Date: May 16, 2014, No. 27

Bionics is new, linguistics is extended

DFG approves funds for two special research fields at the University of Stuttgart

The University of Stuttgart is getting a new trans-regional special research field: the Transregio (TRR) 141 “Biological Design and Integrative Structures“ is to transfer c onstruction principles from biological structures into an engineering model and utilise them for structural and technical fields. The special research field 732, that has been concentrating on ambiguities in language and their resolution since 2006, is being extended by a third funding period . Both were decided by the German Research Foundation (DFG) in its meeting last Thursday.

“The fact that the German Research Foundation approved not one but two special research fields is something we are very pleased about and this honours the interdisciplinary orientation of research at the University of Stuttgart“, stated Rector Prof. Wolfram Ressel. “The trend-setting Transregio 141 links the excellent competence of the University of Stuttgart in the fields of constructive lightweight constructions and simulation technology with the likewise excellent focal points of our partner universities of Freiburg and Tübingen in biology, physics and the geosciences. The extension of the SFB 732 confirms once again the very successful cooperation between theoretical linguistics and computer linguistics that was able to be implemented in numerous promising projects.“

Transregio 141: “Biological Design and Integrative Structures“

The Transregio 141 opens up new access to design and construction in architecture. “Our aim is multi-functional, adaptable and at the same time ecologically efficient structures that leave the boundaries of traditionally building constructions far behind them“, according to the spokesperson, Prof. Jan Knippers from the Institute of Supporting Structures and Constructive Design at the University of Stuttgart.  

For this purpose the scientists take nature as an example: an essential feature of natural constructions is their multi-layered, hierarchically structured and locally differentiated setup from few elementary components. This leads to structures with diversely networked features. Current developments in the field of computer-based modelling, simulation and production open up new possibilities for analysing these principles in more detail und transferring them to the macro level of structural design and other fields of technology. Along with improving the efficiency of technical constructions, the scientists also have the ecological features of natural structures in their sights, in particular their effective utilisation of limited resources and their closed material cycles. These principles are to be transferred to architecture and technology.  

For this purpose interdisciplinary teams of architects and engineers from the University of Stuttgart, biologists, physicists from the University of Freiburg as well as geoscientists and evolution biologists from the University of Tübingen are working together on the TRR 141, that the DFG is funding with a sum of around nine million Euros over a period of three years and nine months. Its research programme has been designed as a dialogue: the characteristics of biological idea providers are abstracted and transferred into an engineering model, portraying the observed functionalities and the underlying construction principles. This model serves the purpose as a basis for the simulation and the constructive implementation. The results of this process lead to a deeper understanding of the functional morphology of biological structures and stimulate further biological investigations. The overall aim of the research programme is to make a contribution towards establishing bionics as a scientific methodology and to anchor this in the architectural and constructive design process.

Special research field SFB 732: Incremental Specification in Context

The SFB 732 “Incremental Specification in Context“, that deals with ambiguities and their resolution, actually realised the cooperation between theoretical linguistics and computer linguistics with its approx. 50 researchers in the second funding period that is coming to an end and substantiated it through numerous joint presentations and publications. “With regard to “ standard data”, the SFB 732 further developed existing theories and methods resp. developed and verified new theories and methods“, explained the spokesperson and Leibniz Laureate Prof. Artemis Alexiadou from the Institute for Linguistics, English Department. “In computer-linguistic applications, we have been able to achieve very good results that are partly far above the known “ baselines“. In this third funding period (2014-2018), for which the DFG is making nearly nine million Euros available, the teams will intensify this cooperation even further. The plans include applying current research results to “non-canonical data“, i.e. for example not clearly classifiable constructions, little researched languages and varieties, “unadjusted“ text and spontaneous-linguistic dialogue and to test the hypotheses for example on the basis of data from web corpora. With this the SFB 732 is making a significant contribution to the new future topic of the University of Stuttgart, the focal point “Digital Culture & Technology“.

Moreover, the SFB 732 is active in the promotion of young researchers. In this respect it also offers under the umbrella of the graduate academy GRADUS a structured doctorate programme, the leadership itself of which was assumed by two young junior scientists, Dr. Sabine Schulte in Walde and Prof. Sabine Zerbian. In addition the SFB 732 will enable its doctoral students to take part in the mentoring programme of the University of Stuttgart and to work closely together with the service Uni & Family in the matter of family friendly policies.

Good future prospects for the involved scientists are not only offered by the renowned research in the SFB 732 itself but also through the cooperation with excellent researchers and research projects on site. To give an example here would be the cooperations with “Research group on Experimental Syntax and Heritage Languages“ by Prof. Alexiadou enabled through the Leibniz-Prize in the field of theoretical linguistics, the CLARIN-D-Centre under the leadership of Prof. Jonas Kuhn in the field of computer linguistics and information infrastructure/data backup as well as research facilities in Norway and France. Last but not least two Mercator Fellows are cooperating in the SFB 732, Justus Roux (South Africa) and Christel Portes (Université Aix-Marseille).

Further information:

TRR 141: Prof. Jan Knippers , Universityt of Stuttgart , Institute of Supporting Structures and Constructive Design, Tel. 0711/685-83280, Email: info (at)

SFB 732: Prof. Artemis Alexiadou, University of Stuttgart, Institute for Linguistics: English Department, Tel. 0711/685-83121, Email: artemis (at)

Andrea Mayer-Grenu, University of Stuttgart, Department of University Communication, Tel. 0711/685-82176,
Email: andrea.mayer-grenu (at)

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