Research

Our research is focused on the physical chemistry of soft matter at interfaces. With the help of x-ray and neutron scattering and complementary methods we investigate soft interfaces of biological and wet- or biotechnological relevance in order to determine their structure on molecular and supramolecular (mesoscopic) length scales. Such structural insight is prerequisite to understand important interface properties and can serve as a basis for the rational design of interfaces with defined functionalities. In the biological domain our work is mostly concerned with biomembranes, their mutual interactions, and their response to adsorption processes and other stimuli.

In our Emmy-Noether research group, supported by the German Research Foundation (DFG), we study the physical mechanisms that govern the interaction of biological interfaces with their aqueous environment and also their mutual interaction in the aqueous milieu, with a specific focus on interactions involving biological membranes. One of our main goals is to understand the relation between membrane interactions and the molecular composition of membrane surfaces. In this context we are also interested in Nature’s strategies to control the interactions by adjusting membrane composition.

A crowded cell with interacting functional units. Electron micrograph by R. Allen.
Sketch of two interacting biological membranes.

To investigate interactions at biological interfaces we carry out experiments with model systems of well-defined biomolecular composition. Our primary tools are various x-ray and neutron scattering techniques, however we also employ complementary methods, such as ellipsometry, calorimetry, and spectroscopy techniques. Computer simulations provide a means to interpret the experimental results on a mechanistic level.

Neutron diffraction reciprocal space map from interacting model membrane multilayers.
X-ray fluorescence spectrum from interacting glycolipid membrane surfaces exhibiting characteristic elemental lines.
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