Historian Philipp Ther and biologist Michael Wagner received this year’s Wittgenstein Awards on the MAK stage on 17 June 2019, applauded by a 450-strong audience.

When FWF President Klement Tockner reaches for his phone on a Saturday in mid-June, speed is of the essence on the other end of the line. For no more than 48 hours later, a crowd of guests will be waiting, eager to congratulate the winners and celebrate their outstanding research achievements. This is what happened again last Monday night at the START-Wittgenstein gala organised by the Austrian Science Fund FWF, an annual high-profile event for Austria’s scientific community.


Top awards in science

“The day before yesterday, I still had no idea – and now I am standing here at the MAK Vienna, holding the Wittgenstein trophy,” is how historian Philipp Ther described it. “I am overjoyed, the award is an awesome boost for me and the whole team, and a big honour,” said microbiologist Michael Wagner, the second researcher whose work was selected by the international jury for the 2019 Wittgenstein Award. About 450 guests joined the celebration in honour of the two Wittgenstein Award winners and the six START Award winners at Vienna’s Museum of Applied Arts (MAK). Lisa Gadenstätter, the host for this evening dedicated to outstanding research, presided over the presentation of Austria’s top science awards to the eight laureates.

World-class research

The awards were presented by Minister of Science Iris Rauskala and FWF President Klement Tockner. “These awards are not only a prestigious token of appreciation for excellent research work, they are also a foundation for new and important insights in basic research,” Minister Rauskala said at the event. “Austria can be proud to have outstanding scientists in so many disciplines.” Minister Rauskala underlined that the importance of the Austrian Science Fund FWF as a promoter of excellence in science cannot be overstated. 

FWF President Klement Tockner commented on the research achievements of the award winners and the importance of their work, saying that “the Wittgenstein Awards honour world-class research work. Both researchers have ventured into uncharted scientific territory and have returned with well-founded insights on issues that are of concern to us as a society.” 

In addition to the two Wittgenstein Awards, the second highlight of the evening was the presentation of the START Awards to six outstanding young researchers, who received greetings from the chairperson of the international START/Wittgenstein jury, cultural studies Professor Janet Wolff from the University of Manchester, UK.

Global issues, regional responsibilities

Keynote speaker Shalini Randeria, Rector of the Institute for Human Sciences, underlined the importance of regional action in global scientific competition. “It makes a difference where and under which local conditions science is happening,” the social anthropologist said in her speech, warning against an overly utilitarian approach to science that neglects social sciences and the humanities, as is the case in some countries, including Japan and China.

Central European Science Partnership

To enhance and expand international collaboration in top research, the presidents of the research funding organisations of Slovenia, Poland and the Czech Republic joined Austria’s FWF in announcing the signing of the Central European Science Partnership (CEUS). This cooperation agreement will assist researchers from the four countries to promote and expand collaborative projects.

Congratulations from Austria’s scientific community 

Many others joined in the congratulations for the award winners, including Heinz Engl, Rector of the University of Vienna; Gerald Bast, Rector of the University of Applied Arts, Vienna; Hellmut Samonigg, Rector of the Medical University of Graz; Wolfgang Fleischhacker, Rector of the Medical University of Innsbruck; Andreas Mailath-Pokorny, Rector of the Music and Arts University of the City of Vienna; Department Director Barbara Weitgruber from the Ministry of Science; former FWF President and Minister of Science Hans Tuppy; the FWF Executive Board members Gerlinde Mautner, Gregor Weihs, Artemis Vakianis and Ellen Zechner as well as past Wittgenstein Award winners Ursula Hemetek from the University of Music and Performing Arts, Vienna, Thomas Henzinger, Rector of IST Austria, and Jörg Schmiedmayer, University of Vienna.

After the presentation of the awards, the MAK gardens provided a perfect backdrop for a summer party for and with the scientific community. Celebrating together with families, friends and colleagues, the award winners and guests at the event, including many FWF employees, enjoyed the summer night.

Further information

Information on the award winners

CEUS agreement in detail

Visual impressions on flickr

Award ceremony

Garden party

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