9 February 2012

Leading University of Copenhagen scholars honoured as Elite Researchers


The Ministry of Science, Innovation and Higher Education has this year awarded two of its five prestigious Elite Researcher Awards (EliteForsk) - for young researchers regarded as world-class - to leading scholars at the University of Copenhagen. The DKK 1.2 million prizes go to Professor Hans Bräuner-Osborne and Professor Peter Norman Sørensen. At the awards ceremony on 9 February, four of the University’s PhD students will also be presented with EliteForsk travel scholarships.

Professor Hans Bräuner-Osborne (left) and Professor Peter Norman Sørensen Photo: Mikal Schlosser/University of CopenhagenFrom the tiniest building blocks of the human to the behaviour of financial markets. The disciplines of these two world-class researchers may be diverse, but what Hans Bräuner-Osborne and Peter Norman Sørensen have in common is that they belong to a class of international heavyweights who have both have already earned various awards and grants. Today, they will add one of the nation’s highest research honours to their accolades when they are presented with the Elite Researcher Award (EliteForsk) award by Prince Joachim and Morten Østergaard, the Minister for Science, Innovation and Higher Education. Both researchers are pleased and humbled to receive the award:

“It’s a huge recognition to receive the EliteForsk award. Financial and economic theory is not one of the most sought-after areas of research among economists, and this recognition gives it a little extra clout. The EliteForsk award also sends a positive signal that Denmark does not necessarily prioritise the most popular research, so it goes without saying that I am very pleased, not just for myself, but for my fellow researchers as well,” says Sørensen, professor at the Department of Economics.

The University of Copenhagen’s other EliteForsk award recipient, Professor Bräuner-Osborne, of the Department of Molecular Drug Research, adds that a part of his prize money will be used to fund less mainstream research projects:

“Curiosity and desire are what motivates me. Research is also about taking chances and developing concrete ideas among talented young researchers on the team – the EliteForsk prize money will give the research group’s projects a welcome push in the right direction. Ultimately, our research has a humanitarian goal: to create drugs that make life easier for patients.”

Professor Peter Norman Sørensen Photo: Mikal Schlosser/University of CopenhagenFinancial herd behaviour and financial crises

Professor Peter Norman Sørensen, 43, specialises in financial and economic theory; specifically, he analyses information-sharing between investors in the financial markets and interprets their behaviour. One focal point is to examine how financial markets can function more appropriately. One of the benefits of understanding the behaviour and motives of the participants in a market is that it can help authorities come up with regulations to prevent future financial crises and to decide when to intervene.

On stock markets around the world, investors intensely follow indicators like oil prices, grain prices and official announcements about the sales and acquisitions of large companies. Any of this information can influence the buying and selling of shares, but investors can also be affected by how other investors behave, and that can sometimes lead to the emergence of a herd mentality and everyone running in the same direction:

“Prices on financial markets react a great deal on days when there’s a lot of open-source news. But the interesting thing is that prices can also react just as much on days when there hasn’t been anything obviously big that happened and there’s very little of this type of information. This shows that investors interpret how much they think other investors know, and they react to the information they think other investors are hiding from them," Sørensen says.

Sørensen’s research could also help explain how the current financial crisis really got rolling.

“In the US, there was this herd mentality and everyone was ignoring the signs of an economic collapse. One of the most critical points during the financial crisis was when the interbank market in the US froze. Banks didn’t want to borrow from each other, and that led to the first bank failures. The banks could hide information about losses, so there was doubt about which banks would be the next to fail,” Sørensen says, stressing that the situation highlighted typical problems that occur with information sharing in the financial world.

On mountain climbing and drug design

Professor Hans Bräuner-Osborne, 44, who leads the Molecular Pharmacology research group, studies signalling molecules and how potential drugs work on their molecular neurotransmitters. He deals with the tiniest building blocks of the human body – specifically, a particular family of receptors Professor Hans Bräuner-Osborne Photo: Mikal Schlosser/University of Copenhagenthat is a potential target for new drugs. Throughout his career in molecular pharmacology, Bräuner-Osborne has been immersed in rational drug design, a field in which researchers are focused on trying to hit specific ‘targets’ within the body.

Bräuner-Osborne and his research group were the first to clone and characterise the receptor GPRC6A, which functions as a kind of switchboard between the cell’s external and internal environments, and which is found in many human organs, including the brain, lungs, intestines and muscles.

“Others were on the same track, but we were the first to publish the results. In that way, I dare say we’re pioneers. Since we have cloned and characterised GPRC6A, we are slowly beginning to understand the important role the receptor plays in the human organism. Because our results indicate that the receptors are very significant in metabolism, it’s interesting to find out how this relates to obesity and type 2-diabetes," says Bräuner-Osborne, who is part of at the University of Copenhagen’s interdisciplinary research initiative, Food, Fitness and Pharma, which focuses on lifestyle diseases.

When Bräuner-Osborne is not studying human receptors and neurotransmitters, he climbs icy peaks in distant parts of the world.

“You can certainly compare research to mountain climbing. Both disciplines require mental resources and offer both success and failure. In the laboratory, you can experience a sudden breakthrough, followed by months without any results. In the same way, I’ve been on climbing trips where we stood around and waited at base camp for a month due to bad weather. Also, you’re dependent on other people when you climb mountains – to a great degree, it’s a matter of trust. And in many ways, research is also a team sport,” Bräuner-Osborne says.

Travel scholarships and Sapere Aude-fellowships

In addition to the large EliteForsk awards, 17 EliteForsk travel scholarships, each worth 300,000 kroner, will be presented to talented young PhD students. Four of these scholarships go to PhD students at the University of Copenhagen. The recipients are:

  • Johanne Mørch Jensen, Department of Medicinal Chemistry, Faculty of Health Sciences
  • Tomas Laursen, Department of Plant Biochemistry and Biotechnology, Faculty of Science
  • Morten Lundh, Department of Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Health Sciences
  • Ana Nordberg, Center for Information and Innovation Rights, Faculty of Law

During the awards ceremony, recognition will be given to the young researchers who received fellowships at the end of 2011 from The Danish Council for Independent Research’s Sapere-Aude career programme for assisting the work of leading young researchers.


Professor Hans Bräuner-Osborne
Department of Molecular Drug Research
Faculty of Health Sciences
Phone: +45 39 17 96 59, Mobile: +45 61 30 85 50 

Professor Peter Norman Sørensen
Department of Economics
Faculty of Social Sciences
Phone: +45 35 32 30 56