Viola Priesemann receives medal for scientific journalism

July 02, 2021

The German Physical Society (DPG) has awarded Viola Priesemann of the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics and Self-Organization (MPIDS) in Göttingen the Medal for Scientific Journalism 2021. The world's largest physics professional society thereby recognizes her public commitment to supporting fact-based discourse on the Covid-19 pandemic. The award is annually given by the DPG to scientists for special publishing achievements in the natural sciences.

"Mrs. Priesemann immediately recognized that her research on neural networks and the role of phase transitions in information processing is of great importance for understanding the dynamics of covid-19 spread," says DPG President Lutz Schröter. As a result, Viola Priesemann quickly advanced to become a competent and serious interlocutor for politicians and media on forecasts of the development of the pandemic and possible measures to contain it. Since then, Priesemann has been a sought-after discussion and interview partner and a valued panelist in numerous media and talk shows. She succeeds in communicating very complex interrelationships in the spread of the pandemic in a clear and understandable way.

Together with Prof. Eberhard Bodenschatz, Director at MPIDS, she gave a lecture on the physics of Covid-19 containment, which has since been viewed almost 10,000 times. Likewise, the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" published her assessments and positions on the pandemic situation and possible countermeasures several times, in addition to a multi-page dossier on her work. Furthermore, Mrs. Priesemann provided scientific support for the DPG fact sheet "The Physics of the Corona Pandemic," which informs decision-makers in politics and business as well as schools about how physics can help to get the pandemic under control.

She is also the initiator of a pan-European statement and one of the authors of the statements by non-university research institutions and the John Snow Memorandum (, all of which emphasized the need for a common European approach to contain Covid-19 and presented an action plan. For her science communication during the Corona pandemic and her tireless presentation of scientific facts and analyses, the Max Planck Society also honored the physicist with the Communitas-Award back in February 2021.

Viola Priesemann (born 1982 in Bobingen, Germany) conducted research on neuronal information processing at the École Normale Supérieure in Paris, Caltech in California, and the Max Planck Institute for Brain Research in Frankfurt, Germany, following her studies at the Technical University of Darmstadt. In 2013, she received her PhD in physics from the University of Frankfurt. Priesemann's doctoral thesis focused on propagation dynamics in neural networks and the role of phase transitions in information processing.

After working as a postdoc at MPIDS with Theo Geisel, she became a fellow at the Bernstein Center for Computational Neuroscience Göttingen in 2014 and successfully applied for an independent Max Planck Research Group in 2015, which she has since led at MPIDS in Göttingen.

Priesemann was a Fellow of the Elisabeth Schiemann Kolleg, is a member of the Junge Akademie and the Cluster of Excellence Multiscale Bioimaging, and is on the board of the Campus Institute Data Science (CIDAS) at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen.

The awarding of the Medal for Scientific Journalism of the German Physical Society is expected to take place during the ceremony on November 12, 2021, during the 42nd Day of the DPG at the Physikzentrum Bad Honnef. The award consists of an individually designed silver medal and a certificate. Previous award winners include TV presenter Ranga Yogeshwar, ESA astronaut Alexander Gerst, science journalists Norbert Lossau (WELT) and Manfred Lindinger (FAZ), and a now 50-year-old program with the mouse.

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