Research, a unit which brings together research on education and training with the University’s expertise in the more than 25 subjects in which we train teachers. All parties are involved in research into teacher education, school organization and lesson design. The Tübingen School of Education provides a flexible framework for the promotion of early-career researchers. In addition, there is close cooperation with the second and third phases of teacher training – pre-service teaching and advanced training – and with schools. This collaboration helps to establish and further promote a culture of research which is both trans- and interdisciplinary.
In cooperation with its partners, particularly the IWM media research center, the Tübingen School of Education is a prominent location for teaching and learning with digital media. At the heart of its efforts is the Teacher Training Digitalization Center (TüDiLB) and the Professorship of Education with a focus on teaching and learning with digital media. The Tübingen Digital Teaching Lab (TüDiLab) is one of the best equipped laboratories for communicating and investigating digital media-supported learning processes in Europe. In order to further develop digital teaching concepts and learning materials, its researchers want to find out what makes media-based teaching different, and what effect the use of different media has.
The Tübingen Center for Digital Education (TüCeDE), founded in summer 2022, investigates the use of digital media in the classroom. Its goal is to research digital teaching-learning formats, to test the practical application of these methods, and to prepare for transfer into practice in cooperation with partner schools. In doing so, TüCeDE combines Tübingen's expertise in education science and computer science. In addition, researchers in the fields of computational linguistics, digital humanities, medicine, media ethics, psychology, and subject didactics also contribute their know-how to help shape the teaching and learning of the future. In addition to actors such as the Tübingen School of Education and the Dr. Eberle Center for Digital Competencies, non-university partners are also involved in TüCeDE.
The brochure "Committed to the Future" provides an overview of the spectrum of research carried out in Tübingen – from institutions and research infrastructure to third-pary projects to collaboration with non-university partners. Download of the revised edition 2021