Research Program

Research Program

The overarching research area of the Department is biological materials science, which connects materials science and biology in a reciprocal way: First, biomedical questions are addressed by methods and approaches borrowed from physics, chemistry or materials science. One such example is the extracellular tissue in the case of skeletal diseases and during regeneration. Second, we tap into the diversity of natural organisms to study naturally evolved solutions of engineering problems encountered by these organisms. Examples are materials combining stiffness and fracture resistance or providing capabilities for sensing, self-healing or shape-change. Many types of natural materials, often based on common classes of natural polymers, such as cellulose, chitin or protein are addressed in these ways.

This research is carried out by research groups led by scientists with diverse backgrounds, including mathematics, physics, chemistry, materials science, physical chemistry, biochemistry, wood science, botany, and zoology.

Luca Bertinetti’s group is focusing on the processes underlying biological materials production and tissues depositions. In particular, they investigate the physico-chemical principles as well as the cellular ultrastructural features that allow the production of mineralized and unmineralized tissues and that enable their typical functions.

Cécile Bidan and her group are working on clarifying the principles that guide the architecture of biological tissues. At the moment, they focus their biophysical studies on biofilms, which are tissue-like complex 3D structures made of biopolymers produced by bacteria.

Amaia Cipitria and her Emmy Noether group (DFG funded) are working on shedding light on how biophysical mechanisms regulate cell-matrix interaction in cancer dormancy and bone metastasis.  Their focus is on synthesizing biomimetic cell microenvironments on the one hand and on developing characterization and imaging methods to study the early metastatic and dormant niche in-vivo.

Mason Dean’s group studies principles of organization in musculoskeletal systems —particularly in fishes— to address form-function questions relevant to biomaterials and translational science, but also organismal biology and evolution.

Michaela Eder works with her group primarily on cellulose-based biological materials, such as wood and certain seed capsules that open with changing air humidity or temperature. These capsules are particularly interesting because they represent models for shape-changing polymeric materials.

Wolfgang Wagermaier’s group thrives to understand the role of structure in biological and biomimetic materials with respect to biological functions and mechanical properties at different length scales. By applying combinations of materials science methods they investigate healthy and diseased bone as well as structure-function relations in other (bio)mineralized and polymer-based synthetic materials.

Richard Weinkamer’s Mechanobiology group is investigating dynamical changes in the structure of bone due to the processes of remodeling, mineralization and healing. In particular, the structure and the multifunctionality of the osteocyte lacunar-canalicular network are analyzed, which play a key role in the regulation of processes in bone. Crucial for their research strategy is a combination of experimental methods with image analysis and computer modeling.

In addition, we are part of the excellence cluster Matters of Activity. Image Space Material at Humboldt University Berlin. The cluster explores the re-invention of the analog in the digital age. Its core is a new active materiality which is beginning to transform research and everyday life. Today’s digital technology is engendering completely new modes of agency based on material carriers, spatial structures, and images that are primarily conceived as passive instruments. While research, industry, and our whole society are moving toward a new expansion and implementation of the digital into all spheres of life, we propose to explore the opposing direction by addressing a new culture of the material. For us, both tendencies—digitalization and the re-invention of the material as active matter—are deeply connected.

Our department is part of the Berlin-Brandenburg School for Regenerative Therapies, which offers interdisciplinary training and research opportunities in the field of Regenerative Medicine for outstanding doctoral and postdoctoral researchers with a background in the biological, engineering or clinical disciplines. The graduate school brings together Berlin and Potsdam’s Universities and other renowned research institutions in and around Berlin and their international top-level scientists who are dedicated to the training of tomorrow’s interdisciplinary scientists.

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