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Promoting young talent in Chemistry: new research training group launched at MLU

Nummer 076/2021 vom 20. Mai 2021
The Research Training Group (RTG) 2670 "Beyond Amphiphilicity: Self-organisation of soft matter via multiple noncovalent interactions" has begun its work at Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU). Amphiphilicity, a fundamental ordering principle for molecules, will be the starting point of the future research projects. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation, DFG) will provide a first round of funding for the project of around 4.5 million euros until 2025.

Oil and water do not mix; no matter how much they are stirred together they always separate. "But by adding a few drops of soap to the mixture, the two liquids are suddenly able to mix," explains Professor Dariush Hinderberger from the Institute of Chemistry at MLU and spokesperson for the new RTG. Soap is an amphiphilic substance, in other words, it is soluble in both fat and water.    

"Amphiphilicity is nature’s way of self-assembling molecules," Hinderberger explains further. Different proportions of fat-soluble and water-soluble building blocks give a molecule its specific shape and the ability to build larger aggregates with other molecules. "But nature goes one step further and adds, for example a charge to the molecule, or integrates atoms of other elements than just carbon or hydrogen," says Hinderberger. This results in new interactions between individual molecules. Complex systems and structures, such as those found in proteins, enzymes and polymers, can be constructed through these interactions. The different projects conducted as part of the new RTG will examine this principle from different perspectives: They can either be experimental and theoretical projects in chemistry, biochemistry, physics and even mathematics. 

Regardless of their research field, the doctoral students will take part in a sophisticated educational programme which includes courses on basic knowledge and methodology. Specially tailored coaching is also offered alongside residencies at various renowned research institutions worldwide, such as ETH Zurich and Sorbonne University in Paris. "We believe it is important to introduce young scientists to research early on," says Hinderberger. Therefore, a talent pool is another component of the programme. Promising bachelor’s and master’s students can also attend the courses with the perspective that they will be inspired early on to do a doctorate.  

The doctoral students also have the opportunity to apply for so-called incubator projects within the RTG. These are small research projects that extend beyond the actual doctorate and for which the students themselves are responsible. "Our doctoral students should not only learn in theory what it means to lead a project, but also get the chance to gain some practical experience within a specified framework," explains Hinderberger. Up to six months of bridge financing is provided to outstanding candidates for the period after their doctorate, during which time they can, for instance, apply for their own third-party funding from the DFG, the European Union or the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation. 

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