Dr. Sergey Korchak, Dr. Stefan Glöggler, and Dr. Anil Jagtap (from left) with their home-made portable MRI unit. Frederik Köpper. Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is indispensable in medical diagnostics. However, MRI units are large and expensive to acquire and operate. With smaller and cost-efficient systems, MRI would be more flexible and more people could benefit from the technique. Such mini MRI units generate a much weaker signal that is difficult to analyze, though. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biophysical Chemistry and the Center for Biostructural Imaging of Neurodegeneration have now developed a method amplifying the signal so much that they could monitor a metabolic reaction in real time with a miniature MRI. This is an important contribution to making flexible small MRI devices usable.

Photons in a cavity can be equipped with particular properties to control the resulting light-matter hybrid states and could be specifically designed to break specific symmetries. Umberto de Giovannini / Hannes Hübener, MPSD

Crystal symmetry is one of the decisive physical attributes that determines the properties of a material. In particular, the behaviour of an electron is largely affected by the symmetry of the crystal which in turn governs the fundamental behaviour of the material, such as its conductive or optical properties. With recent developments of experimental techniques and advances in ultrafast laser experiments, another symmetry besides the crystal has turned out to influence the electrons: the symmetry of light.

Midbrain organoids from smNPCs in the microscope: Left: outer region of an organoid, middle: whole organoid, right: center of the organoid. Henrik Renner, Jan Bruder | Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biomedicine

Max Planck Innovation licenses process for the generation of organ-like tissue aggregates to biotech company StemoniX
***Sometimes hundreds of thousands of potential therapeutics need to be tested in large-scale, fully automated experiments to identify a single effective drug. Most compounds do not work as desired, and some are even toxic. Since the development of the induced Pluripotent Stem (iPS) Cell technology in 2006, researchers have been able to produce stem cells from skin biopsies and blood samples. To approach physiological conditions in the laboratory, many researchers use iPS cell technology to produce three-dimensional, organ-like tissue aggregates (organoids).

Fig. 1: (a) Rotational excitation of H2 in the pump pulse: starting the "internal clock". (b) The two possible mechanisms of molecular cleavage (ATD and EI) in the probe pulse and detection of the fragments. MPIK

Using a new method, physicists at the Heidelberg Max Planck Institute for Nuclear Physics have investigated the ultrafast fragmentation of hydrogen molecules in intense laser fields in detail. They used the rotation of the molecule triggered by a laser pulse as an "internal clock" to measure the timing of the reaction that takes place in a second laser pulse in two steps. Such a “rotational clock” is a general concept applicable to sequential fragmentation processes in other molecules. [Physical Review Letters, Oct 23rd 2020]

Cryo-EM visualizes individual atoms in a protein for the first time. The cartoon shows a part of the apoferritin protein (yellow) with a tyrosine side chain highlighted in grey. Atoms are individually recognizable (red grid structures). © Holger Stark / Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry

A crucial resolution barrier in cryo-electron microscopy has been broken. Holger Stark and his team at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Biophysical Chemistry have observed single atoms in a protein structure for the first time and taken the sharpest images ever with this method. Such unprecedented details are essential to understand how proteins perform their work in the living cell or cause diseases. The technique can in future also be used to develop active compounds for new drugs.

Schematic representation of zeptosecond measurement. The photon (yellow, coming from the left) produces electron waves out of the electron cloud (grey) of the hydrogen molecule (red: nucleus), which interfere with each other (interference pattern: violet-white). The interference pattern is slightly skewed to the right, allowing the calculation of how long the photon required to get from one atom to the next. Photo: Sven Grundmann, Goethe University Frankfurt

In the global race to measure ever shorter time spans, physicists from Goethe University Frankfurt have now taken the lead: together with colleagues at the accelerator facility DESY in Hamburg and the Fritz-Haber-Institute in Berlin, they have measured a process that lies within the realm of zeptoseconds for the first time: the propagation of light within a molecule. A zeptosecond is a trillionth of a billionth of a second (10 exp -21 seconds).

To fight cancer by a newly developed substance shredding carcinogenic aurora proteins: This is the aim of a new study by scientists at universities in Würzburg and Frankfurt. Dr. Sandy Pernitzsch

Researchers at the universities of Würzburg and Frankfurt have developed a new compound for treating cancer. It destroys a protein that triggers its development.
The villain in this drama has a pretty name: Aurora – Latin for dawn. In the world of biochemistry, however, Aurora (more precisely: Aurora-A kinase) stands for a protein that causes extensive damage. There, it has been known for a long time that Aurora often causes cancer. It triggers the development of leukemias and many pediatric cancers, such as neuroblastomas.

The physical structures of cancer cells are disrupted by a web forming inside of the cells – which activates their self destruction mechanism. © MPI-P

According to the Federal Statistical Office of Germany, cancer is one of the most frequent causes of death, accounting for almost 25% of all deaths cases. Chemotherapy is often used as a treatment, but also brings side effects for healthy organs. Scientists around David Ng, group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, are now trying to take a completely different approach: By means of targeted and localized disruption of the cancer cells’ structure, its self-destruction mechanism can be activated. In laboratory experiments, they have already demonstrated initial successes.

The new electrocatalyst for hydrogen fuel cells consists of a thin platinum-cobalt alloy network and, unlike the catalysts commonly used today, does not require a carbon carrier. Gustav Sievers

An international research team led by the University of Bern has succeeded in developing an electrocatalyst for hydrogen fuel cells which, in contrast to the catalysts commonly used today, does not require a carbon carrier and is therefore much more stable. The new process is industrially applicable and can be used to further optimize fuel cell powered vehicles without CO2 emissions.

Using computer simulations, MPI-P scientists can predict the structure of crystals in organic semiconductor layers. © MPI-P

Semiconductors made of organic materials, e.g. for light-emitting diodes (OLEDs) and solar cells, could replace or supplement silicon-based electronics in the future. The efficiency of such devices depends crucially on the quality of thin layers of such organic semiconductors. These layers are created by coating or printing “inks” that contain the material. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) have developed a computer model that predicts the quality of such layers as a function of processing conditions, such as the drying time of the ink or the speed coating. This model aims to accelerate the time-consuming approaches for process and product optimization.

The technology: additively manufactured Hairpin traction motor. Additive Drives, TU Bergakademie Freiber

Using a novel 3D printing process, four spin-offs of the newly launched EXIST research transfer "Additive Drives" at the TU Bergakademie Freiberg want to increase the performance and efficiency of current electric machines. The main focus is on the copper coil. In the future, this is to be transferred directly from the development data of the designers to additive production, thus enabling significantly shorter development and test cycles.

The researchers coated leaf veins with copper, thus transforming them into electrically conductive and optically transparent electrodes. Sven Döring/ Leibniz-IPHT. Leibniz-IPHT

A research team from the Leibniz Institute of Photonic Technology (Leibniz IPHT) in Jena has built electrodes with outstanding optical and electronic properties from leaves. The researchers have coated leaf veins with copper and thus transformed them into electrically conductive and optically transparent electrodes. Designed on the basis of nature, the leaf-structure electrodes could be used to design novel solar cells, LEDs or displays.

A sample of the electromagnetic shielding material made by Empa – a composite of cellulose nanofibres and silver nanowires. Empa

Empa researchers have succeeded in applying aerogels to microelectronics: Aerogels based on cellulose nanofibers can effectively shield electromagnetic radiation over a wide frequency range – and they are unrivalled in terms of weight. 
Electric motors and electronic devices generate electromagnetic fields that sometimes have to be shielded in order not to affect neighboring electronic components or the transmission of signals. High-frequency electromagnetic fields can only be shielded with conductive shells that are closed on all sides. Often thin metal sheets or metallized foils are used for this purpose. However, for many applications such a shield is too heavy or too poorly adaptable to the given geometry. The ideal solution would be a light, flexible and durable material with extremely high shielding effectiveness.

Images of macrophages (red) in which the active substance (green) is distributed. On the left, the active substance heparin is shown, on the right hyaluronic acid. Hala Al Khoury / Uni Halle

New coatings on implants could help make them more compatible. Researchers at the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) have developed a new method of applying anti-inflammatory substances to implants in order to inhibit undesirable inflammatory reactions in the body. Their study was recently published in the "International Journal of Molecular Sciences".

Electron density of two hydrogen-terminated (left) and fluorine-terminated (right) diamond surfaces: large fluorine atoms prevent the surfaces from interlocking and thus reduce friction. Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM

Diamond and diamond-like carbon (DLC) are used as extremely durable surface coatings in frictional contacts: from aerospace components to razors. They reduce friction and wear in bearings and valves by means of so-called passivation layers, which prevent other materials from bonding to the coating. Until now, it was unclear how these passivation layers should be designed to achieve minimal friction. Researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM, MicroTribology Centrum µTC, have now achieved a breakthrough in understanding the relationship between passivation and friction. The unexpected results have been published in the journal "ACS Applied Materials & Interfaces".

During the explosion of an oxygen molecule: the X-ray laser XFEL knocks electrons out of the two atoms of the oxygen molecule and initiates its breakup. During the fragmentation, the X-ray laser releases another electron out of an inner shell from one of the two oxygen atoms that are now charged (ions). The electron has particle and wave characteristics, and the waves are scattered by the other oxygen ion. The diffraction pattern are used to image the breakup of the oxygen molecules and to take snapshots of the fragmentation process (electron diffraction imaging). Credit: Till Jahnke, Goethe University Frankfurt

New experimental technique with Goethe University’s reaction microscope allows “X-ray” of individual molecules.
For more than 200 years, we have been using X-rays to look inside matter, and progressing to ever smaller structures – from crystals to nanoparticles. Now, within the framework of a larger international collaboration on the X-ray laser European XFEL in Schenefeld near Hamburg, physicists at Goethe University have achieved a qualitative leap forward: using a new experimental technique, they have been able to “X-ray” molecules such as oxygen and view their motion in the microcosm for the first time.