The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has cleared Prof. Dr. Britta Nestler of allegations of scientific misconduct and presented the materials scientist from the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) belatedly with the 2017 Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize. The presentation of Germany's most important research funding prize to Nestler was suspended in March, when shortly before the award ceremony the DFG received anonymous information in connection with Nestler's research work. The presentation took place during the DFG's annual meeting in Halle (Saale).
Nestler's exoneration from the allegations of scientific misconduct was announced on 4 July in the DFG's Joint Committee, which also met during the annual meeting of the DFG, the largest research funding organisation and central self-governing organisation of the research community in Germany. The Secretary General of the DFG and Chair of the Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct, Dorothee Dzwonnek, said:
"The allegations against Ms. Nestler, which were made anonymously and at very short notice, had to be thoroughly investigated. So in the spring we had no other option than to suspend the presentation of the Leibniz Prize. Although this was a very difficult decision, it was in the best interests of Ms. Nestler, the DFG and the Leibniz Prize. We then worked hard to investigate all aspects of the allegations, gave Ms. Nestler an ample hearing and also engaged an external reviewer, before finally the Committee of Inquiry on Allegations of Scientific Misconduct addressed the matter. This thorough investigation revealed no evidence of scientific misconduct on the part of Ms. Nestler. So the DFG is now able, with great pleasure, to present her with the Leibniz Prize."
The belated presentation of the Leibniz Prize to Nestler, arranged at short notice, took place on the evening of 4 July at a ceremony during the DFG's annual meeting in Halle (Saale). The guests at the event, which was held at the ceremonial hall of the German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina, included the Minister-President of Saxony-Anhalt, Dr. Reiner Haseloff, the Federal Minister for Education and Research, Prof. Dr. Johanna Wanka, and the Bremen Senator for Science and Chair of the Joint Science Conference (GWK), Prof. Dr. Eva Quante-Brandt. "It's very important to the DFG that Ms. Nestler receive the prize in a formal ceremony and in the presence of political decision-makers," said Dzwonnek.
Nestler was chosen for the award by the DFG's Joint Committee in December 2016 together with nine other researchers. She was recognised for her significant, internationally recognised research in computer-assisted materials research and the development of new material models with multiscale and multiphysical approaches. Nestler has developed extremely flexible and high-performing simulation environments to simulate the microstructure of materials for use on supercomputers. These are based on her own quantitative models for the description of multicomponent systems. She has therefore achieved a new quality of microstructure representation in the thermomechanical simulation of materials and the simulation of solidification processes, and thus depicted these processes through realistic 3D simulation for the first time. Through her creative application and further development of the phase field method, Nestler has achieved outstanding fundamental insights which are also of enormous practical relevance. For example, her simulation calculations are used to predict the spread of cracks in design materials such as brake discs and therefore help to extend their lifetime.
Britta Nestler studied physics and mathematics in Aachen, where she also received her doctorate. Research visits took her to Southampton in the UK and Paris. In 2001, Nestler accepted a professorship in the Faculty of Computer Science at Karlsruhe University of Applied Sciences and in 2009 her current chair at KIT.
The Leibniz Prize has been awarded by the DFG since 1986. The prize is worth €2.5 million, a sum which the recipients can use for their research with the greatest possible flexibility over a period of up to seven years, and is considered one of the most prestigious research prizes in the world.