European Community funds graduate programme on biomimetics

Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces and partners are successful in Marie Curie Programme / 3.6 Mill. EUR for international programme for young researchers

July 08, 2004

From September 1st 2004, scientists of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces and their colleagues from Potsdam University will start the international Marie-Curie programme "EST on Biomimetic Systems" under the coordination of Prof. Reinhard Lipowsky. Only four out of almost 100 proposals in the physics panel will receive the support of the European Commission, one of them is the proposal of the Max Planck Institute in Potsdam. Six partners from around Europe will participate in the project, which will run for four years within the 6th Framework Programme. Worldwide only few research institutions have recognized the potentialities of research on "Biomimetic Systems" at its early stages. One of them is the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, where the International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) on Biomimetic Systems was established already four years ago. Target of the school is offering a highly qualified and multidisciplinary curriculum to the best young scientists.

Until even a few years ago the word ‘biomimetic’ was used only within a small circle of pioneers. Today this term is used even in movies or in advertisements, such as in the "Star Trek" series or to emphasize the qualities of cosmetics. But what is the meaning of it? Biomimetic systems are model-systems which are used to understand the complex structure and the self-organization of biological systems, like for instance the complex hierarchical structure of bone and wood. In particular, it deals with self-organization principles on the nano- and micro-scale.

The research projects are for instance about the reactions of the intercellular network to stimuli from outside the cell or about how "nano-machines" are able to use the filaments of this network for the transport within the cell. Other projects deal with the properties of lipid membranes, which are similar to the biological membranes within and on the surface of cells. The scientists also want to understand how bio-molecules can be used to build up nano-capsules, whose development creates big hopes for possible applications in medicine and pharmacology, like in cancer therapy. In also a similar direction moves the research on biosensors, where the electronic properties of some biomolecules are optimized in order to recognize and measure signals, like the concentration of free radicals efficiently.

In order to understand all different aspects of biomimetic systems the scientists need a strong network of collaborations between disciplines traditionally separated such as theoretical and experimental physics, chemistry and biochemistry, biology and engineering. In fact, the study of biomimetic systems involves several scientific communities which provide different complementary tools, namely: (bio)chemical methods in order to prepare the systems; (bio)physical methods to characterize the building blocks and their supramolecular organization; and theoretical methods in order to model and analyze these systems.

The IMPRS on Biomimetic Systems organized at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces has the duty to enhance the direct contact between Ph.D. students and experts from all relevant disciplines. Through its training activities and guest programme, the school offers a unique environment where young scientists have the possibility to make research under optimal conditions and to prepare themselves for their dissertation and a successful career in science at the same time.

In 2003 many research partners declared their intention to cooperate in the organisation of an international graduate programme thanks to the fruitful collaboration with the "IMPRS on Biomimetic Systems". This lead to a common curriculum for Ph.D. students between the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces and the Niels Bohr Institute in Copenhagen, the Institute of Bioengineering in Milano, the University Paul-Sabatier and CNRS in Toulouse, the University of Edinburgh and the Institute of Metall Physics in Leoben. The Marie Curie project "EST on Biomimetic Systems" will start its activities on September 1st, will run for four years with a budget of approximately 3.6 million EUR and will take on 27 Ph.D. students in physics, chemistry and biology. Main scope of the project is to coordinate teaching and training activities among the partners, to organize common workshops and to enhance the exchange of senior and young scientists among the partners.

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