Annual Report

Have you ever wanted to scale down the Universe to 11.5 cm²? HITS makes it possible! Just take a look at the cover letter of this Annual Report – or place an online order with Deutsche Post at In late 2018, the German Postal Service released a postage stamp with a new simulation of the Universe generated by the Illustris TNG Simulation. Earlier in the year, the HITS research group Theoretical Astrophysics – led by Volker Springel – published a series of reports on the new simulation. The researchers calculated how black holes influence the distribution of dark matter, how heavy elements are produced and distributed throughout the cosmos, and where magnetic fields originate. These calculations were enabled via the development and programming of a new simulation model for the Universe, Illustris TNG, the most complete simulation of its kind to date. Illustris TNG is only the latest piece of highly visible research from Volker Springel’s Theoretical Astrophysics group. Hence, while we were sad when we learned that Volker would leave HITS in August 2018 to take up a new position as Director at the Max Planck Institute for Astrophysics in Garching, we were also happy to see that HITS enables researchers to grow and move on to the most prestigious positions in their respective fields. To honor Volker’s contribution to HITS’ reputation, he was appointed a HITS Fellow in July 2018. The Computational Biology junior group brought its work to a close in 2018, which was according to plan. Group leader Siegfried Schloissnig accepted a position at the Institute for Molecular Pathology in Vienna, where he now heads the IT department for regeneration research. Just before leaving, the group co-authored two papers published in Nature that dealt with deciphering the Axolotl and the Schmidtea mediterranea genomes, two species characterized by high regeneration capabilities. Again, we were proud to see researchers at HITS publish papers in the most prestigious journal in the natural sciences.

Change is a common phenomenon at HITS, we wish all the best to all those who left the institute in 2018 and hope to see them at our Alumni Meetings, the next of which will be held in July 2019. However, there is no danger of HITS’ gradual disappearance. With Ganna (Anya) Gryn’ova we hired a new group leader for a junior group on Computational Materials Science who will assume her position in April 2019. A second process of hiring a group leader for a full group on Computational Astrophysics together with the Heidelberg University is ongoing. Finally, we initiated the hiring process for a junior group leader on Machine Learning together with the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology.

Since its inception, HITS has emphasized interdisciplinary research. Group leaders constantly strive to strengthen existing formats – such as the lab meeting and the scientific seminar series – and to come up with new formats. Hence, to foster interdisciplinary collaboration between the HITS research groups, we organized the “HITS Fest” in July 2018. The event began with an invited talk by Matthias Scheffler (Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Berlin). We continued with a ten-station world café at which HITSters contributed their thoughts on interdisciplinary research, on HITS’ future, on computing, on making science accessible to the public, and on social life at HITS. The results were presented during a barbecue, and a pub quiz concluded the event. Moreover, the group leaders are working on a strategy to intensify collaboration between different scientific disciplines for 2019. We will keep you informed of further developments. In order to be proactive in these change processes, HITS launched an internal vision and mission process and is currently working on a basic concept for the development of the institute in the near future. This concept will also form the basis of the new corporate design. Reaching out to the public is another regular part of the scientific work conducted at HITS. We feel that our highly specialized scientific research should be shared with as many people as possible. For example, in our efforts to make astronomy accessible to the public, we were very pleased to finalize a large joint project with the Klaus Tschira Stiftung: the ESO Supernova Planetarium and Visitor Centre. After years of planning and building, programming and implementing we celebrated the center opening in April 2018. If you are interested in astronomy, this extraordinary site located in Garching near Munich is worth visiting. There, you can explore the Universe yourself, which is scaled down not to the size of a stamp, but rather to 7,500 m2.

Dr. Gesa Schönberger, Managing Director

Prof. Dr. Michael Strube, Scientific Director 2017-2018

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