Dr. Wilhelm Auwärter and Prof. Thomas Misgeld
Wilhelm Auwärter and Thomas Misgeld receive ERC Consolidator Grants. (Photo: A. Eckert / TUM)
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ERC Grants for Wilhelm Auwärter and Thomas MisgeldTUM is Germany's number 1 winner of European research funding

Among all of the German universities, the Technische Universität München (TUM) has won the largest amount of research funding from the just-expired Seventh Framework Program (FP7) of the EU, with a total of more than 130 million euros. The latest success: Two TUM scientists have received ERC Consolidator Grants, each of which provides around two million euros in funding. Dr. Wilhelm Auwärter is a group leader in Molecular Nanoscience and Chemical Physics of Interfaces. Prof. Thomas Misgeld leads the laboratory for Biomolecular Sensors, where he investigates the degeneration of nerve fibers.

The framework programs concentrate the research funding activities of the European Union, with FP7 covering the period from 2007 to 2013. According to an assessment by the Bavarian Research Alliance, TUM was able to raise around 130 million euros – more than any other German university (as of June 2013) – followed by LMU Munich (with around 108 million euros), the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (around 102 million), and Heidelberg University (around 88 million).

ERC Grants, awarded to outstanding scientists by the European Research Council, are among the most important support programs of the EU. The ERC created a new category of support in 2013 with the Consolidator Grants. It awards them to young scientists who already can show several years of postdoctoral research experience with promising achievements. Out of around 3,600 project ideas submitted, the ERC selected just 312 to be funded, including those of the TUM researchers Wilhelm Auwärter and Thomas Misgeld.

Six ERC Grants in 2013

Dr. Wilhelm Auwärter creates nanoscale model systems on atomically tailored surfaces, enabling the study and control of single-molecule processes as well as self-assembly of supramolecular structures. His group is pioneering a novel approach using ultra-thin textured layers of boron nitride as a substrate. This research is inspired by the chemistry of life – which shows how functionally versatile a single set of molecular building blocks can be – and oriented toward innovation in nanotechnology.

New insights are expected to bring new capabilities, such as advances in tuning electronic, magnetic, and optoelectronic properties on the molecular level. Discoveries at this junction of surface science, supramolecular chemistry, and materials engineering could open the way for molecular sensors, switches, catalysts, and devices. Auwärter is a member of the TUM Physics Department and the Excellence Cluster "Munich-Centre for Advanced Photonics" (MAP), and he has been supported by a Carl von Linde Junior Fellowship of the TUM Institute for Advanced Study.

Prof. Thomas Misgeld is a neurobiologist who investigates the cellular biological and molecular mechanisms of the degeneration of axons. Axons are "nerve fibers," that is, extensions of nerve cells that transmit impulses from one neuron to the next. Axon degeneration is part of the natural development of the nervous system; at the same time, such processes are also implicated in diverse neurological diseases.

In recent years Misgeld and his research group have developed new imaging techniques that make changes in the structure and function of axons observable in vivo. They now want to introduce these methods into the mechanistic investigation of axon degeneration. Misgeld was a Hans Fischer Tenure Track Fellow of the TUM Institute for Advanced Study and now serves as co-speaker of the Excellence Cluster "Munich Cluster for Systems Neurology" (SyNergy).
In June 2013, the European Research Council awarded four ERC Starting Grants to young scientists at TUM: Dr. Olaf Groß of the Institute for Clinical Chemistry and Pathobiochemistry; Prof. Sandra Hirche of the Chair for Information-Oriented Control; Dr. Zeynep Ökten of the Chair for Biophysics; and Dr. Björn Schuller of the Chair for Human-Machine Communication.

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