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University of Bayreuth, Press Release No 149/2021 - 22 Oktober 2021

Ceremonial award: Science journalist Dirk Steffens is honorary doctor of the University of Bayreuth

A journalist who presents complex geoscientific and biological issues to a broad audience in a very appealing way, and places great value on the scientific soundness of the topics conveyed: Dirk Steffens, who has been an honorary doctor of the Faculty of Biology, Chemistry & Earth Sciences at the University of Bayreuth since last year, was personally honoured with a ceremony at the Audimax hall of the University of Bayreuth on Thursday, 21 October 2021. 

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Science journalist Dirk Steffens in the Audimax of the University of Bayreuth, which awarded him an honorary doctorate.

"This award is perhaps the most beautiful I can imagine, because it has been awarded by the women and men whose research I am privileged to report on." With these words, Dirk Steffens, TV presenter, science journalist, and as of recently, honorary doctor of the University of Bayreuth, thanked the Faculty of Biology, Chemistry & Earth Sciences for his honorary doctorate. He added, "This is a great honour for me. And a responsibility."

It is precisely this ideal of commitment to science that won the admiration of the Faculty for the renowned journalist, and motivated it in awarding its honorary doctorate. Dirk Steffens, known to many from the ZDF information series "Terra X", feels obliged to explain scientific findings in a way that not only a small circle of experts understands, but the general public, too, informing them about what is going on in the natural world and how humans are influencing it. "Against the backdrop of species extinction, climate change, and pandemics, it has never been more important to make scientific findings quickly and reliably accessible to as many people as possible," Steffens believes.

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From left: Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Volker Mosbrugger, former Director General Senckenberg Institute, Prof. Dr. Benedikt Westermann, Dean of the Faculty of Biology, Chemistry and Geosciences, Prof. Dr. Carl Beierkuhnlein, holder of the Chair of Biogeography, Dr. h.c. Dirk Steffens and University President Prof. Dr. Stefan Leible.

University President Prof. Dr. Stefan Leible added: "Knowledge is the basis of democratic processes; because we need to critically reflect on scientific results, on the basis of good information, in order to be able to make informed personal decisions. To enable this, we need responsible science communication that sees itself as an integral element in the scientific system.

Prof. Dr. Benedikt Westermann, Dean of the awarding faculty, continued this theme, claiming: "Scientific findings can only make a difference in society if they are presented to the public in an understandable, entertaining and - very important! - accurate way. This is where Dirk Steffens has rendered such special service, and for this the Faculty awards him an honorary doctorate."

In the laudation of the honorary doctor of the Faculty, Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Volker Mosbrugger, palaeontologist and Director General of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Nature Museum in Frankfurt am Main until the end of 2020, said: "For me, Dirk Steffens is the 'Al Gore of species extinction': he manages to convey unwieldy topics and concepts such as 'biodiversity loss' in words and pictures in a professional and fascinating way. The fact that the self-destructive overexploitation of nature is now perceived as a central challenge for humanity in politics and society is largely due to him and his commitment.”

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Prof. Dr. Dr. h. c. Volker Mosbrugger, palaeontologist and Director General of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum until the end of 2020

He concluded with words both cautionary and confident: "We humans can only live and act within the guard rails laid out by nature. Recognising the limits of the Earth's systems is essential for our future. The 21st century will therefore be the century of earth sciences.

About the Faculty and the new honorary doctor

The Faculty of Biology, Chemistry & Earth Sciences at the University of Bayreuth awards an honorary doctorate to individuals who have made extraordinary scientific achievements - including the communication of scientific findings - in the subjects of biology, chemistry, or earth sciences. In addition to honouring his work as a mediator between the general public and scientists, the Faculty recognises that Steffens has established a foundation for the preservation of biodiversity. According to its own statements, the core of the international work of the "Biodiversity Foundation" is to present and disseminate scientific findings in a comprehensible way. Dirk Steffens receives the fifth honorary doctorate that the Faculty of Biology, Chemistry & Earth Sciences at the University of Bayreuth has awarded to date. In the history of the University, honorary doctorates have been awarded 27 times.

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Prof. Dr. Christian Laforsch, Chair of Animal Ecology, guided Dr. h.c. Dirk Steffens through the laboratories. 

Vita Dr. h.c. Dirk Steffens

Steffens was born in Stade in 1967. After training as a telecommunications mechanic, he took his A-levels and studied history and politics. He gained professional experience as a radio presenter for Deutschlandfunk and Südwestfunk, with nature reporting for ARD, WDR, VOX, Canal+, Discovery Channel, and RAI. Dirk Steffens has been working as a presenter and journalist on natural science documentaries and reports for ZDF, ARTE, and 3SAT since 2007. Since June 2015, Steffens has been a member of the board of trustees of the "Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung" (Senckenberg Society for Nature Research) and is thus in close contact with the scientific community of the bio- and geosciences. Steffens is an official ambassador for the UN Decade for Biological Diversity, the World Wide Fund For Nature (WWF), and the Jane Goodall Institute.

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Dr. h.c. Dirk Steffens was guided through the exhibition by Prof. Dr. Carl Beierkuhnlein, who had made contact with Steffens.

The University of Bayreuth at a glance      

Founded in 1975, the University of Bayreuth is currently one of Germany's most successful young universities. In the Times Higher Education (THE) Young University Rankings, it is ranked 45th among the 475 best young universities in the world, and in the QS World University Ranking, is in the top ten percent of 5,500 universities from around the globe. 

Interdisciplinary research and teaching is the main feature of the University's 160 degree programmes offered by seven faculties covering the natural sciences, engineering, law, economics, languages, literature, and cultural studies. The University of Bayreuth is hosting approx. 13,350 students in the 2020/21 winter semester. It employs  around  260  professors, 1,650 scientific staff, and 1,000 non-scientific employees at its campus in Bayreuth and its satellite campus in Kulmbach. It is the largest employer in the region. (Status: October 2021)

Contact

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Prof. Dr. Benedikt WestermannProfessor for Cell Biology Dean of the Faculty of Biology, Chemistry & Earth Sciences of the University of Bayreuth

Room: 7.0.02.01 (NW 1)
Phone: +49 (0)921 / 55-4300
E-mail: benedikt.westermann@uni-bayreuth.de

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Anja-Maria Meister

PR Spokesperson University of Bayreuth

Phone: +49 (0) 921 / 55-5300
E-mail: anja.meister@uni-bayreuth.de