News overview


Newsletter PS-Park 'n' Science, 17th edition, Dec 2016

English text version of the Park'n'Science newsletter

Table of Contents
Marine microalgae: an address plaque for calcium
Novel biomaterials from proteins
Wood and the influence of water
Growth or Defence
New findings in evolutionary history
In brief


Strategies for the future – Space for new businesses

Science – Paths to the futureVisible progress is being made at the Potsdam-Golm Science Park. After the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces started using its new extension building last year, a considerable extension to the MPI of Molecular Plant Physiology is now also underway. Building work began in the summer, and should be completed by November 2018. A new conference centre at the Fraunhofer Institute was already opened earlier this year. These investments will allow the institutes to improve the conditions of their work and explore further options in business-oriented research. We will also present some fascinating and highly regarded research results from the institutes in Golm in this newsletter.

Golm, the most important location for science in Brandenburg, will continue to develop over the next ten years into a prosperous and competitive innovation park. Thanks to the tireless work of the site management, led by Friedrich W. Winskowski, and the results of the study comparing the science park with sites in Scandinavia, the infrastructure is now being put in place to build a second technology and start-up centre, GO:IN 2. A new site management company should also help with the all-important task of building bridges between science and industry. What is more, the site is currently offering some ten hectares of commercial expansion areas and four hectares of plots ready for building. It took a long time for the city and state authorities to recognise the science park's international significance and prospects, and realise that it was worth supporting. But now things are moving forward.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!
Ellen Fehlow

Marine microalgae: an address plaque for calcium

A biochemical mechanism controls which nanostructures are formed in calcite-forming microorganisms

Microalgae, mussels, sea urchins and starfish are the master builders of the nanoworld: They create elaborate structures using only calcium, proteins and sugars as building blocks. Scientists at the Potsdam-based Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology and the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces have now discovered a key mechanism by which marine microalgae produce their filigree structures. The findings could also be relevant to other products of biomineralization, for example bones and teeth, and could even lead to technological applications.

Microalgae known as coccolithophores create designs for mass production. Although even the heaviest specimen of these marine creatures weighs less than a billionth of a gram, single-celled microalgae produce up to 500 million tonnes of calcium carbonate, or chalk, globally. That corresponds to around one third of the world’s annual steel production. They build the crystalline chalk, known as calcite, into filigree structures that look as if they were designed on a drawing board. Nevertheless, these architectural wonders are not the outcome of deliberation but the product of biochemical processes within the microorganisms. “We’ve discovered a biochemical mechanism that results in the crystals being formed precisely where they’re needed,” says André Scheffel, researcher at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology and head of the recent study.

The research team, which also included scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces and the German Research Centre for Geosciences in Potsdam, studied the marine microalga Pleurochrysis carterae. P. carterae is a member of the coccolithophorids, a group of single-celled marine algae whose name is derived from the calcite scales, called coccoliths, on their surface. The tiny calcite scales have a base plate consisting of organic material, mainly cellulose fibres, which is surrounded by a raised edge, like a pastry case. Two different forms of calcite crystals are arranged in an alternating order along the edge and only along the edge. The coccoliths are formed inside the cell in a special vesicle, a membrane-enclosed space. The finished coccoliths are then transported out of the cell and are integrated in the coccolith armour that surrounds each algal cell.

A design that looks like it came straight from a drawing board: coccolithophores such as Pleurochrysis carterae form. A calcite scale, known as a coccolith, comprises a base plate, consisting mainly of cellulose, which is surrounded by a …
(Image left) A design that looks like it came straight from a drawing board: coccolithophores such as Pleurochrysis carterae form … more ›
(Image right) A calcite scale, known as a coccolith, comprises a base plate, consisting mainly of cellulose, which is surrounded by a … more ›
© André Scheffel and Damien Faivre / MPI-MP; MPI-KG

Polysaccharides transport calcium but no calcium carbonate

“Until now it was unclear how the regular structure is formed within the special membrane-enclosed space,” says André Scheffel. “It was previously thought that the chemical structure of the base plate determined that the calcite crystals would form only along the edge of the coccoliths,” says Scheffel. The Potsdam researchers have now refuted this assumption with experiments in a test tube. First they dissolved the crystals of isolated coccoliths and separated the released organic material in the base plate as well as the soluble polysaccharides and proteins. They then offered various ions – calcium, carbonate and other metal ions – to the base plate with and without the soluble organic components.

The experiments showed that no crystals formed on the base plate in the absence of the organic components. “Interestingly, the soluble negatively charged polysaccharides are essential for the calcite crystals to form at the right location,” André Scheffel explains. However, they only transport positively charged calcium – but no calcium carbonate – to the end of the base plate, where they settle along with the calcium in the form of small clumps. Thus, the proteins are not involved in the navigation, despite the fact that earlier investigations had shown that the soluble constituents are integrated during the crystallization of calcium carbonate. However, it was not known what role polysaccharides and proteins play in the process.

The researchers also found that precise localization works only with calcium. The polysaccharides distribute metal ions such as magnesium and sodium on the base plate indiscriminately, if at all. It’s as if a logistics company were only able to deliver a cargo reliably to the right address because the cargo itself helps with the navigation. MPI

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Novel biomaterials from proteins

For nearly 25 years, biomaterials from renewable raw material have been a priority field of research at the Fraunhofer-Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP in Potsdam-Golm.

Research to date has focused on plant-based raw materials such as cellulose, starch, and lignin. Now the researchers are also developing biomaterials from proteins. Two new departments are involved with this field.

Dr. Rosencrantz uses feathers as raw material for keratin-based materials.
Dr. Rosencrantz uses feathers as raw material for keratin-based materials. Photo Fraunhofer IAP

Safely preserving plastic wrap

“Function Integrated Polymer Films” are the focus of the newly established department of the same name at the Fraunhofer IAP. Under the direction of Dr. Murat Tutuş, this department started expanding the Fraunhofer IAP’s research spectrum in July 2016. Plastic wrap used for packaging fresh foods like cheese is one of the research focuses. “We coat films with natural proteins that have a preserving effect on the food surface. The best thing about it is that the natural preservative does not get into the food and it, thus, remains pure, which is important given the declining customer acceptance of preservatives,” Tutuş explains. Through the Fraunhofer IAP’s versatile competencies, the research team wants to develop products “completely in-house”. In the future, biobased films developed at the Fraunhofer IAP will be coated. The IAP’s expert knowledge of surface technologies and in-house biotechnology will be utilized as well. “We will use the coating system to develop strips that indicate the freshness of food and can verify that the cold chain was maintained,” says Tutuş. Other key activities of the department include developing and examining functionalized membranes and new membrane materials and films. Abattoir refuse as raw material – New materials from keratin The use of keratin from abattoir refuse is a topic in the department “Functional Protein Systems/Biotechnology” headed by Fraunhofer IAP director Prof. Alexander Böker. Keratin is a structural protein that does more than just give shape to our hair. It is also a component of beaks, hooves, fur, and feathers. “Such animal residues are normally combusted or processed into animal feed. We want to make the keratin in abattoir refuse usable by developing materials from it. Feathers are particularly suitable because they are up to 90 percent keratin and have a very clearly defined composition, explains Dr. Ruben Rosencrantz, a researcher on Böker’s team. Keratin can, for example, remove formaldehyde from room air, making it a suitable filter material for refurbishing buildings compromised by formaldehyde. It can also bind heavy metals. Keratin has not yet been used as a basis for a material. Industrially, the structural protein has been used, for example, as a shampoo additive in the form of a hydrolysate. For about a year, Prof. Böker and his research team have been developing, among other things, regenerated fibers from keratin. “We want to leave the protein intact to retain the material properties. We are currently investigating suitable procedures to make keratin spinnable,” says Rosencrantz. At the institute’s spinning line, the researchers can draw on the extensive long-term experience of the Fraunhofer IAP in biobased fibers made from cellulose. IAP

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Wood and the influence of water

A model describing the water absorption of wood could contribute to the development of new wood preservatives

The cell walls of wood are its muscles and the amount of water they absorb changes how the wood behaves: which forces it exerts and withstands and how it sheds the seeds of fir and pine cones, for instance. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, the Institute for Separation Chemistry in Marcoule (ICSM) and the University of Montpellier are using a new mathematical model to illustrate how the water content of the cell walls determines the properties of wood. The formula will improve our understanding of how wood acquires its mechanical properties, but could also be useful for developing non-toxic wood preservatives.

Waterproof: How much water wood will absorb depends on the forces that promote or limit swelling. These forces can be computed using the model created by German and French scientists. It is thus possible to predict how a wood preservative will influence the equilibrium of forces.
Waterproof: How much water wood will absorb depends on the forces that promote or limit swelling. These forces can be computed using the model created by German and French scientists. It is thus possible to predict how a wood preservative will influence the equilibrium of forces. © vovan/fotolia


The cell walls of wood are its muscles and the amount of water they absorb changes how the wood behaves: which forces it exerts and withstands and how it sheds the seeds of fir and pine cones, for instance. Scientists from the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces in Potsdam, the Institute for Separation Chemistry in Marcoule (ICSM) and the University of Montpellier are using a new mathematical model to illustrate how the water content of the cell walls determines the properties of wood. The formula will improve our understanding of how wood acquires its mechanical properties, but could also be useful for developing non-toxic wood preservatives.

The same properties that give wood its elasticity and hardness also swiftly render it unfit as a material. When there is no bark to protect it, wood becomes an easy prey for fungi as soon as it absorbs water. This is why Roman boat builders used to douse their hulls with tar pitch in ancient times to waterproof their boats. The last 300 years saw the use of creosote, which is distilled from coal tar, become the primary choice of craftspeople when it comes to preparing the natural material for outdoor use. However, as these substances are among the most carcinogenic known, public health authorities in many countries have largely banned their use.

Scientists are therefore looking for alternative combined impregnation solutions to provide the same protection for wood. “Our model should help them in this search,” says Luca Bertinetti, a scientist at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces. The model describes how much water is stored by wood cells, or rather, their walls. It can also predict how a substance used to treat wood will affect its water absorption. This means that scientists could start designing new treatments without having to perform a lot of systematic experiments.

When developing the model, the scientists first studied the structure of wood cell walls and how this changes when it absorbs water. The cell wall is a natural composite consisting of different biological polymers, i.e. chain molecules. It is partly made up of cellulose fibres aligned in parallel. In a dry state, they make up half of the mass. Hemicellulose and lignin fibres fill the spaces around the cellulose. Both chain molecules chemically interact with cellulose in many places. Hemicellulose and lignin fibres store the water absorbed by the cell wall, much like a sponge. The mix of the two constituents swells and expands the cellulose bundles. Bertinetti explains: “How much water the cell wall can absorb mainly depends on the forces at work.” That is why he and his colleagues have included an overview of the dominant forces in their model.

The most important force is hydration swelling at nano-scale: It pushes the cellulose fibres apart because the water molecules tend to orient at the interfaces with the hygroscopic cellulose and hemicelluloses and this generates suction. The wood cell wall also tends to absorb ambient humidity because of the increased entropy. In simple terms, entropy can be imagined as a measure of the degree of disorder in the system. The order of different biopolymers in the wood cell wall is somewhat disturbed when water penetrates the network. This promotes the swelling process because nature has an inherent tendency toward greater disorder – something that can be observed in a child’s room that is not tidied regularly.

The effect of different forces on swelling

There are, however, forces that suppress swelling. These were also taken into account by Bertinetti and his colleagues when developing the formula. For instance, the force that is exerted through the bonds between cellulose on the one hand, and hemicellulose and lignin on the other hand. They tie the crystalline cellulose bundles together, making it more difficult for water to penetrate them. The elasticity of the biological composite behaves similarly. It acts pulling together the network of the different polymers once it is swollen.

“In contrast to earlier models of the water absorption of wood, our model also takes into account not only the chemical and molecular forces, but also the colloidal forces at meso-scale and finally mechanic term, i.e. elasticity,” says Bertinetti. This is precisely the advantage that scientists seeking to develop new wood preservatives will gain with the new model: for the first time, an overview of all the significant forces in water absorption is available. “Wood engineers will be able to compute how, modifying each of the contributions, will affect the swelling of the wood,” explains Bertinetti. Thanks to the model, they will be able to estimate how much water wood will absorb, for instance, if they reduce the hydration force, which can be decreased using hydrophobic substances on the cellulose or hemicellulose. The model also shows the effect of increasing the cross-linking of the different constituents. “Up until now, wood engineers had to use trial and error to determine how different wood preservatives influenced water absorption,” says Bertinetti.

Biological motors may be able to use the water absorption of wood

The theoretical framework is useful both to scientists looking for wood treatments minimizing the swelling as well as to those interested in maximising it. When exposed to the force of water, the material stores energy which it can convert into mechanical work. According to Bertinetti, “it may be possible to construct actuators based on natural tissues that work according to this principle.” Such “motors” could potentially use the difference in humidity between day and night to, for instance, automatically open and close awnings.

However, that is not the job of Bertinetti. “I’m not an engineer,” he says. The chemist is now working in a different direction with his model for the moisture absorbency of wood. He wants to adapt it to other natural tissues, the swelling of which can be significant for biological and technical processes. He has already made a big step in understanding with the model developed for wood, as it contains all the major factors that will be crucial in other tissues. KE/PH

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Growth or Defence

How plants set their priorities

Sulfur belongs to the macro-nutrients and has a variety of tasks in plants. It is not only involved in the synthesis of substances which are important for plant growth, but is also an important component of substances whose function is the defence against diseases and pests. Currently, a research group at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, led by Dr. Rainer Hoefgen, published in cooperation with Dr. Akiko Maruyama-Nakashita and her group (Kyushu University, Japan) in Science Advances how plants determine under sulfur limiting conditions that sulfur is primarily used for growth processes and not for the production of substances which protect them against diseases and pests.

Sulfur is essential for plants

Sulfur, like nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, and magnesium, is one of the macro-nutrients. Unlike micronutrients, plants need higher amounts of them for development and growth. In case of sulfur deficiency yield losses occur. This is due to the fact that sulfur affects e.g. the synthesis of carbohydrates and is a component of proteins, since the amino acids methionine and cysteine contain sulfur. However, sulfur does not only play a role in primary metabolism, that is, where energetic substances such as sugars, proteins or fats are formed which are important for growth but sulfur is also a constituent of secondary metabolites that are involved in the synthesis of vitamins and flavours. A special group of secondary metabolites is found in cruciferous plants such as rapeseed, cabbage, mustard, and horseradish, providing the characteristic bitter taste and pungency. These compounds are referred to as glucosinolates or mustard oil glycosides. Glucosinolates act in plants as protectants against diseases and pest infestation. They are not of much help against humans , though, as we like to eat cabbage, broccoli and co.

Chlamydomonas reinhardtii - a single-cell green alga: Test of succesful gene integration for a potential AIDS vaccine production.
Chlamydomonas reinhardtii - a single-cell green alga: Test of succesful gene integration for a potential AIDS vaccine production. © Rouhollah Barahimipour

Pest control on the one hand - pharmacological activity on the other

The pungency and health promoting properties of the cruciferous plants, mentioned above, are due to isothiocyanates derivatives, also known as ‘mustard oils’ produced from glucosinolates when the plant tissues are chewed by humans, pests or insects. Conversion of glucosinolates into mustard oils requires special enzymes that are spatially separated from the glucosinolates in the plant cell. When an insect nibbles on the plant the enzyme and the glucosinolates come together and produce mustard oils. These pungent compounds then repel the insects from the plant and protect it from further infestation. Produced by the plant for defence, however, these compounds could also have positive medicinal effects. Fayezeh Aarabi, Ph.D. student in the group led by Dr. Hoefgen and the first author of the paper explains: "Mustard oils have antibacterial effects, anticancer properties and, according to the latest research, they could also have antidiabetic effects and activate enzymes of the detoxification metabolism. In order to be able to use the glucosinolates pharmacologically, it is obviously of great interest to understand how their production is regulated in the plant. This is exactly what we have been working on in collaboration with Japanese scientists and now we published our results."

If a cruciferous plant such as cabbage, rapeseed or the target of investigation in this project, Arabidopsis thaliana, is sufficiently supplied with sulfur, glucosinolates are formed. The production of these metabolites is controlled by so-called transcription factors. Transcription factors are proteins which can bind directly to the DNA. Their task is to ensure that genes are transcribed into RNA and proteins are synthesized, which in turn ensure that the ingredients required by the plant are produced. In the present case the glucosinolates.

Dr. Rainer Hoefgen comments: "With sufficient sulfur supply, the plants can form both the substances necessary for growth and glucosinolates. If the plants receive too little sulfur, the substances essential for growth are formed, while the plant reduces the production of glucosinolates. Growth and reproduction are more important for the plant than accumulation of substances for pest control." The identified Sulfur Deficiency Induced genes, so called SDI1 and SDI2 are responsible for reducing the production of glucosinolates. These genes are highly expressed if sulfur deficiency occurs. As a result, the proteins SDI1 and SDI2 are formed which form a complex with a transcription factor of the glucosinolate pathway, namely MYB28. This complex leads to the fact that the transcription factor can no longer perform its function and consequently fewer enzymes of the glucosinolate biosynthesis pathway are synthesized and thus, also less glucosinolates are produced.

"Our new understanding of the regulation of glucosinolate production is an important step to better control the synthesis of medically effective ingredients in plants, either through improved and optimized sulfur fertilization or the development of new breeding strategies," says Fayezeh Aarabi. URS

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New findings in evolutionary history

Globe-trotting horses and homesick cave bears

Prof. Michael Hofreiter, a biologist from the University of Potsdam, is one of a team of scientists that has been investigating archaeological horse bones and extinct cave bears. The results were published in the journals Current Biology and Molecular Ecology.

Prof. Michael Hofreiter and Dr Arne Ludwig from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in Berlin have uncovered the origin of the "gait keeper" mutation. This alteration in the sequence of a gene allows horses to move with different gaits to the usual walk, trot and gallop, for example the tölt and the pace. The researchers examined 350 archaeological horse bones, and successfully identified the sequence in the relevant position in 90 of them.

Island-Pony im Tölt, einer Gangart, die nur Pferde beherrschen, die die Gaitkeeper-Mutation tragen. Picture: Monika Reissmann
Island-Pony im Tölt, einer Gangart, die nur Pferde beherrschen, die die Gaitkeeper-Mutation tragen. Picture: Monika Reissmann

No horses from mainland Europe exhibited the mutation – it was only present in two 9th-century horses from York in Northern England, and in the majority of Icelandic horses from this era. The most probable explanation for this is that the Vikings did not bring horses from Scandinavia with them on their way to Iceland, but picked them up in England en route. The gait keeper mutation was not present in the Scandinavian horses that were examined.

This finding is particularly interesting, because genetic studies of the Icelandic population have shown that the men who arrived with the first settlers came from Scandinavia, yet the women came from England. So it looks like the Vikings took not just women from England with them on their journey to Iceland, but horses too.

The extinct cave bears in Spain stayed much more faithful to their roots. A study lead by Dr Gloria Gonzales-Fortes and Dr Axel Barlow revealed that cave bears in Northern Spain always returned to the cave they were born in to hibernate. Investigations of the mitochondrial genome showed that animals from the same cave usually exhibited extremely similar, if not identical sequences. No such pattern was found in 15 brown bears from other caves. Brown bears must therefore have been much more flexible when choosing their winter residences. This greater flexibility could be one of the reasons why they, unlike the cave bears, never died out. The results also demonstrate that fossil DNA can help us decipher behaviour patterns between extinct species, as well as their relations with other species. UP

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Lower Saxony State Award

Jörn S. Lämke
Bruce Allen, Alessandra Buonanno, Karsten Danzmann,
Ministerpräsident Stephan Weil (from left to right)
Picture: K. Wendt

Prof. Alessandra Buonanno, Prof. Bruce Allen and Prof. Karsten Danzmann were awarded the €35,000 Lower Saxony State Award. Alessandra Buonanno is the Director of the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam. Her two colleagues Bruce Allen and Karsten Danzmann are directors at the same institute's Hanover site and professors at the University of Hanover. The three scientists were honoured for their fundamental contributions to the discovery of gravitational waves.

Sofja Kovalevskaja Awards

Dr. Safa Shoai (Picture: Martin Stolterfoth), Dr. Michal P. Heller (Picture: G. Secara).
Dr. Safa Shoai (Picture: Martin Stolterfoth), Dr. Michal P. Heller (Picture: G. Secara)

Seven talented international researchers were presented with these prestigious awards, with values of up to €1.65 million, by the Humboldt Foundation in November, and two of them will go on to do research in Potsdam. The Iranian-born physicist Dr Safa Shoai from the University of Queensland, Australia, will conduct research as a guest of Prof. Dieter Neher at the Institute for Physics and Astronomy of the University of Potsdam for five years.

From December 2016, Dr Michal Heller will use the prize money to form a research group at the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics (Albert Einstein Institute, AEI) dedicated to studying the question of whether our three-dimensional world is really a hologram.

ERC Starting Grant for Dr Christoph Rademacher

Professor Hermann Nicolai
Dr. Christoph Rademacher (Picture: Dana Kikic)

Dr Christoph Rademacher, group leader in the Biomolecular Systems department at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, wants to use this prestigious award from the European Research Council – around €1.5 million over the course of five years – to expand his research activities to include fundamental research in the field of glycobiology. Rademacher has led the Structural Glycobiology working group since 2011. The team of international scientists is developing targeted transport systems which could be used in cancer immunotherapy. Specific small molecules which bind to the receptors of immune cells are used to enable defined nanoparticles to be absorbed. The aim is for these nanoparticles to activate the body's own immune cells in such a way that they destroy cancer cells.

Dr Hans Riegel Awards for exceptional secondary school students

Professor Johannes Haag
Winner 2016 (Picture: T. Hölzel)

17 secondary school students from the State of Brandenburg were awarded the Dr Hans Riegel Award 2016 for their exceptional seminar papers in either biology, chemistry, geography, IT, mathematics or physics.

The award winners were selected from 115 applicants by the Faculty of Science of the University of Potsdam in co-operation with the Dr Hans Riegel Foundation. The awards are aimed at encouraging students' interest in the STEM subjects – science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Applications for the next round close on 5 February 2017.

Awards and honours of the Faculty of Science

Dr Sophia Rudorf, group leader at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces, was awarded the €1500 Michelson Award for the best doctoral thesis in theoretical biological physics for the academic year 2015/2016. She shares this award with Dr Giovanni Conforti, who was awarded it for his exceptional performance in the field of stochastics. The Jacob Jacobi Award was presented to the doctoral student Berry Boessenkool from the NatRiskChange research training group. He graduated with a Master's degree in geoecology, achieving the high grade of 1.1 (first). The Leopold von Buch Bachelor Award was presented to Johanna Krüger. She achieved a grade of 1.2 (first) in her Bachelor's degree in life sciences. The faculty awards for exceptional teaching go to Prof. Ralph Gräf, Institute of Biochemistry and Biology, Prof. Manfred Rolfes, Institute of Geography, and Dr Maik Heistermann, Institute of Earth and Environmental Science. Katrin Frisch, who teaches biology and chemistry at the "Am Burgwall" grammar school in Treuenbrietzen, was named Science Teacher of the Year.

Vaxxilon named Science Start-Up of the Year 2016

Research projects were presented by 23 start-up companies at the Falling Walls Venture competition in Berlin, with the theme "Building bridges, transcending borders". Vaxxilon, nominated by Max Planck Innovation, emerged as the winner and was named "Science Start-Up of the Year 2016" for the development of a carbohydrate-based agent. The new agent should make vaccinations against bacterial infections cheaper in the future, thus improving access to vaccines in poorer countries.

New Director of the Teacher Education and Educational Research Centre

The physics educationalist Prof. Andreas Borowski has been appointed the new Director of the Teacher Education and Educational Research Centre (ZeLB) at the University of Potsdam. The ZeLB is a decentralised organisational unit made up of faculties that carry out teacher training. Its aim is to ensure the university's overall teacher training goals are approached from multiple angles and levels. Borowski sees increasing the ZeLB's importance, and ensuring that it has a central position within the university, as the most important tasks of his new role.


Developing improved paints and varnishes more quickly

Collaboration between Fraunhofer IAP and PDW Analytics GmbH

Developing improved paints and varnishes more quickly
Picture: Fraunhofer IAP

Not all wall paints are the same – as anyone knows who has tried to paint over a colourful wall in white using cut-price paint. High-quality, expensive paints provide perfect coverage, but cheap paints can leave the old coat showing through. There are huge differences in how easy the paint is to apply, how it dries and its sheen. The properties of a wall paint depend largely on the size of the particles contained within it – such as fillers, binders, pigments or additives.

When developing new paints, manufacturers want to know exactly what goes on inside the reaction vessels and how particle sizes change during the process. The manufacturers take a sample of the paint, dilute it and examine it – all of which takes time. The dispersion may change while the sample is being prepared and examined. Dilution also affects the sample – for example, small particles could clump together into larger ones.

But this procedure will soon become simpler, faster and more precise, thanks to a collaboration between Fraunhofer researchers and the Potsdam-based company PDW Analytics GmbH. PDW Analytics GmbH is a young and innovative business which was founded as an academic spin-off company from the University of Potsdam.
Production can now be monitored continuously and in real time, without having to take samples, using a new sensor developed by PDW Analytics employees and integrated into the existing process development system by researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Applied Polymer Research IAP. "This is a truly unique process analytical detection method, which allows us to directly record key parameters inline during the manufacture of paints, coatings and glues," explains Dr. Antje Lieske, head of department at the IAP. Lieske also suggests it could also help to prevent production errors. Customers can have their processes examined either at the IAP or on site, as the whole system is transportable. IAP

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Algae in space

Exceptional "travel party" of organisms returns from two-year mission on the ISS

Two organisms from the Fraunhofer Institute for Cell Therapy and Immunology's CCCryo Biobank in Potsdam-Golm have returned from the International Space Station after almost two years. They were part of an exceptional "travel party" of archaea, algae, lichens, mosses and fungi that spent most of their mission on the outside of the ISS. Being part of the BIOMEX (Biology and Mars Expe-riment) project, coordinated by the German Aerospace Center DLR in Berlin under the direction of Dr Jean-Pierre de Vera, the samples were exposed to extreme conditions – very low pressure and vacuum, ultraviolet and cosmic radiation, and strong temperature fluctuations.

Algae in space

Both organisms, partly collected by Dr Thomas Leya from Fraunhofer IZI's Bioanalytics and Bi-oprocesses branch during expeditions to the Antarctic and Spitsbergen, survived the test conditi-ons of the space mission very well: good news for everyone involved!
The strains of the cyanobacterium Nostoc sp. and the green alga Sphaerocystis sp. were exposed to extreme environmental conditions in special trays on the outside of the International Space Sta-tion over the course of 18 months. Scientists must now get to the bottom of the algae's adaptation strategies and turn their results into industrial applications, with a particular focus on the cosmetics and food industries.

The Extremophile Research & Biobank CCCryo unit, managed by Dr Thomas Leya, has long-term experience in the adaptation strategies of cryophilic (cold-loving) algae. "In their natural habitat on earth, these organisms have adapted themselves remarkably well to the extreme environmental conditions of the polar regions (cold, aridity, total darkness in winter or 24 hours of light in sum-mer). We already knew that they were able to withstand dehydration, heat of up to +60°C, cold as low as -25°C and even a certain level of UV radiation following simulation experiments conducted at the DLR in Berlin and Cologne prior to the space mission", said Dr Leya. Based on these initial tests, it was suspected that the organisms could survive even more extreme conditions, for examp-le those found in a low earth orbit, or even in outer space. IZI-BB

Graduate Farewell Party and Campus Festival both on the 14th July



Excellent prospects for Potsdam-Golm Science Park

"Golm will become a leading international location for innovation and investment in the next ten years." Managing Director Friedrich W. Winskowski has spent years tirelessly pooling strengths and interests and promoting the development of the science park through targeted expansion of its infrastructure. Today he confirms these prospects: "Everyone involved in this process is influential and will make sure the plans become reality."
Development of the site is being carried out by a "task force" composed of the site management, Potsdam City Council, the University of Potsdam, all neighbouring non-university institutes, various Brandenburg ministries, the Brandenburg Economic Development Board (ZAB) and Investitionsbank des Landes Brandenburg (ILB). A comparative study which confirmed the science park's competitive position and gave recommendations for future activities gave a fairly significant impetus to the current development. In order to ensure the swift and coordinated implementation of these plans, the Potsdam City Council and University of Potsdam are now aiming to reorganise the site management and promote the establishment of research-based production in the city.
Several qualified employees will work alongside the director within the new management structure to offer a comprehensive range of consultancy and services, and also to support start-ups and technology transfer, but primarily to set the course for future innovations at the science park.

Graduate Farewell Party and Campus Festival both on the 14th July
Friedrich W. Winskowski (Picture: Ellen Fehlow)

In addition, an existing Potsdam-based company will carry out the professional land development and management. An important new building project – the GO:IN 2 with space for offices and laboratories – is planned to be ready for occupancy by the end of 2018. Ten hectares of commercial property and other spaces are being developed, and infrastructure needs to be improved to keep pace. This doesn’t just mean appropriate premises for start-ups and young businesses, as well as suitable student accommodation, but also more frequent travel connections via Wannsee and the planned direct Deutsche Bahn rail link to Berlin via Spandau. Private investors are also showing interest in the site, with plans to build office and laboratory space as well as serviced apartments.

The science campus is growing already – a new building for the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology is currently under construction, and is planned to be opened in November 2018. This new building has a total area of nearly 5200 square meters and will contain space for plant growth chambers, areas to operate large-scale research equipment under controlled climate conditions and more.

Friedrich W. Winskowski is happy that the University of Potsdam and non-university institutes have shown so much commitment to developing the site in recent years, and believes that the forthcoming developments will significantly strengthen the science park's role as a driver of innovation in both the Berlin region and in Brandenburg. EF


Know-how brings together businesses and science 

Fifth High-Tech Transfer Day at the Potsdam-Golm Science Park

How can algae help us produce AIDS vaccines? Is ageing influenced by our diet? Are there ways to detect tumour cells directly and quickly during an operation? These are just some of the topics, results and products that were presented at the newly opened Fraunhofer Conference Centre by research groups, start-up projects and businesses at the beginning of October during the fifth High-Tech Transfer Day.

Fifth High-Tech Transfer Day at the Potsdam-Golm Science Park
M. Scherf, F. J. Schweigert, M. Voth, K.Bindseil (from left). Picture ZAB/David Marschalsky

The event was part of the Berlin-Brandenburg Health Week, and gave a platform to outstanding healthcare innovations from the Brandenburg region.

More than 130 participants followed an exciting discussion about how science and research in medical technology and diagnostics can be more closely linked to practice in clinics and elsewhere. Speed networking and matchmaking sessions helped visitors make new contacts quickly and easily, while a varied exhibition gave them the opportunity to learn about economics, research, development and funding opportunities in the healthcare industry.

Brandenburg's largest science park showed its pioneering vision, with exciting research results, application-oriented products and both entrepreneurs and scientists who are working on innovative high-tech developments to support Brandenburg-Berlin as a healthcare hotspot. AL


On track for the future!

The research expertise and specialist skills of institutes both within and outside the university offer great opportunities to get a head start for the future. Many ingenious visions owe their existence to the diverse projects at the University of Potsdam. The start-up TeneTRIO is one example. TeneTRIO is passionate about the future of nutrition. The start-up's successful founders have worked on the topic of international nutrition for a long time. While preparing a summer school, Dr Ina M. Henkel, Katrin Kühn and Sabrina Jaap came up with the idea of starting their own project based around "future food". TeneTRIO is developing dog treats made from edible insects. The treats contain mealworms, which are highly nutritious, but only require minimal resources to breed compared with conventional meat sources.

Founder of TeneTRIO (from left to right): Sabrina Jaap, Dr. Ina M. Henkel and Katrin Kühn.
Founder of TeneTRIO (from left to right): Sabrina Jaap, Dr. Ina M. Henkel and Katrin Kühn.
Picture: Leo Seidel Fotodesign

TeneTRIO is supported by Potsdam Transfer, the University of Potsdam's start-up and transfer centre. The centre regularly organises various workshops for prospective start-ups and transfer projects. "We believe that the team involved is the critical factor for success," says Ina Henkel from TeneTRIO. Potsdam Transfer came up with "start-up speed matching" to address such needs. Start-up speed matching brings start-up ideas together with people who want to start their own businesses and who have individual expertise.

"If you have the time, you should never rush anything. You need to think your idea through thoroughly and focus it. The help that the start-up service gave us here was invaluable," continues Ina Henkel. The driving forces behind start-up companies can be highly varied, as the example of TeneTRIO shows. Potsdam Transfer therefore offers comprehensive advice, coaching and funding services to help entrepreneurs make their business idea a success. Appointments can be booked any time at

In brief

Government funding for the construction of a competence centre for energy and resource-efficient lightweight construction at the Fraunhofer IAP was granted by Brandenburg's Minister for Economic Affairs Albrecht Gerber on November 21, 2016. Institute Director Prof. Alexander Böker received the funding approval during the Cluster Conference of the Plastics and Chemistry Cluster at the Fraunhofer Conference Centre in Potsdam-Golm.

Researchers from the University of Potsdam investigated the aftermath of the flash flooding that hit Braunsbach this June. The final report concludes that this natural event cannot be attributed to a single cause. Several teams at the University of Potsdam conduct research on natural hazards. One of them is the NatRiskChange graduate school, founded in 2015. Info:

The physical processes that lead to solar flares were investigated by researchers from the University of Potsdam. These flares can have an effect on the Earth's upper atmosphere, potentially causing problems for satellite communication and navigation, and even for astronauts working in space. An international team, including the astrophysicist Dr Bernhard Kliem from the University of Potsdam, published their findings in the Nature Communications journal.

The innovation platform B!INNOVATION Hub was launched on 23 November.
B!INNOVATION Hub is a platform organised by the Berlin B!GRÜNDET network and the University of Potsdam, which puts science and technology start-ups in contact with industry. The Potsdam start-up Synfioo was one of six teams that were given the chance to introduce their idea to those attending the event. Info:

Identification of skin cancer cells could soon get quicker thanks to an imaging Raman spectrograph originally developed for use in astronomy. The device was presented by scientists from the University of Potsdam and the Leibniz Institute for Astrophysics Potsdam at this year's micro photonics expo in Berlin in October 2016. Chemists and physicists from the university also presented laser-based measurement techniques that can be used to investigate biophysical, biochemical and physiological issues. The micro photonics International Congress Expo is a unique platform for the development, production and application of miniaturised optical components. Info:


The fifth University Ball will take place on 11 February 2017 in Griebnitzsee with the motto "Vamos a bailar – Let's dance". Info:

The next and fifth Potsdam Day of Science will take place on 13 May 2017 in the Golm Science Park. Info:

The 20th Brandenburg Archive Day will take place at the Brandenburg Main State Archive in Golm on 8 and 9 May 2017. Info:

The three Max Planck Institutes in Golm will also take part in next year's Girls'Day on 27 April 2017. Info & registration:

The Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology will resume its "Komm ins Beet" guided field tours in May 2017. Info: