Second funding period for Lukas Zeininger's Emmy Noether project

DFG Funding for another three years

January 26, 2023

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is supporting the research on novel artificially intelligent emulsion systems in Dr. Lukas Zeininger's Emmy Noether Junior Research Group in the Department of Colloid Chemistry at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces (MPICI) for another three years with additional funding of about one million euros.

Dr. Lukas Zeininger's independent junior research group has received a second funding phase from the German Research Foundation (DFG) for its research into the generation and properties of dynamic liquid colloids, a new form of artificial active emulsion.
Oil-in-water or water-in-oil emulsions are central components of a wide range of food and everyday products such as cosmetics and medical articles, paints and detergents. Building on the study of classical single-component droplets, the research group of Dr. Lukas Zeininger focuses increasingly on the preparation and study of emulsions consisting of multiphase droplets, complex emulsions. These systems can be controlled externally in a unique way, which enables applications ranging from biosensors to the construction of autonomously acting, moving microreactors. This is considered a first step towards soft micro robots with "decentralized intelligence".

The first funding phase focused on basic research into novel synthesis strategies and the investigation of the underlying physicochemical properties. "Highlights were certainly the production of biocompatible responsive emulsions on an aqueous basis, the development of a highly sensitive and effective sensor platform for the detection of foodborne pathogens, and the first demonstration of reversible chemotactic locomotion of emulsion droplets in response to specific pathogens," says Lukas Zeininger.

In the continuation of the project, a focus is now laid on the autonomous reactivity of the complex emulsion systems. "Here we are learning from phenomena in nature. For example, without any external control, pine cones 'know' when to release their seeds by responding to optimal temperature and humidity," says Zeininger. He adds, "Another vivid example is the body's immune response, where a few molecular interactions on the surfaces of specific cells suffice to fight a disease without any impulse from nerves or the brain."

In the Emmy Noether Young Investigators Group, the underlying concepts will be applied to artificial particles that are easy to produce synthetically, in order to create micro- and nanorobots that act autonomously in response to chemical stimuli. In this way, complex emergent behaviors of artificial systems will be realized. These include their self-regulated ability to communicate, move, evolve and self-organize in predetermined patterns or networks. "The ultimate goal is to make our micro- and nanorobots compete with the regulatory and motiecapabilities of Nature's systems" says Lukas Zeininger.


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