News overview


Newsletter PS-Park 'n' Science, 14th edition, Jun 2015

English text version of the Park'n'Science newsletter

Table of Contents
Fighting the Colorado potato beetle with RNA
Aptamers gaining ground in bioanalytics
Beer, milk and Co. in bacteria quick test
It ain't Magic: "Time-reversal" in Neutron Star Collisions
Park’ n’ Life


Professional environments at the Science Park

Professional environments at the Science ParkFinally, the Gordian knot blocking the path to the innovation park has been solved. It became clear to all participants during the course of the forum at the Science Park in Potsdam-Golm at the beginning of June that the path from excellent research to profitable innovations will not build itself automatically. There is a huge need for cooperation when it comes to finance and administration. This year, the Brandenburg region, its capital city Potsdam, the University of Potsdam and non-university institutions want to reach an agreement regarding a road map for the next three years. A comparative analysis of the research site in Golm with Scandinavian innovation centres created under the leadership of the European Ministry is providing suggestions. It's just a pity that this joint effort was only triggered by the termination of contracts with several successful young businesses located here, due to EU funding provisions.

One important prerequisite for the success of this development has already been met: excellent research is firmly anchored in the various institutions of the site. You can find a broad range of examples from the research results of a few of the institutes within these pages. Some of these have already been picked up by industry, such as the quick test for drinks or the first applications of aptamers. A new chance to fight potato beetles is surely being watched with great interest within the agricultural sector. And finally, findings gained from distant space that most of us cannot even imagine complete the picture of our environment.

Another prerequisite for the settlement of young companies and spin-off companies lies in the attractiveness of the social environment. This is another area where political action is required. Site management has already taken the first steps with the Potsdam International Community Centre for orienting new arrivals.

I hope you enjoy reading the issue.
Barbara Buller

Fighting the Colorado potato beetle with RNA

Scientists from the Max Planck Institutes of Molecular Plant Physiology in Potsdam-Golm and Chemical Ecology in Jena have shown that potato plants can be protected from herbivory using RNA interference (RNAi)..

Colorado potato beetles are a dreaded pest of potatoes all over the world. Since they do not have natural enemies in most potato producing regions, farmers try to control them with pesticides. However, this strategy is often ineffective because the pest has developed resistances against nearly all insecticides.

The Max Planck researchers have shown that potato plants can be protected from herbivory using RNA interference (RNAi). They genetically modified plants to enable their chloroplasts to accumulate double-stranded RNAs (dsRNAs) targeted against essential beetle genes. (Science, February 2015).

(Picture: Sher Afzal Khan, Max Planck Institutes of Chemical Ecology

RNA interference (RNAi) is a type of gene regulation that naturally occurs in eukaryotes. In plants, fungi and insects it also is used for protection against certain viruses. During infection, many viral pathogens transfer their genetic information into the host cells as double-stranded RNA (dsRNA). Replication of viral RNA leads to high amounts of dsRNA which is recognized by the host‘s RNAi system and chopped up into smaller RNA fragments, called siRNAs (small interfering RNAs). The cell then uses siRNAs to detect and destroy the foreign RNA.

But the RNAi mechanism can also be exploited to knock down any desired gene, by tailoring dsRNA to target the gene's messenger RNA (mRNA). When the targeted mRNA is destroyed, synthesis of the encoded protein will be diminished or blocked completely. Targeting an essential gene of a crop pest can turn dsRNA into a precise and potent insecticide.

Some crop plants have recently been engineered by modifying their nuclear genomes to produce dsRNA against certain insects. „This never resulted in full protection from herbivory“, explains Ralph Bock of the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, „because the plant’s own RNAi system prevents the accumulation of sufficient amounts of dsRNA. We wanted to circumvent this problem by producing dsRNA in the chloroplasts instead“.

These organelles, which perform photosynthesis in green plants, are descendants of formerly free-living cyanobacteria, which are prokaryotes that lack an RNAi system. Presuming that chloroplasts would accumulate high amounts of dsRNA, the scientists in Ralph Bock's group decided to generate so-called transplastomic plants. In such plants, the chloroplast genome is the target of genetic modification instead of the nuclear genome.

To test this system on a real insect pest, the scientists chose the Colorado potato beetle. The researchers checked the effectiveness of dsRNA as an insecticide at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena.

Larvae were fed on detached potato leaves and the mortality was monitored for nine days. The leaves were taken from transplastomic dsRNA plants, conventional transgenic dsRNA plants with a modified nuclear genome, and unmodified plants. For comparison, dsRNAs targeting two different genes were tested. „Transplastomic leaves producing dsRNA against the actin gene caused a mortality rate of 100% after five days of feeding“, says Sher Afzal Khan from Jena. The actin gene encodes a structural protein that is essential for cell integrity. In contrast, plants with a modified nuclear genome expressed much less dsRNA and only slightly slowed down the beetles' growth.

The current results show that changing the target of transformation from the nuclear genome to the chloroplast genome overcomes the major hurdle towards exploiting RNAi for crop protection. This technology allows for precise protection without chemicals and without producing foreign proteins in the plant.
K. Dahncke

Aptamers gaining ground in bioanalytics

In addition to established antibodies, the demand for alternative and universally applicable binding molecules, particularly for analytical purposes, is constantly on the rise. Aptamers have already proven their huge potential and are now regarded as a genuine alternative for the future.

The requirements for analytical detection systems are becoming constantly greater and more extensive, among other reasons, as a result of official regulations. These relate among other things to environmental and food analysis, as well as diagnostics in medicine. In addition to usually very expensive yet sensitive high-end methods such as LC-MS applications (liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry), an array of different quick tests are finding their way onto the market more frequently. Their benefits include lower purchasing prices and they are easier to handle. This also means they only rarely require the use of costly, trained personnel. Aptamers have already been successfully used for qualitative and quantitative analyses in various test procedures. These include strip tests (lateral flow devices), enzymatic immunoadsorption procedures (ELAA – enzyme-linked aptamer assay) and compact, aptamer-based biosensors (aptasensors). There are already two aptamer- and fluorescence-based microtiter plate assays (AFLA-Sense System® and OTA-Sense System® from the Canadian company NeoVentures Biotechnology Inc.) for detecting the moulds aflatoxin and ochratoxin A in various foods (beer, wine, peanuts, etc.) on the market.

The nearly unlimited application potential of aptamers
The nearly unlimited application potential of aptamers, scheme: Marcus Menger

Aptamers, from the Latin aptus (fit), are short, single-strand nucleic acids that can bind a target molecule very specifically and with high-affinity thanks to their specific, 3-dimensional structure. A combination of electrostatic interactions and hydrogen bonds and the nucleic acid sequence-dependent structure account for the "lock and key model" of both bonding partners. Aptamers (DNA or RNA molecules) are primarily generated using the SELEX (Systematic Evolution of Ligands by EXponential Enrichment) procedure, in which aptamers are isolated from a random library of at least 1014 different nucleic acids using a targeted in vitro evolution. The broad selection of successfully applied target molecules underscores the great potential of aptamers, as it was possible to develop aptamers with binding constants in the picomolar range against nearly all types of analytes (viruses, bacteria, cells, polysaccharides, proteins, low-molecular substances, etc.).

Aptamers have a further array of advantages besides their higher degree of selectivity when compared with antibodies. Once developed, aptamers can be very inexpensively synthesised and reproduced, and easily modified chemically for stabilisation and functionalisation. In addition, DNA aptamers are especially stable binding molecules with regard to fluctuations in temperature, salinity and pH.

The new working group "Functional Nucleic Acids – Aptamers" at the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology in Potsdam, in the Bioanalytics and Bioprocesses branch of the institute (IZI-BB), has been intensively working in the aptamer technology field since March 2015. The head of the working group is Dr. Marcus Menger, who was most recently head of the aptamer working group at RiNA GmbH (Berlin) for 10 years and is director of the INSOAP Executive Committee (International Society on Aptamers). The new working group is primarily occupied with the automated generation, synthesis and functionalisation of aptamers and the integration of aptamers in various applications such as aptasensors or strip tests. It is able to draw on the years of experience of the Fraunhofer IZI-BB in bioanalytics.
Dr. Marcus Menger

Beer, milk and Co. in bacteria quick test

To guarantee a high quality of their beer, breweries monitor the production process very closely. With a new polymer powder, this monitoring will be able to be faster and simpler in the future. Manufacturers can also test drinks such as milk, juice, cola and red wine with the quick check.

Distribution of different polymer powders in water
Distribution of different polymer powders in water, © Fraunhofer IAP

It tastes full-bodied and spicy, is tasty and is a welcome refreshment, especially in the hot summer months – Beer is very popular throughout the world. For brewers, a consistently high quality of the drink is essential. To ensure this, the companies try to keep the product free from harmful microorganisms. This is because pathogens that enter into the beer during the brewing process can spoil the pleasure of the drink. They not only provide strong variations in taste and smell; the beer can also become cloudy, sour and unwholesome.

Therefore, ongoing quality controls accompany the production process. However, conventional microbiological methods require five to seven days to detect beverage-spoiling organisms, such as bacteria and yeasts. It is often too late at that point to take corrective action. In collaboration with the company GEN-IAL from Troisdorf, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam have developed a polymer powder that significantly simplifies these tests and shortens the time that they require. The company supplies breweries with analysis tools for quality control.

From the test to the reliable result takes two to three days. The reason: Until recently, beer has been filtered in special equipment. In this process, the bacteria remain on a membrane and are then elaborately cultivated in a special culture medium before they can be examined microscopically. The new polymer powder from the Fraunhofer IAP replaces this process: The powder is added to the liquid sample. The powder’s functionalized surface binds the bacteria efficiently. The pathogens adhere to the 100 to 200 micron powder particles. These can be easily removed along with the microbes in a specially developed system and analyzed directly using various microbiological methods. The time-consuming enrichment in a nutrient medium is no longer necessary.

Quality control of large quantities of beverages possible

With the new method, food experts can investigate beer and other beverages for infection by pathogens, which was hardly or not at all possible with the traditional membrane filtration method. “Membrane filtration is not suitable for the quality control of beverages such as fruit juices, milk, cola and red wine. They contain so much solid or suspended matter that the filter clogs quickly,” explains Dr. Andreas Holländer, scientist at the IAP. Breweries have also only been able to examine small sample volumes of up to one liter via membrane filtration. With the polymer powder, tests with 30 liters or more are possible. “Wherever a small amount of microbes has to be extracted from a large amount of liquid, the new technique can be useful,” adds Holländer. “Through the use of the powder, food safety is increased, since it is more likely to find trace contaminants in large volumes of the beverages,” says Dr. Jutta Schönling, managing director of GEN-IAL.

Also the equipment with which the surface of the powder particles is functionalized has been developed by Dr. Holländer and his team from the IAP. This equipment will now be used by the company GEN-IAL for the pilot production. The launch is planned for 2015, and interested users will already be able to buy the powder in the spring of this year.
Dr. S. Mehlhase

It ain't Magic: “Time-reversal” in Neutron Star Collisions

Scientists at the AEI find explanation for X-Ray afterglows after gigantic explosions in spaces

Although the X-ray emission is observed by current satellites after the gamma-ray burst, the energy responsible for the X-ray emission is extracted from the remnant neutron star before the burst.
Although the X-ray emission is observed by current satellites after the gamma-ray burst, the energy responsible for the X-ray emission is extracted from the remnant neutron star before the burst. © AAS. Reproduced with permission

Neutron star collisions are extreme events: the evidence points towards them being the origin of short gamma-ray bursts, which are among the most luminous explosions in the Universe. The burst is most likely produced when the massive object formed in the collision collapses to a black hole. However, satellites often detect not only the extremely short gamma-ray burst, but also a subsequent strong emission of X-rays, lasting several hours or more, that cannot be explained by the very short activity of the newly-formed black hole. In a recent publication in the Astrophysical Journal Letters AEI scientists propose an explanation for this apparent inconsistency. The explanation involves a time reversal in the production and observation of the gamma-ray and (part of the) X-ray signals. It also opens up new possibilities for multimessenger astronomy.

Short gamma-ray bursts release – in less than two seconds – as much energy as would be obtained by blowing up two million trillion trillion megatonnes of the explosive TNT. The most likely explanation for their origin is the merger of two neutron stars, forming a very massive metastable neutron star, which then collapses into a black hole under its own gravity. This black hole is at first surrounded by a thick disk of matter, which is accreted onto the black hole in about a second. The gamma-ray burst is produced in this accretion process, provided that extremely strong magnetic fields are present.

After decades of research, the exact mechanism behind short gamma-ray bursts is still a mystery. Computer simulations at the AEI are used to investigate this phenomenon. In the last two years, they provided insight, e.g., into how the enormous magnetic fields needed for gamma-ray bursts could form. "We are continually getting better in modeling the conditions needed for the generation of gamma-ray bursts in numerical simulations on supercomputers", says Daniel Siegel, PhD student at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute/AEI), who, together with his colleague Dr. Riccardo Ciolfi (now postdoctoral scholar at the University of Trento), is trying to solve this mystery. "Simulations are an indispensable tool for understanding what is going on. This is because satellite and ground-based observations can only give us indirect information about the events that take place when a short gamma-ray burst occurs." In their latest publication, Ciolfi and Siegel propose a scenario that not only accounts for the gamma-ray burst and the X-ray emission, but also envisages that the X-rays should not only be seen after the burst but also before it – a surprising new prediction.

Apparent time-reversal explains mysterious afterglow
Simulations on one of the AEI's computer clusters showed what happens if a long-lived and extremely dense neutron star is formed in the collision of two neutron stars. At first, in this remnant neutron star matter rotates at different speeds and the star ejects a strong mass-laden wind. This wind is so dense that it is almost impenetrable by radiation, and therefore stores much of the electromagnetic energy which is emitted by the neutron star (Fig. 1, I). Only a small amount of energy is already radiated away in X-rays. After this stage, according to further mathematical modelling, the neutron star becomes a uniformly rotating body and produces a plasma nebula made up of electrons, positrons and photons (Fig. 1, II). The high pressure of the photons in this nebula produces a shockwave in the surrounding ejected matter, accelerating it to relativistic speeds. Rotational energy of the neutron star is transferred to the plasma and stays there, and the loss of this energy eventually causes the neutron star to collapse into a black hole with an accretion disk (Fig1, III). In less than a few seconds, the newly formed black hole accretes the disk and generates a focused jet-like outflow of material, which can easily penetrate the nebula and the surrounding shell of matter and eventually produces the short gamma-ray burst. The main part of the energy extracted from the neutron star before it collapsed into a black hole is still stored in the nebula and the surrounding shell of matter – it is radiated away as X-rays over several hours or more.

It is this delayed radiation of the stored energy that causes the apparent reversal of time when observing the gamma and X-rays: even though rotational energy is given off before the neutron star collapses into a black hole, this energy is stored and most of it is emitted after the gamma-ray burst, caused by the actual collapse. The calculations made by Siegel and Ciolfi show that the delayed emission of energy conforms to observational data and can therefore explain the afterglow that is actually seen. In contrast, the X-rays that are not affected by the time reversal, i.e. those that are emitted before the gamma-rays (Fig. 1, I&II), cannot be observed by satellites yet. Satellites currently use the stronger gamma-ray signal to trigger X-ray observations, since the weaker X-ray signal can only be detected if the sky location is known to some precision.

"Our time reversal does not use magic time travel, but entirely un-magical storage of energy in a medium, from where it is released after a while", says Siegel, and Ciolfi adds: "A real challenge now is for astronomers to observe X-rays before the gamma rays. This would be strong evidence for our type of 'Time reversal' and the scenario which we propose."

Sketch to illustrate the “time-reversal” scenario. (I) A differentially rotating neutron star (NS) ejects a wind of NS matter. (II) When the star has settled down to uniform rotation, it generates a nebula of electrons, positrons and photons that inflates the previously ejected matter (shock). (III) The NS collapses to a black hole (BH) with an accretion disk (torus) and generates a short gamma-ray burst.


Prof. Peter Fratzl is the latest member to join
the Academy of Sciences and Literature

The Academy of Sciences and Literature accepted four new members at its last session. Potsdam physician Peter Fratzl can now be counted among its regular members.

Prof. Peter Fratzl
© MPIKG/Göran Gnaudschun

Prof. Dr Dr h.c. Peter Fratzl has been the Director of the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam since 2003, and Honorary Professor of the Humboldt University in Berlin and the University of Potsdam. After finishing his studies and working on research at renowned institutions in Paris and Austria, Fratzl worked as a full professor of metal physics at the University of Leoben and as Director of the Erich Schmid Institute of Material Sciences at the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

He has received multiple awards for his achievements in the field of biological and biomimetic materials and their implementations in medicine (osteoporosis), including the Max Planck Research Award and the Leibniz Award. (IEEE).

2014 Young Talent Award for Exemplary Teaching goes
to Stefan Fredenhagen

The AEI scientist was honoured by the student body for Physics at the Humboldt University.

Prof. Peter Fratzl
Dr Stefan Fredenhagen, © S. Fredenhagen

Dr Stefan Fredenhagen has held lectures about string theory and general relativity at Humboldt University since 2008. He has now been awarded the 2014 "Young Talent Award for Exemplary Teaching" for the quality of his lessons. The honour was given as part of the colloquium at the Institute for Physics in Berlin-Adlershof. "My lectures give me a lot of joy," said Fredenhagen after the award ceremony. "So I'm happy to hear that they also go down well with the students."

Stefan Fredenhagen (born 1974) studied physics in Hamburg and completed his PhD at the Albert Einstein Institute in 2002. For his thesis he was awarded the Otto Hahn Medal by the Max Planck Society and then went to the Ecole Polytechnique in Palaiseau, France for a year. After additional post-doc work at the IHES in Bures-sur-Yvette and at the ETH in Zurich, he returned to the AEI in 2006 and has since been doing research on string theory in the "Quantum Gravity and Unified Theories" department. He is preparing his German postdoctoral lecturing qualification.

Dr. Maria Alessandra Papa elected Fellow of the
American Physical Society
Prestigious Award for Key Contributions to
Gravitational-wave Astronomy

Dr. Maria Alessandra Papa, research group leader in the "Astrophysical and Cosmological Relativity" division at the Albert Einstein Institute, has been elected as a Fellow of the American Physical Society (APS). This honor is bestowed only on half a percent of the 50,000 APS members. It recognizes the awardee's outstanding contributions to physics.

Dr. Maria Alessandra Papa
Dr. Maria Alessandra Papa, ©Papa

Dr. Papa's research focuses on strategies for the detection of long-lasting gravitational-wave signals. The exact parameters of these weak signals are a priori unknown. Therefore, large data volumes have to analyzed with an enormous number of different digital filters, requiring computationally efficient search methods as well as huge computing power. Dr. Papa has developed new search techniques and helped to create Einstein@Home, a distributed computing project that enlists the help of citizen scientist from all around the world for gravitational-wave data analysis. Dr. Papa leads the analysis of the gravitational-wave data on this platform.

From mid 2006 to late 2013, Dr. Papa was the LIGO Scientific Collaboration (LSC) Chair of the LSC-Virgo Data Analysis Council. This working group is responsible for proposing scientific priorities to the LSC and Virgo Collaborations and for coordinating the overall gravitational-wave data analysis efforts.

International “Humanity in Science” Award
for Malaria Medication Process

(Bio)Chemist Prof. Dr. Peter H. Seeberger and process engineer Prof. Dr.-Ing. Andreas Seidel-Morgenstern received the renowned international "Humanity in Science" award.

Seeberger (Director at the Max Planck Institute for Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and Professor at the Free University of Berlin) and Seidel-Morgenstern (Director at the Max Planck Institute for Dynamics of Complex Technical Systems in Magdeburg and Professor of Process Systems Engineering at the Otto-von-Guericke University in Magdeburg) were honoured for their "groundbreaking work on new production methods for a malaria medication." The €25,000 award was sponsored by the trade journal "The Analytical Scientist" and the separation technology manufacturer Phenomenex. The collaboration by the two teams resulted in a production method for several malaria medications using plant waste, air and light.

International “Silver Cornea” Award Goes
to Fraunhofer Researcher

Dr. Joachim Storsberg, a researcher at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research in Potsdam-Golm, has been awarded the international “Silver Cornea” research award for the important contributions he has made in advancing the treatment of corneal diseases.

He has developed biomaterials for artificial corneas in collaboration with ophthalmologists and companies, and has imparted his knowledge about corneal diseases through numerous lectures to scientists, physicians and patients. He received the award from the world-famous ophthalmic surgeon, Prof. Edward Wylegala, at the “7th International Symposium on Advances in Diagnosis and Treatment of Corneal Diseases”.

“It’s a poignant moment when a formerly blind patient looks me in the eye and extends his or her hand to me,” says Joachim Storsberg happily. ArtCornea, an artificial cornea that he and his partners have developed, has already given many people back their sight. “These patients are either unable to tolerate a donor cornea because of their particular type of disease, or have already experienced numerous unsuccessful transplants,” the expert in biomaterials explains. Not only ultima ratio patients benefit from Storsberg’s research. ACTO-TexKpro is another artificial cornea that is suitable for first aid purposes, for example, when chronic inflammation, a severe accident, acid burns, or other types of burns destroy the cornea. “The great thing about my type of research is that the success is visible and the work is very much appreciated,” says Storsberg.

The chemist is a leading researcher in the area of artificial cornea development. Only three groups specialize in this field worldwide. Storsberg, who was born in Mainz, has been developing biomaterials for medical technology at the Fraunhofer IAP since 2004. His research and knowledge have made an extensive contribution to expanding the range of treatment options for ophthalmologists. He has received many previous awards for his work.

“I feel very honored to accept this award and, together with my team and my partners, will continue to work intensively on developing artificial corneas. In the future, I hope that we can focus even more attention on the field of ophthalmology. We are bubbling with ideas and there is so much potential for improvement,” says Storsberg.

International Space Station (ISS)
Award "Silver Cornea", © Fraunhofer IAP, Photographer: Till Budde

Self-duplication for manufacturing technology –
Millions for Fraunhofer researcher

International Space Station (ISS)
© pigurdesign

Prof. Alexander Böker, head of the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm, Germany, has received the renowned ERC Consolidator Grant from the European Research Council (ERC). His research project RepliColl has been awarded funding of 1.9 million Euros over a period of five years. Böker and his team want to learn how to emulate self-replicating biological processes from nature's own DNA synthesis. His research should smooth the way for completely new technologies in manufacturing components for telecommunications and IT as well as for building blocks in the pharmaceutical branch and nanoelectronics.


New head of Fraunhofer IAP

Professor Alexander Böker has been heading the Fraunhofer-Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm since February 1, 2015. He will be taking over this position as Professor Hans-Peter Fink, who headed the Institute since 2006, enters retirement in March 2015. Böker is simultaneously appointed to serve as Chair of Polymer Materials and Polymer Technologies at the University of Potsdam.

Prof Alexander Böker
Alexander Böker

Alexander Böker served as Chairman of the Department for Macromolecular Materials and Surfaces at RWTH Aachen as well as Deputy Scientific Director of the DWI-Leibnitz Institute for Interactive Materials e.V. During the course of his career in science, the graduate chemist delved into his studies of polymers both in Germany and abroad. The focal points of his work include the structuring of surfaces by means of copolymers and nanoparticle-based techniques, as well as the synthesis of protein/polymer hybrid particles. In addition, he studied self-organization phenomena of nanoparticles and polymers in the electrical field. Fraunhofer president Reimund Neugebauer feels confident: “As Professor Böker – a scientist of international repute – joins the management of Fraunhofer IAP, he will continue to promote the institute’s expertise in polymer research and open up new fields of research endeavor. At the same time, I wish to express my sincerest gratitude to the former executive director Professor Hans-Peter Fink, for his extraordinarily successful work.“

The challenges of applied research at Fraunhofer – taking scientific expertise with implementable technologies and solutions and making them available to business and the economy - are challenges Professor Böker gladly embraces. About his new employer he says: “Fraunhofer IAP possesses expertise in the entire field of polymer applications – such as for high performance fiber optics and lightweight composites, flexible organic solar cells and synthetic corneas for implants. Synthetic polymers are as much a part of the focus as biopolymers made from renewable raw materials. Our goal is to continue to expand the activities in the fields of biotechnology, chemically modified proteins and natural fibers.”


Sailor at the helm of research

After 23 years at the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP, and nine years as head of the institute, Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Fink took his official leave on March 4, 2015 and entered into a well-deserved retirement.

One hundred and thirty guests honoured his services to science, the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, industry and the state of Brandenburg at the farewell celebration. The guests included Minister for Science Prof. Dr. Sabine Kunst, Fraunhofer President Prof. Dr.-Ing. Reimund Neugebauer, Prof. Oliver Günther, President of the University of Potsdam, Prof. Dr. Thomas Müller-Kirschbaum, Corporate Senior Vice President of Henkel AG & Co. KGaA, and Dr.-Ing. Andreas Schütte, Managing Director of Fachagentur Nachwachsende Rohstoffe e.V.

How it will look: the new Fraunhofer conference centre (Picture: Architekten Schmidt-Schicketanz und Partner GmbH)
Festive event at the Fraunhofer IAP: (from right) the honoured Prof. Hans-Peter Fink, Prof. Sabine Kunst, Minister of Science, Research and Culture, Prof. Reimund Neugebauer, President of the Fraunhofer Society and Prof. Alexander Böker, the new Head of the Fraunhofer IAP, © Fraunhofer IAP

Industry-oriented applied research can only be successfully conducted in close contact with universities and institutions of higher education and in a good political environment. This is a central focus of the Fraunhofer society and its institutes and was reflected in the festivities’ opening speakers and lectures, and in the composition of the audience. The Fraunhofer IAP has a large portfolio of research activities, ranging from biopolymers through to functional materials and specialty polymers, and experienced continuous positive development under the leadership of Prof. Fink. This is outwardly visible, above all, in the second expansion phase of the institute in Potsdam-Golm, which was completed in 2012. The head of the institute, who is a passionate regatta racer in his free-time, persuasively explains, “There is no better place to learn about how to lead a large institute than at the helm of a sailing boat.” The speeches honouring the long-time institute leader were accordingly entertaining and very personal. “As a successful sailor, you guided the great institute tanker through a number of rough seas. Despite the headwinds, you were able to steer your ship in the right direction through clever and persistent manoeuvring,” says Minister Kunst. “You and your staff quickly and efficiency turned research findings into economic processes that were in line with the market. In doing so, you provided the research location with a strong momentum and advanced it forward considerably,” says Kunst.

Fraunhofer President, Prof. Neugebauer, honoured Prof. Fink with the Fraunhofer Medal for his life’s work at the institute and with Fraunhofer. “Not only did you tackle things, you assumed the risk. When you made a decision about something, you could be relied on to see it through to its successful completion. You believed in biopolymers very early on and placed your faith in them. And today we all know that we should have taken up this subject 15 years ago,” says Neugebauer. “You have been honoured for your scientific achievement many times, including receiving the renowned Anselme Payen Award from the Cellulose and Renewable Materials Division of the American Chemical Society ACS. The Fraunhofer Medal represents another pearl on the chain of awards.”

Prof. Günther and Dr. Schütte both agree: Prof. Fink was always a very reliable partner who maintained close partnerships with science, industry and politics and who strengthened the region. Prof. Müller-Kirschbaum alluded to the importance of innovation for the chemical industry and imagined what else F.I.N.K. could stand for: “Fostering, Industry research, New challenges and Keeping on course, or Fostering research Is Necessary for Keeping on course.”

Prof. Fink was visibly touched and thanked his cooperation partners and employees for the good collaboration and the trust they placed in him. He also warmly thanked his family who had always backed him up. “Of course I am looking forward to being able to dedicate more of my time to my family and to sailing. However, I will also remain in close contact with the Fraunhofer IAP and am certain that the positive development will continue under Prof. Böker,” says Fink.

Prof. Alexander Böker has headed the institute since February 1, 2015. Before this, he was Professor of Macromolecular Materials and Surfaces at RWTH Aachen for seven years and Deputy Scientific Director of DWI – Leibniz Institute for Interactive Materials. Böker was simultaneously appointed Professor of Polymer Materials and Polymer Technologies at the University of Potsdam.

Park’ n’ Life

International scientists welcome at the Science Park

At the beginning of 2015, the Potsdam International Community Centre (PICC) officially began its work at the Potsdam-Golm Science Park. From now on, international scientists and their families have a fixed contact point at the Potsdam-Golm Science Park. What began as a mostly voluntary activity by site management employees can now be continued and expanded as a lasting institution at the Potsdam-Golm Science Park thanks to the support of two Max Planck Institutes.


More than 800 international scientists from around the world work at the Science Park, most of them for a short period of one to three years, and many are accompanied by spouses and families.

When moving away from home, everything is new at first – the language, the environment and especially the culture. The PICC is a central contact partner at the Science Park for the scientists, their travelling companions, and the institutes in Golm. The PICC employees help everyone get their bearings and settle in quickly at their new home, assisting with everything from looking for an apartment and bureaucratic issues to schooling for children or support when visiting a doctor. At the same time, there is an array of opportunities to have discussions with domestic and international members of the community or with Potsdam residents at events, workshops or other forms of personal contact. Women that have accompanied their husbands and local women can meet at the International Women’s Group and discuss a wide range of topics. This creates an independent and separate network that can provide support and help in many different situations.

The PICC team are Carolin Schneider and Jennifer Sabernak from the site management team at the Science Park. Both have lived abroad for many years themselves and have a good understanding of the needs and barriers which newcomers experience, and can provide them with the help they need. Thanks to cooperation with the Max Planck Institutes, the International Relations Office of the University of Potsdam and the City of Potsdam, the PICC is extraordinarily well-connected in Potsdam.

J. Sabernak, C. Schneider
Contact partners in the PICC: (from left) J. Sabernak, C. Schneider (Photo: Karoline Wolf)

The PICC is also an important element for the Science Park in order to ensure that in the future it will remain an attractive location for specialist from around the world.
A. Lauterbach

3rd Potsdam Day of Sciences –
An attraction for young and old visitors

Numerous visitors followed the invitation to the Day of the Sciences on 9 May in front of the baroque facades of the New Palace. The hosts were the University of Potsdam, a number of colleges and around 30 institutes in the state's capital and Brandenburg at large organised under the association proWissen Potsdam.

Inviting and colourful tents of science were used by researchers to present their work on the field in front of the Communs of the New Palace. With their thirsts for knowledge sparked, the numerous visitors could then take part in more experiments or exciting lectures in the halls of the college. The public transportation strike certainly did not deter visitors from coming and the occasional rain shower failed to dampen the mood.

Mayor Jann Jakobs und University President Prof. Oliver Günther gathering information on a tour through the research camp.
Mayor Jann Jakobs und University President Prof. Oliver Günther gathering information on a tour through the research camp. (Photo: proWissen)

First contacts were made with Finger Food and Looming § Pimp Your Bag at the stand for the new PICC (Potsdam International Community Centre), and visitors could test out their language skills at the language school Let's Talk. The Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP gave visitors a view into the world of polymer research and presented interesting products and materials from renewable resources. Kids were able to act as young researchers and learn more about the exciting field of micro-encapsulation by manufacturing colourful caviar and aromatic paper strips. At the neighbouring stand for the Fraunhofer IZI-BB, visitors learned more about the interdigitation and interface of medicine and bioengineering sciences using "lego technology". The Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces playfully provided information about materials based on nature with extraordinary mechanical characteristics. Kids who wanted a break from science were excited by the great offer of creative activities and a huge range of games at the Kinder- und Jugendfreizeitladen Golm – Chance e.V.
B. Buller


Systemic and synthetic metabolism

Starting in 2015, a newly set up Max Planck research group under the leadership of Dr Arren Bar-Even will be studying the biochemical logic and design principles of metabolic pathways and their applications to metabolic engineering of microbes.

Dr Arren Bar-Even
 A synthetic carbon fixation pathway, designed according to thermodynamic and kinetic principles. The pathway, in which PEP carboxylase – the most efficient carboxylating enzyme known – serves as the only entry point for CO2, is a promising alternative to the known carbon fixation pathways.
© Arren Bar-Even

The group will focus on engineering synthetic alternatives to central metabolic pathways, aiming to uncover optimality in metabolic designs and to offer novel solutions for humanity’s needs in chemical and energy production.

The term "metabolic engineering" describes a change to metabolic pathways with the objective of increasing the production of desired substances while reducing or completely eliminating the production of undesired substances, as well as causing completely new chemical bonds to be produced. The prerequisite for such targeted changes or optimizations is a comprehensive and solid understanding of the biochemical principles that control metabolic processes.

Why are existing pathways structured the way they are? Which biochemical constraints are responsible for the fact that different organisms use different pathways? The working group is searching for answers to these and similar questions. They are studying the different components of the metabolic pathways, such as enzymes and metabolites and the different elements that affect their function like thermodynamics, kinetics, stability and reactivity. Both computational and experimental approaches will be used to uncover the relationship between different elements of metabolism. This methodology could predict the advantages and disadvantages associated with each pathway in different conditions and offer the most promising routes for metabolic engineering given predefined optimization goals.

One possibility for investigating questions regarding the formation of various metabolic pathways is to redesign central metabolic pathways and to test their activity in an engineered host. As several alternatives to glycolysis and the TCA cycle are possible, numerous synthetic designs of the central metabolism can be implemented and tested in-vivo.

The secret of stronger teeth: Nanostructures under stress

Teeth do not continue to grow in adults and they ideally last a lifetime, even when put under enormous stress. But until now, it was still unclear how the dentine, which forms the actual tooth, is so durable.

An interdisciplinary team of researchers from Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin has now researched the complex structure of dentine, which consists of a thick network of collagen fibres in which the mineral nanoparticles as well as the significantly larger dental tubuli are embedded. At the synchrotron sources BESSY II at HZB, Berlin and the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility ESRF, Grenoble, France, they were able to discover that the thick network of collagen fibres not only surrounds the mineral particles, but also compresses them. These inner forces ensure that cracks do not expand unimpeded and increases the durability of the biostructure. Until now it was not completely clear how such cracks in the tooth dentine could be limited.

Now researchers from the Julius Wolff Institute of Charité Berlin have investigated this biostructure in detail together with teams from the Technical University of Berlin, MPI of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam and Technion Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa. They determined the inner stress in-situ on the mySpot device at BESSY II at HZB, Berlin and analysed the local direction of the mineral nanoparticles on the "Nano-Imaging Facility" of the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France.

The measurements showed that when the tiny collagen fibres shrink, the embedded mineral particles are increasingly compressed together. "Using changes in moisture, our group was able to demonstrate how stress in the mineral particles increases," explains Dr Paul Zaslansky of the Julius Wolff Institute of Charité Berlin. "This helps prevent cracks from forming. The manner of the compression also ensures that the innermost areas of the tooth are extensively protected from cracks so that the sensitive pulpa is not damaged." Thus the inner tensions help limit the forming and expansion of cracks.


Antrittsvorlesung im Sommersemester

08.07.2015, 17:30 Uhr
Hörsaal 02.25.F1.01

Prof. Dr. Ulrich Kortenkamp,
Institut für Mathematik
„Mathematikunterricht ‘76“

Bubble and Drop Interfaces

06.07.2015 bis 10.07.2015
Hörsaal im Zentralgebäude

Hightech Transfertag Potsdam-Golm

08.10.2015, 9:30 bis 14:00 Uhr
Fraunhofer Institut IZI-BB
im Wissenschaftspark

Plants and People Konferenz

7. – 9. September 2015