2008 COPERNICUS Scientific Award Winners:

  • Andrzej Sobolewski, Assistant Professor, of the Institute of Physics at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw

Born in 1951 in Augustów, Andrzej Sobolewski graduated from the Department of Physics at the University of Warsaw (1977). He received his doctor’s degree (1981) and the title of Assistant Professor from the Institute of Physics at the Polish Academy of Sciences in Warsaw in which he has been working since the beginning of his academic career. His major area of interest is theoretical physical chemistry. Granted scholarship by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at the Technical University of Munich and appointed as lecturer e.g. at the Technical University of Munich, University of Arizona and University of Düsseldorf. Author of about 130 original publications in international journals and chapters in three monographs.

He supervised and conducted a range of research projects on a national and international scale in cooperation e.g. with the Technical University of Munich and University of Paris. Awarded by the Polish Academy of Sciences in physics (1990) and by the Foundation for the Polish Science (2007).

  • Prof. Wolfgang Domcke of the Department of Chemistry at the Technical University of Munich

Born in 1948 in Munich, graduated of the Technical University of Munich in 1973 where he also received his doctor’s degree in theoretical physics in 1975. In 1979, he was awarded the title of Assistant Professor at the University of Freiburg (Germany). He conducted research and was appointed as lecturer at the Califronia Institute of Technology, University of Heidelberg, Technical University of Munich and Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf.

Since 1999 he has been in charge of the Department of Theoretical Chemistry at the Technical University of Munich. Member of the International Academy of Quantum Molecular Science and currently President of the German Society of Theoretical Chemistry. Author of more than 300 scientific publications. Awarded the Honorary Medal of the Department of Mathematics and Physics at the Charles University in Prague.

Prof. Andrzej Sobolewski and Prof. Wolfgang Domcke have been cooperating for over 20 years. Together, they identified and described the mechanism responsible for photostability of animate matter. This mechanism – so-called Sobolewski-Domcke scenario, explains why the fundamental biological structures, such as DNA and proteins, are relatively resistant to UV radiation. The discovery made by both scientists is of essential importance for the research into the beginnings of life on Earth as it shows how the survival and development of living creatures was possible in the presence of exceptionally strong UV radiation on the Earth at that time.

The scientists explained the mechanism of photostability of biological matter and showed how energy of potentially dangerous photons in optical excitation is rapidly and efficiently transformed into vibrational energy (heat) of hydrogen bonds, and then finally transmitted as heat to the environment. Hydrogen bonds are widespread in the animate matter – they determine e.g. the structure of the DNA and proteins – thus, this mechanism is a universal feature of photostability of life on the Earth. The results obtained by the scientists suggest that it is photostability that could be a critical criterion underlying the selection of “molecular building blocks” which provided the basis for the development and existence of living organisms on the Earth.

The duo Sobolewski-Domcke has a worldwide reputation. The joint research efforts of both scientists have had an enormous impact on interdisciplinary research across chemistry, physics and biology. The prestige and recognition enjoyed by the scientists in the scientific community reflects their passion for science and importance of their research results achieved thanks to many years of collaboration.

Aside from significant scientific achievements, an extremely vital result of their joint efforts was the creation of scientific teams with the aim of promoting young researchers. An intensive exchange between their teams supports the career development of young researchers from Poland and Germany.