Dirk Heinz receiving his honorary doctorate. A photo by Angie Wolf / University Hospital Würzburg

Honorary Doctorate for Dirk Heinz

The Faculty of Medicine has awarded Professor Dirk Heinz an honorary doctorate – for his outstanding achievements in the fields of structural biology and infection research as well as for his shaping the German research landscape for the better.

The Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI), founded in Würzburg in 2017, pursues an innovative approach: it links research on ribonucleic acids (RNA) with infection biology. HIRI is a site of the Braunschweig Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in cooperation with the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) and is located on the Würzburg Medical Campus.

One of the key driver in establishing the HIRI was Dirk Heinz, Scientific Director of the HZI and Professor of Molecular Structural Biology at Technische Universität Braunschweig. He has now been honoured in Würzburg: the JMU Faculty of Medicine awarded him an honorary doctorate at its ‘Dies academicus’ on 7 November 2022.

In doing so, the Faculty honoured his outstanding research achievements in the fields of structural and infection biology as well as his commitment to the research community. Over the years, Dirk Heinz consistently promoted the establishment and expansion of partnerships between the HZI and university locations, pooling expertise in particularly dynamic and promising areas of infection research, said HIRI Director Jörg Vogel in his laudation.

Brief biography of Dirk Heinz

Dirk Heinz studied chemistry and biochemistry at the University of Freiburg from 1980 to 1986. In his doctoral thesis at the University of Basel, he specialised in the nascent field of structural biology. During a research stay as a postdoc at the University of Oregon (USA), he looked into fundamental questions of protein folding.

In 1993, he returned to Freiburg as a research assistant, where he earned his Habilitation in biochemistry in 1998. During this time, he was one of the first to solve the structure of a bacterial phospholipase. This laid the foundation for his further work, in which he succeeded in combining in an impressive manner structural biology and infection research.

In 1998, Dirk Heinz relocated to Braunschweig to lead one of the first junior research groups. A few years later, he was promoted to head of the ‘Structural Biology’ department at what was then the Gesellschaft für Biotechnologische Forschung (GBF) and is now the Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI).

Scientific merits

“Professor Heinz has been outstandingly successful in investigating the interactions between bacterial virulence factors and host receptors,” says Jörg Vogel. He has provided important insights into bacterial infection processes, as evidenced by numerous publications, including paper in the top journals.

In recognition of his scientific achievements, Professor Heinz was elected a member of the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) in 2008 and a corresponding member of the Academy of Sciences and Humanities in Hamburg in 2009. He is a member of the Executive Board of the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) and a member of scientific advisory boards, boards of trustees and supervisory boards of various research institutions. He has been a member of the JMU Board of Trustees since 2021.

Text: JMU Press office
Image: © Angie Wolf / University Hospital Würzburg


Britta Grigull

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Dr Britta Grigull