Quicker Implementation Of Research Results

November 09, 1998

Eleven Centres Of Excellence Starting Their Final Funding Phase

The ability to select specific molecules or even selectively to recognise specific regions of a biologically active compound such as a protein is prerequisite for highly sensitive modern biochemical analysis. The centre of excellence dealing with "Biomolecular recognition systems for biochemical analysis" which was established at Potsdam University in 1995 studies how molecules "recognise" each other and how they interact; the results will serve as a basis for the development of biosensors and molecular storage systems or switches. To optimise molecular recognition scientists use coupled enzymatic systems and antibodies or build up layers of synthetic polymers and natural biopolymers. Such novel biomolecular recognition systems play a role not only in environmental analysis and the food sciences, but also in biomedicine. Biochemical analysis is of great economic relevance, and this is why scientists from small and medium-sized enterprises temporarily co-operate in individual projects with a view to evolving and implementing results in their companies. The centre of excellence thus contributes specifically to the technology transfer from university to regional companies.

This is one of eleven centres of excellence which were set up in 1995; the Grants Committee of the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) has now decided to extend their term by another two years. The funds granted to all centres during the extension period will total more than DM 30 million. In 1994, the Centres of Excellence programme was developed specifically for the new federal states; it is financed with special funds provided by the Federal Ministry of Education, Science, Research and Technology. The underlying idea is to support groups of scientists who have developed innovative research ideas, and thus improve the structures and performance of higher education institutions in the new states. An outstanding feature of the centres is the express intention to establish a co-operation between universities and non-university institutions, including industry. In this way the DFG also intends to send out a positive signal in favour of the quicker translation of research results into practical applications.

"Developing a networked logistics and simulation centre" is the objective of a centre of excellence at the University of Chemnitz-Zwickau which focuses on a holistic approach to factory planning and control. The results generated by the centre have triggered a new study course on "Systems Engineering" at the Technical University of Chemnitz. Small and medium-sized enterprises benefit from the centre as it develops company-specific pilot solutions to their problems, e.g. appropriate software tools.

The centre of excellence at the Technical University of Dresden deals with a subject that is unique in Germany, i.e. the "Magnetohydrodynamics of electroconductive fluids". Scientists study the behaviour of electroconductive fluids in magnetic fields as well as surface tension-driven flows. With the co-operation of industrial partners the knowledge generated is implemented in the fields of materials processing as well as of processing and manufacturing products from metallic and semiconductor melts.

The "Transformation of economic systems and the restructuring of societies in Central and Eastern Europe" are studied at the Europa Universität Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder. Investigations are not limited to the political and economic areas, but also include cultural and social dimensions such as processes of adaptation to changed perspectives in life as well as coping with, and adapting to, new values and social norms.

The centre of excellence dealing with "Cell specialisation: Commonalities and differences in signal transfer, redox control and stress response in plants, animals and humans" at the University of Halle-Wittenberg aims at exploring the structure and control of the embryogenesis programme and the cellular and molecular effects of oxidative stress. At the same time, scientists hope to identify elements of the common molecular heritage of animal and plant organisms.

At the centre of excellence looking into "Motor systems " biologists, sports scientists and engineers from the University of Jena and the Technical University of Ilmenau jointly explore the structure and function of animal motor systems. They intend to apply the structural principles they identify to the engineering field. In co-operation with business enterprises the scientists aim at developing constructional elements and systems into instruments and prototypes ready to go into production.

Interactions at and within a cell between active substances and their target structures, e.g. receptors and enzymes, are in the focus of the centre of excellence studying "Chemical signals and biological responses" at the University of Leipzig. Chemical signals are involved in conduction and enzymatic effects, in immune responses and regulation processes, and hence are of major importance for pharmaceutical and medical research.

Scientists at the University of Leipzig also look into "Phenomena at miniaturisation boundaries". How do the physical properties of different materials change when they become smaller and smaller, i.e. when they change from macroscopic to microscopic structures? Scientists explore miniaturisation-induced changes in the fields of mechanics, optics and charge transfer as well as changes in ferroelectric and magnetic behaviour. This includes optoelectronic semiconductor structures, micromechanical actuators and sensors, molecular films as well as biomedical processes.

In many areas of engineering, tasks have to be accomplished that require engineering systems to be adapted to changing environmental conditions. Areas of application of the novel components explored at the centre of excellence focusing on "Adaptive mechanical systems - ADAMES" at the University of Magdeburg include controlling the wing shape of high-speed aircraft and using car body sheets for active vibration damping.

Whereas the liver has been well explored as an organ of detoxification, the "Mechanisms of gastrointestinal bioactiviation and biodeactiviation" are still largely unknown. A substantial part of the human diet consists of substances that do not have any nutritional value and often are even detrimental to human health. These foreign substances are partially modified by endogenous enzymes, but little is known about the intestinal mechanisms that are involved. The centre of excellence at the University of Potsdam intends to close this gap in scientific knowledge.

Today, there is an increasing need for analysing complex mixtures (body fluids, respiratory gases, effluents, biomaterials), and it is not only the physical and chemical compositions that are of interest, but also the assessment of the biological impact. Scientists at the centre of excellence studying "Complex and cellular sensor systems" at the University of Rostock plan to combine cellular sensor systems which use the properties of living cells with physico-chemical measuring units. It is intended to employ such sensor systems in medicine and environmental engineering.

The funding period of the various centres of excellence is five years; after the initial three-year funding period had expired a final two-year phase of financial support was confirmed for the centres mentioned above. Last year the DFG had already approved the grants required for the final two years of another eight centres of excellence. In 1994 and 1995, a total of 21 centres of excellence had been set up of which 19 "passed" the follow-up review and now receive funds for the entire five-year term.
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For further information please contact:
Referat IIA4 (Dr. Manfred Nießen)
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft
Kennedyallee 40
D-53175 Bonn, Germany
Phone +49-228-885 2393
Fax +49-228-885 2777
e-mail niessen@iia4.dfg.d400.de
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Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft

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