Mary Higby Schweitzer, professor at North Carolina State University, is the most influential researcher within molecular palaeontology – a new field that links together molecular biology, biochemistry and palaeontology. Through her spectacular finds of soft tissue and biomolecules in fossils from dinosaurs, including Tyrannosaurus rex, she achieved worldwide fame. This is not least because her dinosaur cell finds are a reminder of how the large dinosaurs were recreated in the film Jurassic Park. What distinguishes Mary Higby Schweitzer’s research is that she found biological remains in the form of blood vessel-like and fibre-like structures in some exceptionally well-preserved dinosaur bones. From these, she succeeded in extracting residues of a protein that made it possible at a molecular level to shed light on the dinosaurs’ kinship with today’s birds – something that was considered impossible only a few years ago. The well-reputed research journal Science listed Mary Higby Schweitzer’s discoveries among the most important of the 2010s.
The other honorary doctor is Thomas Henning. He is professor of astrophysics at Heidelberg University and the University of Jena, and director of the Planet and Star Formation department at the Max Planck Institute for Astronomy in Heidelberg. Through experiments, observations and theory, Thomas Henning gained advanced knowledge of how stars and planets are formed. Among other things, the German astronomer examined dust particles’ optical properties – something that has contributed to a deeper understanding of these particles’ significance in star and planet formation. Thomas Henning also developed a number of ground-breaking instruments for astronomical observations, both on the ground and in space. These have been used for example to capture the first images of young exoplanets and observe cold atomic gases in the Milky Way’s star formation areas. In 2018, Thomas Henning was awarded an Advanced Grant by the European Research Council – a grant that can be considered as Europe’s highest recognition of research excellence.
Cancelled: Doctoral Degree Conferment Ceremony and honorary doctors’ lectures
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, the Doctoral Degree Conferment Ceremony and honorary doctors’ lectures are postponed to May 2021.