Newsletter PS-Park 'n' Science, 15th edition, Dec 2015
English text version of the Park'n'Science newsletterTable of Contents
On the verge of gravitational wave astronomy
Sugar chains from the machine
The carbohydrate wind tunnel
Even plants can be stressed
Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences Day
Paths to the future
Science – Paths to the future
Eventful months are behind us, the holidays and the year 2016 ahead of us. In this PS newsletter, we again report on the successful application of scientific knowledge in useful innovations. For example, we learn how modern solution polymerisation can improve tyres. Traffic and transport – Mobility is a major social challenge every day. For this contract research, the Fraunhofer IAP Potsdam-Golm and the Fraunhofer IWM Halle have been working together in the Fraunhofer Pilot Plant Centre in Schkopau. Application-oriented research and varied exchange processes are also an important component for the sustainability of the site in the future. This is again confirmed by Friedrich W. Winskowski, who shows paths to the future in the evaluation of the comparative analysis. The managing director of the site management tirelessly points to the fact that, among other things, there must be a needs-based infrastructure and sufficient financing to increase the attractiveness of the Golm Science Park. Further sites must be developed. A demanding but manageable task, which the state of Brandenburg and the city of Potsdam have to support in the long term. This then gives rise to future projects, which also have economic effects across the region. But the anchoring of knowledge in society should already start in childhood. This is why the researchers from the science park institutes arrange an exciting day every year for interested school students. At the Hightech Transfer Day there are already founders, students, entrepreneurs, scientists and business developers who are making important contacts.
We hope that this newsletter triggers many "aha" moments and makes you want to read on. This new way of deepening knowledge can be found on the Internet page www.wisspark.de through the list of links.
On the verge of gravitational wave astronomy
Targeting black holes and neutron stars: highly accurate waveform models, high-performance lasers and data analysis methods from the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics
While the measurement of gravitational waves is being prepared in space with a test mission, data acquisition on Earth has already begun with advanced LIGO (Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory), a major international project in the USA. The Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics is playing a significant role in both projects.
The LIGO gravitational wave detector in Hanford, USA (Image: LIGO laboratory)
The first direct proof of gravitational waves will open a new window to the otherwise invisible "dark" side of the universe and mark the start of gravitational wave astronomy. Gravitational waves are ripples in space-time emitted during large cosmic events – such as exploding stars, merging black holes or neutron stars and quickly rotating, compact stellar remnants. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of these waves as early as 1916, but as yet they have never been directly observed. In May 2015, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration inaugurated the new generation of gravitational wave observatories with advanced LIGO, to which researchers of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hanover and Potsdam made key contributions. They provided customised high-performance lasers required for precision measurement, efficient data analysis methods and their implementation on powerful computer clusters, as well as exact models of signal wave forms for gravitational wave detection and measurement of astrophysical properties. Scientific data acquisition began on 18 September 2015. Over the next few years the advanced LIGO instruments should detect several gravitational wave events every year.
ESA launched the LISA Pathfinder satellite at the beginning of December 2015 from the space mission launch centre in Kourou, French Guiana. (Image: ESA–D. Durchs)
The ESA mission LISA Pathfinder is a technology demonstrator for a gravitational wave observatory in outer space and took off from the space mission launch centre in Kourou, French Guiana on 3 December 2015. On board is a precise optical measuring system. Its construction was lead by the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hanover. LISA Pathfinder will test new technologies in space and pave the way for the gravitational wave observatory eLISA, which is scheduled for launch in 2034. Observatories like eLISA will measure gravitational waves with frequencies in the millihertz range. They will complement ground-based detectors such as GEO600, advanced LIGO and Virgo, which measure at higher frequencies (in the audio range). With eLISA, scientists for example will be able to research the formation, growth and merger of massive black holes.
Sugar chains from the machine
When you say "sugar", most people immediately think of sweets. Some also think of diabetes. However, Peter Seeberger from the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces in Golm wants to develop more effective medicines and vaccines using sugars. The aim is for poorer countries to benefit from this first and foremost.
Peter Seeberger has been head of the Biomolecular Systems department at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces near Potsdam since 2009. He is one of the protagonists in the field of glycomics research – a branch of research which aims to develop a better understanding of all natural sugar molecules. From these molecules, also known as "glycans" in professional terminology, the researchers want to find out how cells communicate with each other, for example.
In chemical terms, sugars are links which consist more or less of long, branched or unbranched chains of individual sugar components. 80 percent of plant biomass on Earth are sugars. The cellulose of the plant cell wall, a glucose chain molecule, makes up the largest part of this. Glycans not only provide stability for plant cells, they are also the molecular antennae which cells use to make contact with proteins of their "neighbour". Every human, animal and plant cell is positively covered with sugars on their surface. The sugar chains coupled to fats and proteins protrude from the cell surface like tiny sensors. Bacteria and viruses also use these antennae and latch on to them.
Glycans as address code
Sugars are involved as early as in the fertilisation of the egg cell. In the early embryo, glycans serve as a type of postcode and direct cells to their destination. "Interestingly, these exact sugars appear again in later life", explains Seeberger. "When cancer cells move and form metastases, the address system is used again."
There are four classes of glycans. First the glycoproteins, i.e. proteins connected to sugar chains. These include 75 percent of membrane proteins of human cells. A well-known example is Erythropoetin, or EPO for short. The messenger substance promotes growth of red blood cells, helping cancer patients with impaired haematopoiesis, but it can also be used illegally by athletes trying to improve their performance.
The second class, glycosaminoglycans, includes heparin, an inhibitor of blood clotting frequently used in medicine. While its glycan chain consists of 200 to 250 sugars, the sweet part is from the third class, glycolipids, mostly only five to six sugars long. The various blood groups are due to these fats which contain sugars. The fourth group are connections from fats and proteins to glycans "GPI anchor". They attach proteins in the cell membranes.
Compared with other molecules, glycans have a relatively simple structure. At the end of the 19th century, German chemist Emil Fischer decoded the structure of individual sugar components and won the Nobel Prize for it in 1902. So why has it taken so long to research the function of glycans? "That is easy to explain", says Seeberger. "Until recently, there was no fast and reliable technology for analysing and artificially creating sugar chains."
The backbone of the glycans form ring-like sugar components of four or five carbon atoms and an oxygen atom in each case. These rings have many linkage points. Their biological activity depends on whether two sugars can be joined at the correct point and in a spatially correct manner.
No one knows how many different glycans actually exist. There are still many assumptions about whether certain lengths or patterns consistently occur. While scientists could duplicate DNA as early as the 1970s, the automatic synthesis of multiple sugars was not achieved until 2001. Peter Seeberger, who at that time was researching at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, reconstructed an old DNA synthesis machine. Namely, sugar components are linked together in the same way that DNA components are joined together. Connection molecules which function like small loops are connected to a carrier material of plastic beads the size of a grain of sand. The first sugar is attached to these. Its potential binding sites are provided with protection molecules which can be split off. In the next step, the protective cap is removed at the intended site. The next coupling step then follows.
Attaching, removing protective cap, attaching, removing protective cap – from cycle to cycle he was able to attach one sugar to the other to create a "niner", i.e. a multiple sugar consisting of nine sugar components. These synthesis machines have reduced the working time from months to hours. Since then, the team has further refined the methods and produced more than fifty different sugar components for the machine. Every cycle, every new chain link, takes around three hours. The researchers currently hold the world record with chains of thirty sugar components.
The connection molecules were a critical point, as at the end, the glycans do have to be split off from the carrier plastic. The latest version is now a light-sensitive molecule.
There was only one snag: light cannot penetrate the plastic. But employee Daniel Kopetzki has already solved this problem in another research project, the synthesis of anti-malarial drug artemisinin. For the light to reach all molecules, Kopetzki developed a transparent plastic board studded with sixty LED, with a thin, transparent pipe and pumped the reaction solution into it. The reaction can now be controlled optimally with light strength and pump speed – "flow rate synthesis" was born. "In this way we can make the yield of chemical reactions independent from the human factor, i.e. the skill of the chemist", emphasises Seeberger.
The diameter of the pipe through which the sugar is pumped is hardly larger than the carrier particles. This means that every connection molecule receives sufficient light and can release the sugar chains attached to the carrier.
Vaccines from sugar
There are currently six sugar synthesis machines worldwide, four of which are in Berlin. Seeberger's team uses them for different purposes together with throughflow apparatuses. In addition to chemists, biochemists and engineers, the 75 employees also include immunologists and parasitologists, as vaccines from glycans are a focus of Seeberger's research.
Three sugar-based vaccines against bacterial infections have already been developed with traditional methods: against pneumonia (pneumococcus), meningitis (meningococcus) and haemophilus influenzae type B. Children in Germany are currently routinely vaccinated against all three pathogens. Until now, the glycans have been created from cultured bacteria, making production complicated and in many cases impossible. Seeberger would like to create the vaccines completely chemically in the future. New vaccines can also be created against bacteria which are not cultured or whose sugar cannot be isolated.
His plan is for the glycans to be created artificially from the surface of the pathogen and administered to laboratory animals whose immune systems form antibodies against it. A pure sugar vaccine does not work, however, as the immune system of children under two years and people older than 55 does not recognise it as foreign.
Auxiliary material, an adjuvant, is required for inciting the immune system. Extraneous carrier proteins such as diphtheria or tetanus toxins have been used up to now. But these not only trigger isolated strong reactions to vaccinations, they are also partly responsible for the high price. This is because proteins are sensitive to heat. "The cold chain uses up more than half of vaccination costs. In Africa and Asia that is a huge problem." But if the glycan is coupled with a particular fat molecule, both problems are solved at once. An adjuvant is then superfluous, and neither fat nor sugar are sensitive to heat. Glycolipids are therefore currently the best candidates for fully synthetic vaccines.
Seeberger's team is working on vaccinations against various diseases, including the tropical illnesses leishmaniosis and malaria, in addition to Neisseria meningitidis – bacteria which cause meningitis, especially in emerging nations. There are four variants of Neisseria, called serotypes, and for each variant there is a separate vaccination. The problem is that serotype B contains a glycan also present in the brain. A vaccination against this sugar could trigger an auto-immune disease. However, a vaccination against a part of it – the endotoxin "Lipid A" – may not do so. Seeberger's team synthesised the four-sugar chain for this in the laboratory. And in fact, laboratory animals vaccinated with it generated immediately antibodies against all four serotypes.
One pathogen, many variants
Streptococcus pneumoniae is also hard to treat with a single vaccination. The pathogen causes middle ear infections and in severe cases can settle in the brain or lungs. In the past, tens of thousands of children died from it every year. The vaccine available today contains 13 different glycans. "Unfortunately the pathogen has 96 different serotypes with a corresponding number of sugars. The vaccine is therefore only effective for a fraction of the infections", explains Seeberger. "For two years, ten employees have been working intensively with this pathogen and have been learning a lot: some sugar components are essential, while others can be omitted."
Another research field for Seeberger are tests for the disease diagnostics. They react to immune system antibodies against bacteria or viruses. For example, the researchers have developed a detection method for infections with the parasites Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite transmitted by cats is widespread in the population, but only dangerous for pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems following cancer therapy, for example.
With glycan tests, not only can it be determined whether a person is infected with a particular germ, but also whether they ever had contact with it. Even with those which can be used as weapons. And so the group has also developed diagnosis procedures for potential biological weapons such as anthrax and plague bacteria Yersinia pestis.
Up to 10,000 different sugars, each individual one linked with a fluorescent protein, fit onto small glass chips. "With a milligram of glycan we can load thousands of chips", explains Seeberger. First he pressed the sugar onto the small plate with a converted inkjet printer. The test itself is then quite simple: a drop of blood over it, washing it off and staining – that's it. Antibodies in the blood sample now bind to the appropriate sugar molecules and light up due to fluorescent proteins. The pattern of light points ultimately reveals the antibodies and thus the pathogen.
Other tests aim to differentiate healthy cells from cancerous cells. Daniel Kolarich from Peter Seeberger's group discovered that healthy skin cells carry different glycans on their surface than tumour cells. Together with Leipzig dermatologists he is now working on a test for malignant melanoma cells.
Researchers all over the world are working with Seeberger's "sugar library", which now comprises over 600 different glycans: So Zurich neurologists are using glycans to reduce the effects of strokes, and doctors at the Charité hospital in Berlin are detecting cancer cells with radioactively marked sugars.
The pharmaceutical industry's interest in glycomics was initially low, as Seeberger had to find out when he was working on developing a vaccine against malaria. In 2002 it was proven that a glycan is a long-sought toxin of the malaria pathogen. "When we then replicated this and vaccinated mice with it, three out of four mice survived a subsequent malaria infection."
The effectiveness of the further improved vaccine candidates was increased in animal tests to nearly 100 percent. And the technology to produce the vaccine in large amounts was ready. Since 2007 the vaccine has been on ice, as the risks of recovering the immense development costs were too high for the companies involved. "The industry simply prioritises projects relating to illnesses which occur in industrialised nations, as good money can be earned later. In contrast, hardly any profit can be expected from patients in poorer countries", says Seeberger.
But a malaria vaccine is urgently needed. Only recently, the vaccine candidate developed by GlaxoSmithKline and supported by several hundred million euros from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation had to be abandoned. After years of development, the vaccine has proved to be insufficiently effective.
The consequence is that a child dies from malaria every minute somewhere in the world. Seeberger has calculated that only 4.5 kg of glycan would be needed to vaccinate the 65 million children born in malarial regions every year. "One vaccine would only be a few cents per child." Despite everything, he hasn't given up on the vaccine, but is searching for new funds to further develop it.
Peter Seeberger doesn't see himself as a do-gooder or idealist, but rather as a toolmaker. "If we have the knowledge and the technology to change something, we should do it." However, running clinical studies oneself is not possible financially and is not compatible with the mandate of the Max Planck Society. But bringing the results of research to the market as quickly as possible is a different matter. Some companies have already arisen from the research in Seeberger's department, including one named GlycoUniverse. Doesn't the name raise overly great expectations? Peter Seeberger laughs. "No, because the company produces the sugar as a tool, which will be indispensable for many applications in the future." It also sweetens the hope for better medicine for people all over the world.
The carbohydrate wind tunnel
A new method enables researchers to sequence complex sugar molecules for the first time
A team of researchers from Berlin succeeded in an effort to fundamentally improve carbohydrate analysis. With the new method, developed by Kevin Pagel (Free University Berlin and Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society) and Peter Seeberger (Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces and Free University Berlin), complex glycans, building blocks of life such as DNA and proteins, can now be sequenced. The quality control of synthetic carbohydrates is now possible as minimal impurities can be traced faster and more precisely. The new method is essential for the development of novel carbohydrate vaccines, drugs and diagnostics.
(Picture: Sven Jungtow)
Seeberger explains: "The new method is fast, reliable and sensitive. The glycosciences will get a push, comparable to the advances when gene sequencing was first developed."
Seven Nobel prizes were awarded in the glycosciences until 1974. After that, however, the advances in analytical methods did not keep up with those made in genetics. Glycans are important as sugars that cover human and bacterial cell surfaces are an essential part of the immune response and recognition events such as fertilization.
The incredible diversity of carbohydrates (which merely consist of carbon, hydrogen and oxygen) is a general challenge for chemists. Carbohydrate building blocks can link in many different ways. Even simple carbohydrates that have the same number of atoms and the same mass may differ in only one binding angle. These almost identical molecules, called isomers, exhibit very different biological functions. Glucose and galactose for example have an identical formula (C6H12O6 ) but their functions are different.
Chemists use tricks to identify molecules, because most molecules can´t be observed on the atomic level. Hence the molecular mass, electronic or electromagnetic properties are measured. These methods, however, cannot resolve the problems associated with carbohydrate isomers. Carbohydrate molecules consisting of the same number of specific atoms can differ in their composition, connectivity and configuration. So far their differentiation was a laborious and time-consuming task that required large amounts of sample.
The scientists from Berlin and Potsdam take advantage of the different shapes of carbohydrates. Depending on their shape, the molecules require different times to pass through a gas filled tube - comparable to the drag coefficient in a wind tunnel. Kevin Pagel and his colleagues combine this ion mobility measurement with mass spectrometry to find differences in composition, connectivity and configuration. Larger molecules are broken into fragments; during this fragmentation, however, the structural properties of the resulting parts are not altered such that the sum of fragment properties reflect that of the large molecule. This combination method is reminiscent of the Sherlock Holmes quote: “Once you eliminate the impossible, what remains must be the truth.”
Combined with a database, currently under development, and enlarged through the rapidly collaborations of other scientists, this method will be generalized in the future. Once a molecule is entered in the database, automated processes can be used to recognize them.
Even plants can be stressed
Researchers identify proteins that allow plants to grow better under salt stress.
Environmental conditions such as drought, cold or salinity can be detrimental to crop performance and yield. Salt is one of the major factors that negatively impact on plant growth and it is estimated that 20% of the total, and 33% of irrigated, agricultural lands are afflicted by high salt worldwide. It is therefore of great agricultural importance to find genes and mechanisms that can improve plant growth under such conditions. The team of Dr. Staffan Persson, group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology until January 2015 and now Professor at the University of Melbourne in Australia, has identified a protein family that helps plants to grow on salt, and outlined a mechanism for how these proteins aid the plants to produce their biomass under salt stress conditions.
Plants need to make more and bigger cells if they want to grow and develop. Unlike animal cells, plant cells are surrounded by a cellular exoskeleton, called cell walls which direct plant growth and protect the plant against diseases. Importantly, most of the plants biomass is made up of the cell wall with cellulose being the major component. Hence, plant growth largely depend on the ability of plants to produce cell walls and cellulose, also under stress conditions, and it is therefore no surprise that research on cell wall biosynthesis is of high priority.
Previous studies of Dr. Staffan Persson’s research group and others have shown that the cellulose producing protein complex, called cellulose synthase, interacts with, and is guided by, an intracellular polymer structure, called microtubules. This interaction is important for shape and stability of plant cells.
The current research revealed that a previously unknown family of proteins supports the cellulose synthase machinery under salt stress conditions, and was named “Companions of Cellulose synthase (CC). “We show that these proteins, which we called CC proteins, are part of the cellulose synthase complex during cellulose synthesis”, said Staffan Persson.
“To prove this hypothesis we deleted multiple genes of the CC gene family in the model plant Arabidopsis thaliana(thale cress), and grew the plants on salt-containing media. These mutated plants performed much worse than the wild-type plants”, explains Christopher Kesten, PhD student in Dr. Persson’s research group, and co-first author of this study. „In an additional step, we made fluorescent versions of the CC proteins and observed, with the help of a special microscope, where and how they function. It was quite a surprise to see that they were able to maintain the organization of microtubules under salt stress. This function helped the plants to maintain cellulose synthesis during the stress“, adds Dr. Anne Endler, also co-first author of this study.
The research group demonstrated that while the control plants could maintain their microtubules intact, the plants lacking the CC activity were unable to do so. This loss in microtubule function led to a failure in maintaining cellulose synthesis, which explained the reduction in plant growth on salt. These results therefore provide a mechanism for how the CC proteins aid plant biomass production under salt stress.
The group’s discovery of the CC proteins could promote future generation of salt tolerant crop plants. A major global agricultural challenge involves an increase in food production to sustain a growing population. By 2050 it is estimated that we need to increase our production of food with 70% to feed an additional 2.3 billion people. Salinity is a major limiting factor for this goal as more than 50% of the arable land may be salt afflicted by the year 2050.
Dr. Staffan Persson was group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology until January 2015. He is now at the „School of Biosciences” at the University of Melbourne in Australia.
Cutting-edge solution polymerization at the Fraunhofer PAZ enables improvement in tires
The EU tire label has made it easier for consumers to choose the right tire. For tire manufacturers, however, the label brings with it stricter requirements and related development costs. The Fraunhofer Pilot Center PAZ in Schkopau, a joint facility of the Fraunhofer IWM in Halle and the Fraunhofer IAP in Potsdam, develops rubber for these enhanced tires using cutting-edge solution polymerization, and scales them up so they are ready for series production. Our contract research benefits both our customers and the environment.
Modern mobility and environmental protection do not need to be mutually exclusive. Far from it. In fact, they even complement one another in terms of car tires. The head of the department for polymer synthesis at the PAZ, Dr. Ulrich Wendler, underscores the potential for savings when it comes to optimized tires. »Well-known environmentalists, like Jürgen Resch from German Environmental Aid, estimate that transport-related CO2 emissions are reduced by seven million tons annually in this country as a result of improved tires.« That is why the Fraunhofer PAZ is tackling this topic of the future in is cutting-edge contract research. Here, rubber for tread compounds is produced for renowned companies using cutting-edge solution polymerization. There are two types of processes: coordination mechanism and anionic initiation. Both types have made strong technological and commercial headway in recent years. Today nearly all of the state-of-the-art, high-performance tires are made using these processes.
The goal is to improve the properties of tires within the magic triangle of wet grip, roll resistance and abrasion. Researchers at the Fraunhofer PAZ have been able to improve wet grip and roll resistance without negatively affecting abrasion. This sets the standard for achieving a tire label with efficiency classes A or B, verifying the enormous savings in fuel consumption and emissions while maintaining long tire life. Furthermore, an improvement in the tire’s braking properties also increases driver safety.
The facilities at the Fraunhofer PAZ can conduct solution polymerization on a batch-by-batch or continuous basis. High-precision Coriolis volume measurement and a modern process control system enable precise, reproducible reaction control in 600 liter stainless steel reactors (up to 25 bars, up to 200 °C, material 1.4571). The reaction heat that is produced can be discharged through the reactor wall or through loop cooling or high-efficiency evaporation cooling. One of the advantages of the system, Wendler explains, is that »the target products are on a lower ton scale. This makes it possible to test the relevance of the material improvements at an early stage in a practice test on the tread of an actual tire.«
Based on the customer’s requirements, the process can be scaled up from synthesis to pilot or industrial scale. »Material developments in the lab enable basic analytical conclusions to be drawn, however application-relevant trials are usually not conducted. In this aspect we offer solutions. In up to seven production lines, the Fraunhofer PAZ is able to define the process, test the conditions of polymerization and develop a customer-specific production line to transfer the laboratory product to an industrial scale,« Wendler explains. At the end of a campaign comprising many test runs, which is usually completed within a month, the Fraunhofer PAZ not only delivers extensive research samples, it also makes additional recommendations with regard to optimizing the process if requested.
9th Potsdam young scientist award goes to Nina Fechler
Dr. Nina Fechler
Dr. Nina Fechler, research group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, has received the 9th Potsdam young scientist award. The annually awarded prize is endowed with EUR 5,000. The award recognizes her research in the field of colloid chemistry. On November 27th 2015 the prize was awarded on the occasion of “The Einstein Day” of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences.
Stifterverband prize 2015 for fundamental research and successful start-ups
Prof. Lothar Willmitzer
(Picture: MPI-MP, Amac Garbe/MPG)
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Lothar Willmitzer of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam-Golm is committed to researching plant metabolism. Together with the Max Planck Society, Stifterverband has awarded to the scientist the Stifterverband prize 2015 for his fundamental research and successful start-ups. The prize is worth €50,000.
Grant for Jiayin Yuan
Dr. Jiayin Yuan (Picture: Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces)
Jiayin Yuan, chemist at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam-Golm, has been awarded a Dr. Hermann Schnell Fellowship of the GDCh (Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker; German Chemical Society) The prize is endowed with € 6,000. The foundation trustees appreciate Yuan’s excellent results in the development of innovative, functional charged polymers, so-called poly(ionic liquid)s (PILs).
2.5 million for forward-looking plant research
Prof. Dr. Ralph Bock (Picture: MPI-MP, Lox)
Ralph Bock, director at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam-Golm, received the €2.5 million "Advanced Grant" of the European Research Council (ERC) for his ambitious project to develop a new generation of useful plants. The ERC only issues "Advanced Grants" to excellent researchers to implement particularly promising and game-changing research projects.
Evolutionary biologist Dr. Luis Valente receives postdoc prize 2015 from the state of Brandenburg
Dr. Luis Valente (Picture: Karla Fritze)
Dr. Luis Valente, currently a Humboldt scholar at the University of Potsdam, received the postdoc prize 2015 from the state of Brandenburg. In a widely acclaimed study, together with two co-authors he researched how biodiversity among birds on the Galápagos Islands has developed over millions of years. The biologist and his team have developed a new statistical method for this which can be applied to genetic material information. Luis Valente's research work impressed the jury above all with its highly innovative approach and excellent methodology.
Honorary doctorate for Günter Stemberger
Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Günter Stemberger (75) is an internationally recognised specialist in rabbinic literature. As a long-serving university professor at the Institute of Jewish Studies at the University of Vienna, he contributed to the excellent academic reputation of the institute; his numerous standard works and introductions are part of the canonical reading for generations of students. In November, the Faculty of Philosophy at the University of Potsdam awarded an honorary doctorate to the emeritus Judaic scholar.
"Young Scientist Prize" for Joseph Ben Geloun
Joseph Ben Geloun (Picture: private)
For his pioneering work in field theories, Dr. Joseph Ben Geloun has been honoured with the "Young Scientist Prize in Mathematical Physics 2015-2017".
Since the end of his doctoral thesis, Ben Geloun has been researching quantum gravity – the unification of Einstein's general theory of relativity with quantum field theory. Since 2013 he has carried out his research at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Hermann Nicolai's department.
Jeff Schell prize for two young scientists from the MPI-MP
This year, the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology (MPI-MP) at Potsdam-Golm again honoured two of its young scientists with the Jeff Schell prize for their excellent research work. The €2,500 prize was awarded to Dr. Jiang Zhang from China and Saleh Alseekh from Palestine. Dr. Jiang Zhang received the post-doctoral prize for his work on potato plants that can protect themselves from potato beetles, which was very recently published in "Science" magazine. This new method has been celebrated as a breakthrough in the specialised press.
From left to right: Prof. Dr. Ralph Bock, prize winner Saleh Alseekh, Dr. Jiang Zhang, Dr. Holger Fahnenstich (BASF)
Unfortunately, Zhang will still leave the MPI-MP this year, as many major Chinese universities have offered him professorships. The doctoral thesis by Saleh Alseekh, the second prize winner and doctoral candidate at the MPI-MP, concerns the identification of genes which influence the composition of tomatoes.
Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences Day
Since October 2014, around 200 young scientists at the faculty gained their doctoral degrees. Over 850 graduates received their degree certificates in this period. The following prizes were awarded on the faculty day in November: the Michelson prize for the best doctorate, the Jacob Jacobi prize for the best degree, and the Leopold von Buch bachelor prize for the year 2014/15.
Dr. Jonas Andre Wirth was awarded the Michelson prize in theoretical chemistry for his summa cum laude dissertation "Chemical reactions in substrate adsorbate systems: A kinetic perspective". Wirth works as a postdoc in the Institute of Chemistry at the University of Potsdam.
Jonas Andre Wirth
Levke Caesar and Elias Ehrlich received the Jacob Jacobi prize. Levke Caesar completed her Master's degree in Physics with a grade of 1.0. She is currently a doctoral student at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. Elias Ehrlich has completed his Master's degree in ecology, evolution and conservation with the best grade 1.0. He is currently working as a doctoral candidate at the Institute for Biochemistry and Biology at the University of Potsdam.
Sebastian Schulz was awarded the Leopold von Buch bachelor prize. He completed his Bachelor's degree in biosciences with distinction (1.2). He was accepted to the fast-track PhD programme in immunology at the University of Erlangen-Nürnberg.
Paths to the future
Over 3000 people are employed at the Golm Science Park, and 9000 students registered at the university's Golm site alone. Spread over an area of more than 50 hectares, the site also offers ready-developed premises and a good infrastructure. It brings together international cutting-edge research, the training of young scientists and research-based production. The science park aims to be an engine for the high-growth Berlin-Brandenburg region – professional site management deals with the development.
Friedrich W. Winskowski
However, a comparative analysis of the potentials of the Golm Science Park with Scandinavian innovation centres this year has shown that so far, above all the will was lacking to advance this site with joint activities on a state and local level. The result of this is that there is a lack of commercial commitment for stronger regional economic effects.
"In three years there will be 1000 new residences here, in the course of the following years another new student residence will be built. An important step is the commitment of the state capital Potsdam to the planning and construction of a second innovation centre in the next two years. A new industrial park should come into being in five to ten years, elements of it are accelerated", says the site manager, looking into the future of the science park, in which there is an even better infrastructure as well as sufficient rental spaces. There are also additional shopping and meeting places and an optimised connection to local and long-distance transport. Various work-life balance offers in the state capital create an attractive environment for everyone living here in Golm, Potsdam or even Berlin.
"The attractiveness of the site is of course based on the premise that the institutes are prepared to work together with the companies", says Winskowski, referring to the fundamentally important research-based production. The innovative strength of the science park gives rise to future-proof workplaces and not least tax revenue for the city of Potsdam.
Third „Plants and People“- Conference in Potsdam-Golm
Future Plan[t]s – A PhD symposium focusing on plant research and carriers
(Picture: Joram Schimmeyer)
In September 2015, the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology (MPI-MP) held its third “Plants and People” conference. Following 12 months of intensive preparation, the organising committee, consisting of nine doctoral students from the MPI-MP, put together a successful program following the theme of “Future Plan[t]s”.
16 top scientists from around the world, including four MPI-MP alumni, lectured on the theme of their personal research, while additionally providing insightful details on their career progression and development. The program was enriched by a balanced mix of early-career and established researchers, males and females, and speakers from both academic and industrial spheres. A panel discussion, entitled “The Future of Science and the Future of me” rounded off the conference.
Approximately 120 participants, from Plant Research Institutes in Berlin-Brandenburg, Cologne and Rostock, learned that a linear resume is a rarity, and that an exciting job outside of academia is a possibility. These successful scientists furthermore encouraged participants to stay faithful to their ideas and dreams, and to fight for personal goals in a world of nay-sayers. These goals should extend to work-life balance, an issue highlighted by both men and women panellists.
In addition to the presentations from invited speakers, the audience themselves had the opportunity to discuss their scientific research, in the form of a poster display. This opportunity was seized by 36 participants, two of whom were awarded a prize for their poster and communication skills.
This extremely well-organized conference was made possible by the IMPRS "Primary Metabolism and Plant Growth" of the MPI-MP, as well as the sponsors Roboklon, Macrogen, Biolabs and Sigma-Aldrich. We look forward to the next "Plants and People" conference in 2017!
A Building for Inclusive Education
New teaching and research building opened at start of semester
A new building has been constructed for the interdisciplinary research group Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Potsdam at a cost of around €5.1 million. The six professors of inclusive education and the Diversity and Inclusion research group now have 950 square meters of floor space with a variety of work areas and a laboratory with EEG stations, force-measuring plates, and eyetracking and 3D movement analysis systems. There are two large seminar rooms for students. The architect was Haie-Jann Krause. Brandenburg’s Minister for Science, Research and Culture, Sabine Kunst, and Brandenburg’s Minister for Education, Youth and Sport, Günter Baaske, both attended the building’s opening ceremonies at the Golm campus in October.
House 31, Golm
With the establishment of an inclusive school system in Brandenburg the University of Potsdam was faced with the challenge of training qualified teachers for these schools. In 2013, the university became one of the first universities to implement such a program, and it has since offered a course of study for primary school teachers with a focus on inclusive education. It has also integrated inclusive education modules into all other teacher training programs. “With the help of the state of Brandenburg, we can now further develop teaching and research on inclusion and diversity on one spot,” says Barbara Höhle, Dean of the Faculty of Human Sciences.
The Brandenburg State Office for Properties and Construction was in charge of the construction of the building on behalf of the Brandenburg Ministry of Science. On the opening day, the architect, Haie-Jann Krause, gave a guided tour, during which he spoke about his inspiration for the building’s innovative facade. The shimmering exterior and its array of rusty hues is a symbol of diversity, of difference in a “school for all” in which every child should receive support according to their needs and talents – even children with disabilities. Krause's “inclusion building” serves as an exemplar of how architecture can embody and facilitate inclusion. The main entrance is significantly recessed for easier orientation. Extra-wide doors allow for easy wheelchair access. Their black color contrasts strongly with the white walls and signal-red floor, showing people with visual impairments the way. All of the rooms are labelled in braille. The seminar rooms have been equipped with acoustic technology for people with hearing impairments. Another special feature of the building is a 15-square-meter media wall installation on the building’s exterior; the media wall is used in multiple ways, such as for live transmission of lectures or presentations, even from other university sites.
International scientists welcome at the Science Park
How do you become a scientist and is the career as exciting as it looks? Students from the Voltaire integrat-ed school in Potsdam can have these and many other questions answered again this year at the Potsdam-Golm Science Park. As part of a week of career and studies orientation, a cooperation between the Potsdam Chamber of Industry and Commerce (IHK), Voltaire and Potsdam companies, the young people spent a day with researchers from the science park institutes in October.
Making contacts in speed networking, experiencing innovations from the region and learning from the com-panies' many experiences: that's what awaited the approx. 100 participants at the 4th Hightech Transfer Day on 8 October 2015 in the Potsdam-Golm Science Park. Founders, students, entrepreneurs, scientists and business developers discussed with great interest how successful cooperation and financing models can be initiated and which issues must be faced.
The extension building of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces at the Potsdam-Golm Science Park was inaugurated in September 2015. The new building provides extra space to operate large equip-ment and experiments, set up junior research groups and employ 100 extra research scientists.
Dr. Ute Armbrusters is the new group leader at the Max Planck Institute. The "Regulation of photosynthesis" group is interested in how and in what way photosynthesis is regulated in changing light conditions. The aim of the working group is the identification and characterisation of the mechanisms involved.
Dr. Thorsten Pretsch now leads the research field "synthesis and polymer technology" at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm. He took on the task from Dr. Mathias Hahn, who had held various leading positions at the IAP since 1992 and has now retired.
The project "Develop quality – Secure the future. Teaching and studying in focus" at the University of Potsdam has received additional funding until 2020. For this project, among other things additional teaching staff are deployed to provide better support to students in degree programmes which are particularly in demand.
From March 2016 education vouchers from the Employment Agency again give professionally experienced and unemployed academics the opportunity to receive further training to be a "Senior Specialist for Project and Consulting Management" in six months. Interested parties can get more information on 12 January, 2 p.m., here: Griebnitzsee Campus, August-Bebel-Str. 89, 14482 Potsdam, building 7, room 1.27–1.29
Prof. Dr. Michael Hofreiter from the University of Potsdam is part of an international research team which has managed to sequence a human paleogenome from Africa for the first time. The genome comes from a 4,500-year-old male skeleton from a cave in the Ethiopian highlands. The scientists published the results of the study in the "Science" magazine.
The University of Potsdam is again in high demand among new students for the winter semester 2015/16. There were on average eight applications per university place. In some courses of study the demand over-took supply by more than 30 times.
Since September 2015 Argentine Dr. Maria J. Rodriguez has been building a research group on the theory of black holes at the Albert Einstein Institute. Her research is financed by the Max Planck Society as part of the Minerva programme to support excellent female scientists.
An international research team including Prof. Dr. Michael Hofreiter from the University of Potsdam has managed to clarify the evolutionary history and ecology of the freshwater shark of the genus Glyphis, long thought to have been extinct, using DNA sequences from museum specimens and freshly caught animals. The scientists published the surprising results of the study in the renowned science magazine Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the USA (PNAS).
The University of Potsdam is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2016. To mark this occasion, events are taking place throughout the whole year, cumulating in the anniversary celebrations on 15 July 2016. Stay in "Ballance" by dancing at the 4th university ball on 13 February to mark the anniversary. Mensa and Foyers in Griebnitzsee are again serving as the backdrop.
The Max Planck Institutes at Potsdam-Golm science-park have been involved in Girls' Day for years. Girls from classes 8 to 10 can learn more about the institutes and the daily life of female scientists on 28 April 2016.
The International Max Planck Research School on “Multiscale-Bio-Systems” starts a new application phase. From December 2015 until 31 January 2016, interested students can apply for the three-year doctoral programme at www.imprs.mpikg.mpg.de/applications.