IRIS-Nachwuchsforscher Michael Kathan receives prestigious award for photochemistry

For his outstanding dissertation "Photoswitching Reactivity: From remote-controlled to light-driven chemical systems", Dr. Michael P. Kathan was awarded the Albert Weller Prize on September 14, 2020. This is the second award after the Friedrich Hirzebruch PhD award 2020.

Michael Kathan, born in 1988, studied chemistry at the Free University of Berlin and ETH Zurich, where he dealt with fluorine chemistry and strained aromatics. After completing his master's degree at the Free University of Berlin, he began his doctoral thesis in 2015 in the working group of IRIS member Prof. Stefan Hecht at the Humboldt University in Berlin, funded by the German National Academic Foundation.

Michael Kathan's research focus was on the control of chemical reactivity and adaptive materials with light:
In an innovative way, he used light as a tool to control the course of chemical reactions and to control material properties. The focal point of Michael Kathan's dissertation is the development of the concept of "photo reversal", in which the chemical behavior of molecules can be fundamentally changed by the dosed irradiation with light of different colors. In their justification, the jury emphasized that Kathan had impressively managed to span the spectrum from the physicochemical basics to the manufacture of intelligent materials and new, sustainable concepts that address socially relevant issues. His research opens up access to cost-effective sensor materials that indicate, for example, the freshness of highly perishable foods. The light-controlled assembly and dismantling of plastic materials also promises progress in the area of ​​sustainable recycling of mixtures of different plastic products.

The GDCh and the German Bunsen Society awarded the Albert Weller Prize on September 14, 2020 at the digital 27th Lecture Conference on Photochemistry. This year, the award is shared by two young researchers: in addition to Michael Kathan, it was awarded to Yusen Luo, who did her doctorate at Leibniz-IPHT and the University of Jena and is now a post-doc at the Institute for Chemistry and Pharmacy at the University of Erlangen.

Kathan's research has already resulted in several publications in relevant specialist media. Since completing his dissertation in January 2019, Michael Kathan has been working on molecular motors as a postdoc with Prof. Ben Feringa at the University of Groningen, Netherlands.

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First quantum measurement of temperature in a living organism


The exact measurement of temperature with highest spatial resolution in living organisms is of great importance in order to be able to investigate metabolic processes precisely. However, such a measurement was previously impossible due to the lack of precise and reliable nano thermometers or nano temperature probes. An international research team led by Prof. Oliver Benson, member of IRIS Adlershof, and Prof. Masazumi Fujiwara from Osaka City Universitity has now developed a quantum sensor that is only a few nanometers in size and has been able to measure temperature changes in a nematode after administration of a pharmacological substance. The results pave the way for diverse applications of the novel quantum sensors in biomedical research, e.g. for taking high-resolution thermal images.

Scheme of the experiment: With the help of laser light (green), the characteristic microwave resonance line (in orange: microwave antenna) of nanodiamonds in a nematode (typical length 1 mm) can be recorded under a microscope. Since this depends on the temperature, a temperature change can be measured very precisely and locally. (©Masazumi Fujiwara, Osaka City University, e-mail to Oliver Benson)

Further Information:
In their experiment, the scientists used small diamonds with a diameter of a few 10 nanometers (1 nanometer = 1 millionth of a millimeter). These nanodiamonds contain luminous (fluorescent) quantum defects that can be observed under an optical microscope. With the help of radiated microwaves one can change the brightness of the luminous quantum defects. At a very specific microwave frequency, the defects appear a little darker. This so-called resonance frequency depends on the temperature. The researchers were now able to determine the shift in the resonance frequency very precisely and thus precisely determine the temperature change at the location of the nanodiamonds.
The nanodiamonds were inserted into a nematode (C. elegans). C. elegans is a very well understood model system and is examined in a large number of biophysical and biochemical experiments. By administering a certain pharmacological substance, the mitochondria, the “power stations” of the cells, could be stimulated to increased activity in individual cells of the worm. This then showed up as a slight local temperature increase of a few degrees.
The researchers were fascinated by the results of the experiment. "I never would have thought that the new methods of quantum technology would work so well even in living organisms," said Masazumi Fujiwara, professor at Osaka City University. "With these promising results, we are very confident that quantum sensing will establish in biochemistry and biomedicine. "adds Prof. Oliver Benson from Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. The research teams are now working on further improving and automating their measuring method so that it can be easily integrated into standard microscopy setups.

Osaka City University Strategic Research Grant. Murata Science Foundation.
JSPS-KAKENHI (20H00335, 16K13646, 17H02741, 19K14636, 17H02738).
MEXT-LEADER program. Sumitomo Research Foundation.
Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (FOR 1493).

Oliver Benson
Institut für Physik und IRIS Adlershof der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Newtonstraße 15
12489 Berlin
030 2093 4711

First quantum measurement of temperature in a living organism

M. Fujiwara, S. Sun, A. Dohms, Y. Nishimura, K. Suto, Y. Takezawa, K. Oshimi, L. Zhao, N. Sadzak, Y. Umehara, Y. Teki, N. Komatsu, O. Benson, Y. Shikano, and E. Kage-Nakadai,
Science Advances (2020). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba9636


The Research Training Group 2575 “Rethinking Quantum Field Theory” starts its work.

The Research Training Group 2575 “Rethinking Quantum Field Theory”, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG), has started its work. Due to the pandemic, the hiring of the first two cohorts was delayed until autumn 2020. In October, however, the Research Training Group (RTG) will start with 15 doctoral students from 10 countries and two postdocs. The RTG will deal with pressing theoretical questions and key innovations in quantum field theory that go beyond established methods. “Quantum field theory is a highly developed formalism of theoretical physics for the description of interacting many-body systems. Nevertheless, fundamental questions are still open, especially in relation to gravity, and in recent years fascinating, almost revolutionary innovations have emerged here, which are being further researched within the our new graduate school, ”says the spokesman Prof. Dr. Jan Plefka, head of the Quantum Fields and String Theory group at the Institute of Physics. However, the pandemic continues to make work difficult. “Fortunately, we theorists are almost fully operational in the home office with a laptop, paper and pencil, Mathematica and Zoom. What is missing, however, is the spontaneous exchange between us, for example in the common room over coffee or at lunch, where new ideas often arise. Every meeting is now planned. ”All courses, colloquia and seminars of the RTG will also have to be held virtually in the winter semester 2020/21. It is also currently unclear whether the first retreat in November can be held as planned. “The organization is in full swing. The first conference in particular is very important to us, in order to give everyone involved the opportunity to get to know each other in an informal setting, "explains PD Dr. Oliver Bär, the coordinator of the GRK.

The graduate college is supported by 13 principal investigators and includes all working groups in theoretical particle physics at the Institute of Physics. Further cooperation partners are the Max Planck Institute for Gravitational Physics and the Helmholtz Center DESY. “The scientific breadth is what makes the GRK so attractive. It offers young academics many opportunities to think outside the box of their own project, "explains deputy spokesman Prof. Dr. Agostino Patella." It is the stated aim of the RTG to train doctoral candidates comprehensively and broadly, and thus to provide an ideal basis for a career in science. "

Quantum field theory as the unification of quantum mechanics and special relativity represents one of the main intellectual achievements of the last century. These theoretical advances, closely connected with experimental observations, led to the standard model of elementary particle physics. With the experimental discovery of the Higgs boson in 2012, we now have an empirically validated and mathematically consistent theory up to the highest energy scales. Nevertheless, a series of terrestrial experiments, as well as the astrophysically proven existence of dark matter and energy, indicate that the Standard Model cannot be the final theory of nature. At the same time, pressing theoretical questions such as the structure of quantum gravity, the hierarchy problem or the discovery of dualities between different quantum field theories force established formulations to be reconsidered. More recently, crucial innovations have been achieved in quantum field theory that have led to a serious rethinking of its basic principles. These include new methods of perturbation theory, dualities and hidden symmetries, the prominent role of effective field theories, modern methods for scattering amplitudes and the gradient flow in lattice field theory. The further development of these methods and concepts of modern quantum field theory – or simply the rethinking quantum field theory -represent the common basis of this graduate school. These demands result in a challenging qualification program that is based on the current state of research.

More information can be found here.


New junior research group “Exploring the landscape of string theory flux vacua using exceptional field theory” as part of the Emmy-Noether-Programme of the German Research Foundation

Since August Dr. Emanuel Malek has been establishing a junior research group on “Exploring the landscape of string theory flux vacua using exceptional field theory” at the Physics Department of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. His group will receive more than 1.2 million euros in funding over 6 years from the Emmy-Noether-Programme of the German Research Foundation. After finishing his doctoral studies at the University of Cambridge in 2014, Dr. Malek spent one year as a Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Cape Town, followed by a three-year-long stay as a Research Fellow at the Ludwig Maximilian University Munich. He subsequently worked at the Max-Planck-Institute for Gravitational Physics in Potsdam for two years. At Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, Dr. Malek will continue his work on the field of theoretical physics and closely collaborate with Prof. Dr. Jan Plefka, Prof. Dr. Matthias Staudacher and Dr. Olaf Hohm, all of whom are members of IRIS Adlershof.

Dr. Malek’s research group will develop new computational tools that allow us to obtain predictions from string theory for our universe. String theory is based on the idea that all matter is composed of tiny vibrating strings and is our best attempt at unifying the gravitational force with quantum mechanics. A key prediction of string theory is that the universe contains six additional spatial dimensions, on top of the three spatial dimensions we observe daily. While these extra dimensions are too small to be observed directly, their shape determines the particles and forces that we experience in our 3-dimensional universe. However, a large class of shapes for the extra dimensions, so-called flux compactifications, have long evaded a systematic study due to the lack of the right mathematical framework. By using and developing the new mathematical techniques of Exceptional Field Theory, Dr. Malek’s research group will, for the first time, systematically investigate the possible shapes of string theory’s extra dimensions, especially flux compactifications. The insights gained from this research are crucial for testing string theory experimentally in the future.

IRIS Adlershof wishes Dr. Malek much success in obtaining these goals and is looking forward to a fruitful collaboration.


Stefan Hecht elected as a member of the Academia Europaea

The Academia Europaea has accepted Prof. Stefan Hecht, already a member of IRIS Adlershof, as a new member. The Academy is based in London and was founded in 1988. It currently has more than 4,000 members, including 54 Nobel Prize winners.

The aim of the academy is to promote education and research in Europe and to strengthen interdisciplinary and international exchange in science. As an independent partner, the academy also advises governments and international organizations on scientific issues. The members are leading experts from the fields of chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, mathematics, computer science and technology, the social sciences and humanities as well as economics and law.

"The election to the chemistry section of the Academia Europaea is a great honor and I am very happy about this special personal recognition of my research," explains Stefan Hecht. His main focus is on macro- and supramolecular chemistry and organic material synthesis Interest in light-controlled and -driven processes as well as polymerisation on surfaces.

The chemistry section covers all areas of experimental and theoretical chemistry that deal with the study of matter and its properties. In addition, the members address the questions of how and why substances combine or separate to form other substances and how substances interact with energy. The section forms the interface to other disciplines and related areas of pharmacy, chemical process engineering and materials science, where research is primarily concerned with chemical aspects and less with clinical or engineering issues.

“Membership gives me an excellent network that I would like to use for interdisciplinary exchange in the future. It is a privilege to be able to participate in the advisory work of the academy in setting the political course ”, says Stefan Hecht.


Appointment of Prof. Dr. Jan Lüning

Flavie Davidson-Marquis 
Prof. Dr. Jan Lüning

The Department of Physics and IRIS Adlershof are delighted about the appointment of Prof. Dr. Jan Lüning to the W3-S professorship "Electronic properties of materials / X-ray analysis" at the Physics Department of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin. Since June 1st, 2019, Mr. Lüning has also been Scientific Director for the "Matter" department at the Helmholtz Center Berlin (HZB). He is an internationally recognized expert in research with synchrotron radiation who, before joining the HZB, also did research at Marie-Curie University in Paris and at the synchrotron in Stanford.

IRIS Adlershof warmly congratulates Jan Lüning and is looking forward to a good cooperation.



Dr. Michael J. Bojdys now at King's College London

Flavie Davidson-Marquis
Michael J. Bojdys

Dr. Michael J. Bojdys, ERC Junior Research Group Leader at Humboldt-Universität's Chemistry department and member of IRIS Adlershof, is now moving to King's College London. There he will hold the position of a Reader in Chemistry. He will continue to be a member of IRIS Adlershof. Before his time at Humboldt-Univerität zu Berlin, Dr. Bojdys had worked at Charles University Prague, TU Berlin as well at the University of Liverpool.

IRIS Adlershof warmly congratulates, wishes Dr. Bojdys good luck in his new job and looks forward to continued good cooperation.