Successful collaborative projects confirm research strength of the Rhine-Main Universities strategic alliance
9 June 2022
The German Research Foundation (DFG) has granted a third funding period of four years to the Mainz-based Collaborative Research Center/Transregio 146 on soft matter simulation. Scientists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) are also involved in three other collaborative research centers (CRCs) in materials sciences, biophysics, and medicine. In three of the approved CRCs with a total funding volume of around EUR 35 million, two partners each of the strategic Rhine-Main Universities (RMU) alliance, namely the universities in Mainz, Darmstadt, and Frankfurt, collaborate. "The successful collaborative projects once again confirm the research strength of the Rhine-Main Universities as the engine of the Rhine-Main science region, a leading innovation area in Germany," emphasized JGU President Professor Georg Krausch. "Our appreciation goes to the participating researchers who have made this remarkable success possible with their outstanding research achievements."
The successful collaborations are part of the core research areas of JGU. The Collaborative Research Center/Transregio 146: Multiscale Simulation Methods for Soft Matter Systems, coordinated by Mainz University, has been granted a third DFG funding period for a further four years. In addition, Mainz scientists are involved in the CRC 1507: Protein Assemblies and Machineries in Cell Membranes coordinated by Goethe University Frankfurt, the CRC/Transregio 234: Light-Driven Molecular Catalysts in Hierarchically Structured Materials – Synthesis and Mechanistic Studies (CataLight) coordinated by Friedrich Schiller University Jena, and the CRC 1531: Damage Control through the Stroma-Vascular Compartment coordinated by Goethe University Frankfurt.
CRC/Transregio 146: Multiscale Simulation Methods for Soft Matter Systems
The German Research Foundation has agreed to a third funding period for another four years for the Collaborative Research Center/Transregio 146 on Multiscale Simulation Methods for Soft Matter Systems. Researchers from the fields of physics, chemistry, mathematics, and computer science have been working together in this CRC for eight years – under the aegis of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) and in collaboration with TU Darmstadt and the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research. In what is now the last funding period until 2026, they will continue developing a fundamental method for computer-aided simulation of soft matter as well as investigating new aspects. The DFG is providing another EUR 11 million for the work. Since its establishment in 2014, the CRC/TRR 146 has garnered considerable international recognition thanks to the way it combines fundamental research and outstanding algorithm development.
There are three main goals set for the third and final funding period. Firstly, the researchers intend to further improve their fundamental techniques, which are now focused in particular on non-equilibrium and inhomogeneous systems. Secondly, they aim to consolidate results to date by testing the new algorithms in a broader class of model systems. And thirdly, they will apply the new methods to a series of challenging real-world problems they have identified. The long-term goal is to establish routine use of the multiscale techniques so that real-world applications for soft materials can be simulated. "We want to be able to make predictions on how the properties of materials will perform and suggestions on how to actually improve these. In the case of biological substances, we are interested in deciphering and precisely understanding the processes involved," said Professor Friederike Schmid, spokesperson of the CRC/TRR 146 from the JGU Institute of Physics.
In this CRC, two partners from the strategic Rhine-Main Universities alliance – i.e., Mainz University and TU Darmstadt – are cooperating.
Participation in CRC 1507: Protein Assemblies and Machineries in Cell Membranes
Cell membranes are multi-talented and of vital importance to all living beings. Their protein complexes and molecular machinery play significant roles at various sites in cells. They transport nutrients and metabolites, control the communication within and between cells, intercede when invading pathogens are identified and much more. In the coming years and under the aegis of Goethe University Frankfurt, the members of the new Collaborative Research Center "Protein Assemblies and Machineries in Cell Membranes" will be striving to obtain greater insight into the functioning of the major protein building blocks present in or on these membranes. Participating in the CRC 1507 are the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, and Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU). The German Research Foundation (DFG) will be providing some EUR 12 million over the next four years to finance the work of the consortium. With the universities in Frankfurt und Mainz, two partners of the strategic Rhine-Main Universities alliance are once again joining forces in this CRC.
Biophysical chemist Professor Edward Lemke of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz will team up in the CRC with Dr. Martin Beck of the Max Planck Institute of Biophysics to develop a site-specific correlative Light and Electron Microscopy (EM) method with the aid of which the fluorescent probe can be put at ultrahigh resolution into the context of the cellular machinery. "These nuclear pore complexes are among the largest molecular machineries inside cells and they are vital to all traffic across the nuclear envelope, such as those required to protect our genome from external factors," said Lemke. "We strive to understand how exactly cells built these nuclear pore complexes." The Lemke lab at JGU will contribute its expertise in labeling molecular machines inside cells with fluorescent markers. This makes it possible to visualize molecular processes with very high temporal and spatial resolution in the cell so that these can be analyzed very precisely. "However, we do see only the probe under a fluorescence microscope while the actual cellular context remains invisible. For that, however, EM is perfectly suited and thus well complimentary", added Lemke.
Edward Lemke is Professor of Synthetic Biophysics at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and Adjunct Director of the Institute of Molecular Biology (IMB). Two years ago, he was awarded an ERC Advanced Grant to support his research.
Participation in CRC/Transregio 234: Light-Driven Molecular Catalysts in Hierarchically Structured Materials – Synthesis and Mechanistic Studies (CataLight)
Natural photosynthesis allows plants to convert sunlight into storable energy to drive biochemical processes. Building on this prototype, the CRC/Transregio 234 "CataLight" aims to develop artificial photosynthetic architectures which are capable of using light-driven processes to produce chemical fuels, such as hydrogen. To reach this goal, researchers involved in CataLight use functional molecular structures such as light harvesters and catalysts embedded in soft matter such as polymers and biopolymers. Fundamental understanding of the reactivity and stability of these systems ultimately enables the knowledge-based development of advanced energy conversion systems, from molecular design through to integration of catalytically active materials in photoreactors. A wide range of experimental and theoretical methods form the basis for in-depth reactivity understanding .
At the beginning of the second funding period, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz has become the new location for CataLight with the appointment of Professor Carsten Streb to the JGU Department of Chemistry. Streb will lead three subprojects in Mainz. Project partners include Friedrich Schiller University Jena (speaker university), IPHT Jena, Ulm University, the University of Vienna, and the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz. The DFG is providing around EUR 10 million for the work.
Carsten Streb has been Professor of Inorganic Chemistry at JGU since April 2022 and is a fellow at the Gutenberg Research College (GRC) of JGU. He was awarded an ERC Consolidator Grant in 2021.
Participation in CRC 1531: Damage Control through the Stroma-Vascular Compartment
The German Research Foundation has also approved the new Collaborative Research Center 1531: Damage Control through the Stroma-Vascular Compartment. In the CRC 1531, researchers will investigate how cells in the connective tissue of the heart, brain, and blood vessels respond to damage, how damaged organ tissue heals and restores functionality, and which cells are involved and how they interact. The goal is to control cell damage responses and thus improve tissue healing and resilience to damage.
The University Medical Center of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz is contributing to the CRC 1531. Within the A09 subproject "Vascular phenotype and fibrosis control by phosphatases", the researchers from Mainz are supporting the CRC with their expertise in vascular biology. A team led by Professor Katrin Schäfer, head of Translational Vascular Biology at the Department of Cardiology, Cardiology I at the Mainz University Medical Center, is investigating the response of blood vessels to damage and in particular the role of phosphatases in controlling damage responses. Phosphatases are a group of enzymes that also have a decisive influence on cells in connective tissues, the so-called stroma-vascular compartment. These enzymes represent a promising research approach because they affect the scarring process of blood vessels, also known as vascular fibrosis. The Institute of Cardiovascular Physiology (Physiology I) at the University Medical Center of Goethe University Frankfurt holds the speakership of the new CRC 1531. Further cooperation partners include Heidelberg University and the Max Planck Institute for Heart and Lung Research in Bad Nauheim. The CRC 1531 will receive around EUR 12 million for the four years of the first funding period.
With the universities in Frankfurt and Mainz, two RMU partners are joining forces in this CRC.
The Rhine-Main Universities alliance
As outstanding research universities in the Rhine-Main area, Goethe University Frankfurt, Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, and the Technical University of Darmstadt have joined together to form the Rhine-Main Universities alliance. The universities have worked in close cooperation with each other for many years, leading to an agreement to form a strategic alliance in 2015 to increase the partners' collective academic capacity. By joining together, the universities are able to complement each other's strengths in research and promote strong research partnerships, expand the course and degree offerings for their students, and strengthen the exchange of knowledge in the region as well as networking with society in general. For more information please visit: https://www.rhein-main-universitaeten.de/en
The Mainz University Medical Center
The University Medical Center of Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz is the only medical facility in Rhineland-Palatinate providing the medical spectrum of a center of supramaximal care. Furthermore, it is an internationally recognized hub of medical science. The University Medical Center comprises more than 60 clinics, institutes, and divisions that cooperate across disciplines and provide in- and out-patient care to more than 300,000 people annually. Highly specialized patient care, research, and teaching make up an integral entity of University Medical Center Mainz. Around 3,300 students of medicine and dentistry are trained here along with more than 600 specialists in a wide range of healthcare, commercial, and technical professions. With around 8,600 employees, the Mainz University Medical Center is also one of the largest employers in the region and an important driver of growth and innovation.