Living materials webinar partners Penn State, University of Freiburg researchers


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — More than 100 registered participants met July 22-23 for a virtual webinar organized by the Convergence Center for Living Multifunctional Material Systems (LiMC2). The webinar brought together researchers from Penn State and the University of Freiburg, and focused on three emerging topics in living materials, namely materials for sensing and diagnostics, smart buildings and adaptive architecture, and advanced manufacturing.

The goal of the webinar was to identify materials-related challenges, sharpen the focus of the joint activities in these topic areas and provide the center with a roadmap for global research partnerships in the coming years. LiMC2 collaborated with the Penn State Center for Biodevices (CfB) in organizing the technical session and panel discussion on materials for sensing and diagnostics, where CfB researchers presented their work on healthcare-related diagnostics.

The webinar started with welcome remarks from the vice rector of the University of Freiburg, Professor Gunther Neuhaus, and Penn State’s senior vice president for research, Lora Weiss. Neuhaus made it clear that the research of the Convergence Center is more important than ever.

“Cooperative, transparent and science-based responses to the global challenges of our times are needed, not only in the field of medicine and health care but also with regard to sustainability,” said Neuhaus, adding that “the Convergence Center is a highly important cooperation project which has the full support of the University of Freiburg.”

Weiss stressed the great potential of joint research on the topics discussed in the webinar, pointing out that “we want to boldly cross disciplinary and institutional boundaries and integrate biology, chemistry, sustainability research, process engineering, architecture, physics and social science to discover novel materials for a more sustainable future.”

In 12 lectures, scientists from both locations presented their research on biosensors that can detect viruses and bacteria, on responsive and adaptive materials for smart buildings, and what can be learned from plant models concerning structural adaptivity. A further topic discussed how to produce attractive functional structures by modern methods of additive manufacturing, for example by using light-induced processes.

Following each technical session, lively panel discussions offered the opportunity to identify points of contact and exchange information about gaps in research. The participants saw a central challenge in the fact that researchers from many areas in the sciences and engineering would have to work even more closely together in the future to enable new functionalities of materials. The panels put forward visions of how such cooperative efforts will bring about new medical devices and more sustainable construction of buildings and infrastructure.

To address these and other challenges, the Convergence Center will publish the first call for proposals for seed grants for joint projects between researchers from the University of Freiburg and Penn State University in September 2020. This was announced by Zoubeida Ounaies, Penn State Director of LiMC2, and Jürgen Rühe, her Freiburg counterpart and spokesperson of the Cluster of Excellence Living, Adaptive and Energy-Autonomous Materials Systems (livMatS) at the end of the webinar.

Also starting in September, undergraduates will have the opportunity to work in an internship program on binational projects — specially designed to operate under the current conditions which put severe restrictions on international travel. In the coming months, researchers from both locations will furthermore be working on position papers on the central topics of the center.


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Megan Lakatos


  • Zoubeida Ounaies
    Director of LiMC2
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering