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Aim, mission, goals of EC2/BIG-NSE

The BIG-NSE was one of the highlights of the original UniCat concept. The high-ranking research in catalysis covered a broad range of topics, from natural sciences to engineering. The success of this research programme, which was 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.

The Mission of the BIG-NSE is  to provide an intellectual home and an integrated platform for the education and research activities of young scientists. To do this, the School's main priority is to promote interrelations and interconnections between the different parts of UniSysCat by establishing a common language between the different disciplines, in order to overcome communication barriers between them.

The goal of the BIG-NSE wa to provide an institutional framework to:

  • Facilitate and foster the scientific integration of young researchers within the UniCat Cluster.
  • Provide an educational program to ensure state-of-the-art training of the students.
  • Provide transparent mechanisms for recruiting the most talented graduate students.
  • Deal with the administrative requirements of the participating students and supervisors.


More about the Organisation and Framework, the Curriculum, Requirements and Recruitment Philosophy of BIG-NSE on the following pages.


Founding of the BIG-NSE

At the beginning of 2007, the UniCat board decided not to wait for the DFG to make the decision concerning the funding of the Cluster from November 2007 on. Since it is of upmost importance for the quality of the research in the field of catalysis to continuously attract the best students in the world to Berlin, the board decided to found a "light version" of the Graduate School as soon as possible, in order to offer a high-quality structured educational program to the students already here.

Thus, on May 29 2007, the Technische Universität Berlin (TUB), as the host university of the UniCat consortium, decided to found the BIG-NSE within a founding ceremony with about 300 participants. The president of the TUB, Prof. Dr. Kurt Kutzler, solemnly gave a BIG-NSE founding certificate to each of the representatives of the institutions of the UniCat consortium. The Berlin Senator for Education, Sciences and Research, Prof. Dr. Jürgen Zöllner, co-founded the School with Prof. Kutzler and gave a speech on the urgent need to actively encourage young people to become highly-qualified researchers in Germany. Even representatives of Industry and industrial foundations were present at the ceremony and two of them also gave a speech. The tentative translation into English of the (German) press text, the program and some pictures of the founding ceremony can be found here.

 On October 19 2007, UniCat was chosen as one of the few successful applications within the Excellence Initiative of the German Government. The Cluster received € 6.5 million yearly for 5 years to achieve its program. Part of this money was transferred to the BIG-NSE, allowing the recruitment and financing (for 3 years) of the PhDs of up to 10 new excellent students per year. More about this here

Then, in June 2012, the granting of UniCat through the Excellence Initiative Program was prolonged for another 5 years, then for another 14 months, till December 2018.

Finally, 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, beginning in January 2019.

Since January 2019, the BIG-NSE has become part of the Berlin-financed "Einstein Center of Catalysis" and now gets a substantial funding from the Berlin Einstein Foundation for the 7 years to come.

Within this new frame, the BIG-NSE (now EC2/BIG-NSE) not only continues its original mission, a special emphasis is now given to the enforcement of interdisciplinary research between institutions and networks of the Berlin area. In particular, a new recruitment procedure more than encourages future PhD students to work on topics at the interface between different research fields.

In the past, applicants could freely choose a PhD topic offered by one of the UniCat project leaders. Although the students were particularly encouraged to select a subject at the interface between two research areas and choose a second supervisor from another research field, once in a while PhD students would finish defending a thesis which in fact barely involved a second group.

As part of the new EC2 concept, applicants will now be asked to apply for PhD scholarships/positions bound to a project proposal already defined/selected/approved by the Executive Board of EC2/BIG-NSE. Prior to publication, the project proposal will have been submitted internally 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.

Potential applicants will only be allowed to apply for one of the project proposals selected by the Executive Board of EC2/BIG-NSE. Only proposals with a high level of interdisplinary research will be accepted. The latest list of selected project proposals can be found here.

This is one of the new measures applied by EC2/BIG-NSE in order to increase the level of inderdisciplinary research performed by its PhD students. Further measures, like the organization of regular interdisciplinary events, will be implemented as well.