Penn State, University of Freiburg to deepen ties at Virtual Materials Day

The meeting, focused on the convergence of materials and life, will take place Nov. 10-11


UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State and the University of Freiburg will showcase their close collaboration in the field of living materials during the upcoming Materials Day on Nov. 10-11. Materials Day is an annual event organized by the Materials Research Institute to highlight materials-related interdisciplinary science and engineering research at Penn State.

This year’s Materials Day is a virtual two-day conference focused on the theme of “Convergence of Materials and Life.” Professor Jürgen Rühe, spokesperson for the Cluster of Excellence for Living, Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems (livMatS) at the University of Freiburg, will open the conference as keynote speaker on Nov. 10, and Professor Zoubeida Ounaies, director of the Convergence Center for Living Multifunctional Material Systems (LiMC²) at Penn State, will address the attendees on Nov. 11.

Both Rühe and Ounaies will discuss the new partnership between both centers, including ongoing research in biomaterials and bioinspired approaches, as well as future research opportunities. To launch the future research partnerships, livMatS and LiMC² will release a call for seed grant proposals in late October 2020, and an undergraduate student internship program on binational projects in January 2021 — especially designed to operate under the current conditions created by COVID-19 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.

Since the signing of a memorandum of understanding by the two university presidents in July 2019, livMatS and LiMC² have steadily forged ahead in collaborating, setting the example for international collaborative efforts and partnerships neither side could reach by themselves.

Faculty members from Penn State and University of Freiburg met and shared their work in two joint webinar sessions in late May and July, each spanning two days. The goal of the first webinar was to introduce researchers from both universities to each other in the hopes of sparking new collaborations, while the second webinar identified opportunities and challenges to sharpen the focus for joint activities in sensing materials, adaptive architecture, and additive manufacturing.

“The first step to this partnership is figuring out where the strengths are and where there is a natural convergence of topics,” Zoubeida Ounaies said of the first webinar. “That is not something that can be forced from the top down. It has to happen naturally.”

Ounaies has been closely collaborating with Rühe since February 2020. The two were fortunate to meet in person before the pandemic impacted travel, and since then have virtually conducted all interactions between teams of researchers.

“Our role is to facilitate faculty connection. We are the catalysts that bring together scientists across the Atlantic to perform exciting research for a better society,” Rühe stated.

The collaboration in this large-scale strategic initiative comes after more than two decades of a close partnership between Penn State and the Albert-Ludwigs University in Freiburg. What began with multidisciplinary undergraduate student and faculty exchanges has grown to include staff exchanges, and, particularly, educational and research collaborations. From 2016 on, a new Collaboration Development Program has been providing seed monies for long-term programs integrating faculty and junior researchers from both universities, managed by dedicated staff in Penn State’s Global Programs Office and the International Office in Freiburg.

In 2019, with the renewal of the MOU, the partnership reached a new level by signing the agreement to pursue a large-scale initiative of strategic importance to both universities. The initiative in living materials represents the largest partnership investment to date, led by the Materials Research Institute, the Institutes of Energy and the Environment, and LiMC² at Penn State and the livMatS Cluster in Freiburg.

For more information about the Penn State-Freiburg Living Materials initiative, contact Zoubeida Ounaies at .


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Megan Lakatos