Tue, Dec 11, 2007 - Page 4 News List

FEATURE: New award aims to inspire bright young academics

By Meggie Lu  /  STAFF REPORTER

Chairman of the National Science Council Chen Chien-jen, right, Professor Peter Jonas of the Department of Physiology at Albert-Ludwigs-University Freiburg, center, and Klaus Ploog, former director of the Graduate Institute of Solid State Electronics at the Max Planck Society, are pictured last Tuesday at Technology Building in Taipei City.

PHOTO: HSU MIN-JUNG, TAIPEI TIMES

Two German scientists, Peter Jonas and Klaus Ploog, last Tuesday became the first recipients of the Tsungming Tu Award, the nation's highest academic honor.

The award was established last year in cooperation with internationally renowned academic award organizations through a reciprocal endowment of awards, Chen Jian-jen (陳建仁), minister of the National Science Council -- which organized the event -- said at the award ceremony.

The purpose of reciprocity is to encourage collaboration between international academics and enhance the quality of research on all sides, he said.

Tsungming Tu (杜聰明, 1893-1986), the first Taiwanese to earn a Doctor of Medicine degree and the only Taiwanese professor at Taipei Imperial University Medical School during the Japanese colonial era, "is Taiwan's foremost legend in medical history," Chen said.

"Tu's greatest academic contributions may have come from his research on opium addiction and snake venom, but it is his lifelong, unrelenting mission to cultivate young talent that makes him the perfect role model for the award," Chen said.

By presenting the award, the council hopes that many more bright young academics will rise to international recognition and make a contribution to society, Chen said.

Jonas, a biology professor at Germany's Freiburg University, is known for having overturned the Dale's Principle and proving that individual neurons are capable of releasing two or more neurotransmitters from their axonal terminal at a time.

"At the record young age of 34 [in 1995], Jonas was made a full professor, when most others attain the status after 45," said Jonas' nominator, National Yang-ming University Institute of Neuroscience assistant professor Lien Cheng-chang (連正章), who is also his first PhD student from Taiwan.

In the past 10 years Jonas focused his research on the hippocampus, the organ in the brain responsible for learning and memory, Lien said.

Last year, a breakthrough in electrical recordings of single pre-synaptic elements of the cerebrum once again earned Jonas international recognition, Lien said, adding that he was the recipient of Germany's Leibniz Award that same year, the highest award by the German Science Foundation.

"The brain consists of tens of thousands of neurons that transmit neurotransmitters -- like scientists communicating with one another," Jonas told the Taipei Times. "Understanding synaptic connections [provides us with an] understanding of the brain, which allows us to decipher how the brain functions and hopefully in time will unveil ... how we can combat diseases," he said.

"I'm both honored and glad to receive the Tsungming Tu Award, because it not only indicates a focus in Taiwan and Germany for the field of neuroscience, but also shows that we are keen in establishing a large group of allies in the field," he said.

Klaus Ploog, the other recipient last week, "is doubtlessly one of the most renowned scientists in the field of semiconductor materials science. He has published more than 1,500 papers and been cited more than 30,000 times," National Sun Yat-sen University Center of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology director Ho New-jin (何扭今) said.

Ploog introduced Molecular Beam Epitaxy (MBE) to Germany and Europe in 1974, Ho said, adding that the system allows for the growth of crystals atom by atom.

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