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The BIG-NSE is an international Graduate School founded on May 29 2007 at the Technische Universität Berlin (TUB).

For 11,5 years (June 2007-Dec 2018), the School has been part of the Cluster  “Unified Concepts in Catalysis” (UniCat – see initiated by the TUB and five other Institutions in the Berlin area within the framework of the “Excellence Initia­tiveof the German Federal and State Governments, under the supervision of the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft: DFG).The high-ranking research in catalysis performed at UniCat has covered a broad range of topics, from natural sciences to engineering. The success of this research programme, which has been unique in Germany, required highly-qualified and motivated young researchers in the different projects. With the founding of the BIG-NSE, UniCat aimed at recruiting the most gifted students and young researchers in the world and offer them a broad, high-level, structured educational programme in order to prepare them for the high ranking research performed at the cluster.

In October 2018, UniCat succeeded its transformation into a new Cluster, called UniSysCat, which will be financed for further 7 years by the DFG Excellence Initiative. More information about the new Cluster itself and the involved consortium partners, its research programme, its cooperation partners and its Principal Investigators can be found on the corresponding webpages.

As for the BIG-NSE, since January 2019 it has been part of the "Einstein Center of Catalysis" (EC2) supported by the Einstein Foundation Berlin. Within this new frame, it continues being closely linked to the UniSysCat research and primarily aims to inspire, initiate, and promote novel collaborations between research networks and institutions in Berlin on cutting-edge projects in chemistry and the molecular life sciences that may, in turn, open new directions for future catalysis research. EC2/BIG-NSE's mission is further to support excellent PhD education. In particular it further tries to recruit and support excellent PhD students from all over the world, whose task is to work on highly interdisciplinary research projects, overcoming the frontiers of classical disciplines in catalysis.


Excellence Initiative

On 23 June 2005 the German federal and state governments agreed on an initiative to promote top-level research in Germany. The Excellence Initiative aims to strengthen science and research in Germany in the long term, improve its international competitiveness and raise the profile of the top performers in academia and research. There have already been two phases of Excellence Initiative (2006-2011, 2012-2018), the third one started on January 2019 for another 7 years. Please read more here...



UniCat is a DFG Cluster of Excellence within the Excellence Initiative as described above. The idea of UniCat was formulated into a proposal which was submitted to the DFG in April 2007.  The positive decision about the funding of the Cluster was made public in October 2007. UniCat has since then continuously been financed by the DFG Excellence Initiative until December 2018.

Read more here...



UniSysCat (Unifying Systems in Catalysis) is the follow-up Cluster of UniCat. It is being financed by the DFG Excellence Initiative for seven years from January 2019 on.

Read more here...


Aim of BIG-NSE and Einstein Center of Catalysis (EC2)

The BIG-NSE is originally one of the highlights of the UniCat concept. With the founding of BIG-NSE, UniCat aimed at recruiting the most gifted students and young researchers in the world and offer them a broad, high-level structured educational programme in order to prepare them for the high ranking research performed at the cluster.
With the integration into the Einstein Center of Catalysis (from Jan. 2018) and the founding of the UniCat follow-up Cluster UniSysCat, the main aim of BIG-NSE principally remains unchanged: The school further supports the Cluster in recruiting and educating very talented young people from all over the world to perform their PhD research within the Cluster. But, even stronger than in the past, interdisciplinary work is being enhanced through diverse actions. In particular, a new recruitment procedure more than encourages future PhD students to work on topics at the interface between different research fields: Read here for more information...


Research areas of UniSysCat and EC2/BIG-NSE

The lectures of EC2/BIG-NSE cover most of the research programme of UniSysCat, which is described here.



Educational programme of EC2/BIG-NSE

The educational programme corresponds to the research areas of UniSysCat. Lecturers are the professors and researchers participating in UniCat.

More about the educational programme of EC2/BIG-NSE here.


Participating Institutions of UniCat/UniSysCat & EC2/BIG-NSE

UniCat was the result of the concerted efforts and the cooperation agreement of the following 6 research institutions in the Berlin area:

Technische Universität Berlin (TU)

Humboldt Universität Berlin (HU)

Freie Universität Berlin (FU)

Universität Potsdam (UP)

Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-Gesellschaft Berlin (FHI)

Max-Planck-Institut für Kolloid- und Grenzflächenforschung Golm (MPI-KG)


In addition to the original funding partner of UniCat, new partners have joined the UniSysCat Cluster:

Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin (Charité)

Helmoltz-Zentrum Berlin (HZB)


Leibniz-Forschungsinstitut für Molekulare Pharmakologie (FMP)


More about the institutions participating in UniSysCat & EC2/BIG-NSE here.


UniSysCat & EC2/BIG-NSE faculty

UniSysCat's faculty includes the staff of more than 50 research groups, working in diverse research fields at the 9 participating institutions. Among them, 25 principal investigators (more than 40 full professors altogether and 10 junior professors and independent young researchers). The complete faculty list, with details of the research areas and accomplishments of each scientist, can be found in the individual research unit descriptions here.


Scholarship Holders/Fellows/Positions

During the last decade the BIG-NSE has been recruiting 10-15 new students per year who then finished their PhD within four years in average. A similar number of BIG-NSE PhD students have been finishing their PhD every year. Altogether, the School has been continuously hosting about 50 PhD students. Approximately half of these students have received a BIG-NSE scholarship during their first three years (and were then financed by their hist group if more time was needed to finish the PhD). These have been the  "Scholarship Holders"  of the BIG-NSE. The other half of the students has been financed through means provided by the institutions participating in UniCat (industry grants, national grants etc.). These have been the "Fellows" of the BIG-NSE.

Within the frame of EC2, a similar 50/50% scheme is planned, whereas PhD students financed by the Center will only get a EC2/BIG-NSE scholarship for the first year of their PhD. This one will then be transformed into a PhD position for the following two years.

More about the EC2/BIG-NSE scholarship/position holders and fellows here.


Research consortia and graduate schools with interfaces to UniSysCat

As part of the new EC2 concept, applicants will be asked to apply for PhD scholarships/positions bound to a project proposal. The latest will be submitted by project leaders involved in UniSysCat. Only projects involving partners of 1) UniSysCat 2) a member of one of the following Berlin networks* will be accepted.


Consortium/Graduate SchoolHost institutionDiscipline
CoE Math+ / Berlin Mathematical School (BMS)TU, FU, and HU BerlinMathematics
CoE Neurocure (Cluster of Excellence) / Einstein Center for Neurosciences (ECN)Charité BerlinMedicine
CRC1078 “Protonation dynamics in protein function” and its IRTG FU BerlinBiophysics
Berlin International Graduate School in Model and Simulation based Research (BiMoS)TU BerlinData science, simulation and modelling
IMPRS "Functional Interfaces in Physics and Chemistry"Fritz-Haber-Institut der Max-Planck-GesellschaftPhysical chemistry
RTG “Bioactive Peptides – Innovative Aspects of Synthesis and Biosynthesis”TU BerlinChemistry/Biology
School of Analytical Sciences Adlershof (SALSA)TU BerlinChemistry/Biology

Abbreviations: CoE, Cluster of Excellence;  CRC – collaborative research center; IMPRS, International Max Planck Research School; IRTG – integrated research training group; RTG, research training group


*Including further networks and initiatives not yet listed in the table requires the approval of the Executive Board of EC2.


UniSysCat & EC2/BIG-NSE partners

In addition to the 9 participating institutions of the UniSysCat Cluster (see details above), EC2/BIG-NSE can rely on the support of multiple additional cooperation partners of the Cluster, who have signed support agreements with the school.  More about the UniSysCat & EC2/BIG-NSE cooperation partners here.



Schedule for application: details here