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Bioinspired Design and Engineering of Novel Functional Materials

3/22/2011 - 3/25/2011 | German House New York

Bioinspired Design and Engineering of Novel Functional Materials

This German Research Foundation (DFG) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) conference was held to promote transatlantic research collaboration.

The conference was prepared by a steering committee consisting of Angela Belcher (MIT), Joachim Bill (Max Planck Institute for Metals Research), Timothy Deming (UCLA), Peter Fratzl (Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces), Thomas Scheibel (University of Bayreuth), and William Shih (Harvard Medical School) and organized in four consecutive sessions: Protein- and Peptide Based Materials; Biohybrids and Hydrogel-Based Materials; Biomineralized Materials; Materials Templating, Hybrid Materials, Selfassembly.

The topic of this year's conference consisted of the inspiration that material science can glean from nature, since nature has invested millions of years to come to solutions of awesome simplicity: Natural materials generally consist of only a few building blocks. However, they show an astonishing multitude of microstructures and functionalities that only can be admired. Prominent examples are tough and wear-resistant materials, molecular recognition properties in extreme environments, switchable adhesion mechanisms, or self-healing capabilities.

In his opening remarks, Freitag emphasized the growing importance of the GCRI as a showcase for German and transatlantic research. The GCRI has strongly gained in significance since its opening by Federal Minister of Education and Research Annette Schavan in early 2010 through its wide array of hosted conferences and meetings on topics relating to research and innovation.

In his keynote address, Gottfried-Wilhelm-Leibniz-Prize laureate Peter Fratzl discussed the Promise of Bioinspiration in Materials Research, examining realistic and unrealistic expectations in the field of bionics that scientists face from an increasingly interested public. He also emphasized the importance of using historic observations of nature as a yet under-explored source of inspiration, such as the works of nineteenth-century zoologist Ernst Haeckel.

In his welcoming remarks to the researchers present, Subra Suresh - an engineer and a material scientist and, before his appointment at NSF, Dean of the School of Engineering at MIT - stressed the value of transatlantic cooperation, particularly with researchers in Germany. Suresh emphasized his deep respect for German research, which he has come to know first-hand through his time as Humboldt-fellow and as reviewer in the DFG Excellence Initiative. On the current debate in Washington about the federal budget and funding for basic research, Suresh quoted physicist Michael Faraday, who when asked about the practical use of electricity – Faraday’s recent discovery -- by then Prime Minister William Gladstone, answered: "Sir, one day you will tax it."

Matthias Kleiner, an engineer like Suresh and a Leibniz-Prize laureate like Fratzl, emphasized the important new forms of collaboration between the two funding organizations that have come about through the past six years of DFG-NSF Research Conferences. For Kleiner,  the conferences at their core enable such organizations to better understand and more effectively respond to the needs of their respective communities in order to enable transatlantic and interdisciplinary projects in fields of outstanding scientific, economic and societal relevance, both in the U.S. and in Germany.

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