press release, 03. December 2021

UFZ Research Award goes to environmental computer scientist Olaf Kolditz and his team

Development of the OpenGeoSys scientific software system honoured

This year’s research award of the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) goes to the team of scientists led by environmental computer scientist Prof Dr Olaf Kolditz. For more than 15 years, the interdisciplinary research group has been developing the scientific software system OpenGeoSys, which can be used to simulate environmental processes in geosystems and hydrosystems as well as in technical applications. The open-source software is now being used to investigate potential sites for their suitability and long-term safety for the final disposal of radioactive waste from nuclear power plants.

from left to right / top row: Lars Bilke, Dr. Jörg Buchwald, Dr. Thomas Fischer, Dr. Uwe Jens Görke, Dr. Norbert Grunwald / middle row: Dr. Thomas Kalbacher, Prof. Olaf Kolditz, Dr. Renchao Lu, Tobias Meisel, Dr. Thomas Nagel / bottom row: Dr. Dimitri Naumov, Dr. Karsten Rink, Dr. Haibing Shao, Dr. Wenquing Wang, Dr. Keita Yoshioka Photo: UFZ
from left to right / top row: Lars Bilke, Dr. Jörg Buchwald, Dr. Thomas Fischer, Dr. Uwe Jens Görke, Dr. Norbert Grunwald / middle row: Dr. Thomas Kalbacher, Prof. Olaf Kolditz, Dr. Renchao Lu, Tobias Meisel, Dr. Thomas Nagel / bottom row: Dr. Dimitri Naumov, Dr. Karsten Rink, Dr. Haibing Shao, Dr. Wenquing Wang, Dr. Keita Yoshioka
Photo: UFZ

"Our software can be used to address numerous research questions. We deliberately designed OpenGeoSys as a widely applicable platform for system analyses", says Olaf Kolditz, who heads the Department of Environmental Informatics at the UFZ. The software can be used to investigate groundwater resources and to simulate geothermal energy systems or the storage of CO2 in the geological subsurface. "Some of these applications such as thermochemical energy stores were so new that they didn’t even exist when we started developing the software", says Kolditz.

This is precisely what shows the special quality of the program. Modelling is seen as a work flow, as the team calls it. Users first enter comprehensive data sets from the region under investigation (e.g. about the layers in the subsurface and about geological structures). An outlook is gradually created by means of complex data analysis and process simulation. This can be visualised at the end. How do groundwater resources behave? For example, when the climate changes? How do humans influence the stability of underground systems when they intervene? The underlying physical and chemical processes can be mapped precisely in the software that it can be used universally for a wide range of applications.

In its statement, the jury of the UFZ Research Award praised the combination of "consistent teamwork over a long period of time" and the major social importance of the work. "The safe selection of a repository site also largely depends on the calculations and safety analyses of OpenGeoSys". The scientists from the UFZ are involved in the modelling of the potential sites in order to further contribute their technical expertise. The procedure, which will take several years, is intended to clarify how the sites will develop in the distant future. For example, what would happen to the nuclear waste stored in different host rocks if ice ages were to occur within the next millennia?

The core team working on OpenGeoSys, which has now been awarded the UFZ Research Award, consists of about a dozen members. They come from a wide range of disciplines - from mathematics, physics, and computer science to engineering and the geosciences. "The art lies in including a good mix of disciplines so that all relevant aspects can be addressed", says Kolditz. He is one of the longest-serving designers of the software; however, several other colleagues have also been involved from the very beginning. All in all, the findings of more than 50 doctoral theses have been continuously incorporated into the scientific software system over the years.

The UFZ Research Award, worth €10,000, is handed out once a year for the outstanding scientific achievement of a researcher or a research group at the UFZ. The award is given for an achievement in integrative environmental research that has particularly advanced the state of knowledge in one of the thematic areas of the UFZ and built up the reputation of the centre. In addition to scientific quality, consideration is given to whether the research achievement particularly fulfils the mission of the UFZ to contribute to copping with major environmental and societal challenges.

In addition to the Research Award, the following UFZ awards were given in 2021:

Communication Award
Prof Dr Reimund Schwarze was given the 2021 UFZ Communication Award. This is in recognition of his excellent communication of research results and processes in international climate policy. Fact-based, credible, and comprehensible, he has been operating various communication channels for more than 10 years and works together with journalists in a spirit of trust.

Technology Transfer Award
Dr Markus Kraus, Maria Kraus, Dr Frank Holzer, Christian Hoyer, Dr Ulf Roland, and Dr Ulf Trommler were given the 2021 UFZ Technology Transfer Award for the development of diverse, innovative applications of radio wave technology. These were systematically developed until they were ready for the market, thereby laying the foundation for the company RWInnoTec GmbH.

Knowledge Transfer Award
Dr Karsten Rinke was given the 2021 UFZ Knowledge Transfer Award for transferring science-based solution approaches into water management practice. He has successfully transformed scientific results in the field of lake research at the UFZ into a respected consulting and expert hub in the circle of dam operators.

Doctoral Award
Dr Larisa Tarasova was given the 2021 UFZ Doctoral Award for her important contributions to explaining the dynamics of regional water run-off - and thus to better predicting future flood events.

This year, a UFZ Doctoral Award was also given to Dr Christoph Rummel. With his excellent work, he has made an important contribution to understanding the release of substances during the degradation of plastics as well as the processes that occur on plastic surfaces during the microbial colonisation phase.

Supervision Award
Dr Kathleen Hermans was given the 2021 UFZ Supervision Award for her excellent supervision of doctoral students. She was praised for her structured and reliable way of working, her high quality standards, and her efforts to give her doctoral students the freedom they need to develop their own ideas.

Young Scientists Award for Applied Research
Dr María Felipe-Lucia was given the 2021 UFZ Young Scientists Award for Applied Research for her excellent research on the socio-ecological transformation of agroecosystems. The award recognises her excellent networking with a wide range of interest groups as well as her outstanding publication record.

Dr David Leuthold was also given the 2021 UFZ Young Scientist Award for Applied Research for developing an innovative method in the field of ecotoxicology. This involves a zebra fish embryo-based test system for chemicals that can be used to screen for neurodegenerative diseases.

Award for Outstanding Commitment
Prof Dr Rolf Altenburger was given the 2021 UFZ Award for Outstanding Commitment for his many years of strong commitment to supporting young scientists and equal opportunities.

Administration Award
Julia Porath was given the 2021 UFZ Administration Award for her solution-oriented and far-sighted approach to making administrative processes more efficient. Her focus is on digitalisation - for example, in the introduction of the continuing education portal and e-recruiting.

Further information

UFZ press office

Susanne Hufe
Phone: +49 341 235-1630

In the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ), scientists conduct research into the causes and consequences of far-reaching environmental changes. Their areas of study cover water resources, ecosystems of the future, environmental technologies and biotechnologies, the effects of chemicals in the environment, modelling and social-scientific issues. The UFZ employs more than 1,100 staff at its sites in Leipzig, Halle and Magdeburg. It is funded by the Federal Government, Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.

The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major challenges facing society, science and the economy with top scientific achievements in six research fields: Energy; Earth and Environment; Health; Key Technologies; Matter; and Aeronautics, Space and Transport. With some 39,000 employees in 19 research centres, the Helmholtz Association is Germany’s largest scientific organisation.
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