On December 17, 2013, the Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) announced that it would support a new National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) for Bio-Inspired Materials at the University of Fribourg. Since then, this leading interdisciplinary center based at the Adolphe Merkle Institute has been striving to become an internationally recognized hub for paradigm-shifting research, innovation, and education in the domain of “smart” materials whose function and design are inspired by nature.
Transcending traditional disciplines, the center integrates the research activities of 21 research groups from AMI, the University of Fribourg’s departments of chemistry, medicine, biology, and physics, and partners at the Swiss Federal Institutes of Technology in Zurich (ETHZ) and Lausanne (EPFL).
The overarching scientific goals of the NCCR are:
Research is organized in four modules that focus on:
Each of these modules tackles major unsolved problems, provides opportunities for great scientific advances on its own, and requires an interdisciplinary research approach. In the long term, the interconnection of these themes through cross-cutting projects and the common goal of being technologically relevant will create substantial synergies, which can only be harnessed if addressed within a multidisciplinary Center. AMI's Prof. Christoph Weder (Polymer Chemistry and Materials) was the director of the NCCR until the end of May 2020. Prof. Ullrich Steiner (Soft Matter Physics) has taken over those duties since June 1, 2020.
The NCCR Bio-Inspired Materials, uniting researchers from chemistry, physics, biology, medicine, and materials science, offers interdisciplinary education and training opportunities to students of all educational levels. The goals of the Center include:
By offering unique education and research opportunities, fostering the advancement of young scientists in natural and life sciences, and providing attractive boundary conditions, the Center aims to become a desirable destination for young students and researchers. Key programs offered by the NCCR Bio-Inspired Materials include: Undergraduate Summer Research Internships, Graduate Student Exchanges, and an Independence Grant for young researchers.
The NCCR Bio-Inspired Materials offers equal opportunities to all participants, fosters the advancement of young scientists, and promotes the integration of women at all educational levels in natural and life science disciplines. The Center makes efforts to support and promote the career development of talented young scientists and women through a range of activities. The main goals of the Center are to:
National Centers of Competence in Research (NCCR) promote long-term research projects in areas of strategic importance for the development of science in Switzerland, for the economy of the country, and for Swiss society. A specific goal of the NCCR Bio-Inspired Materials is to seek applications of the research undertaken, where one route to leverage the research into the market is in collaboration with industry. For this, it is constantly seeking company partners interested in the Center's research to set up trial projects, research agreements and other forms of collaboration. To date, applications include adhesives, sensors, anti-counterfeiting and labeling, novel production methods, advanced toxicology, targeted therapeutics, and many others. Another goal is to develop biomedical applications for disease detection and therapy, as well as regenerative medicine. Some examples of application-targeted research can be found on the NCCR's Startups page. With this combination of scientific focus and scope that are unparalleled in Switzerland, together with the clear interest to develop applications, the NCCR is uniquely positioned to become an internationally recognized hub for soft materials research, education, and innovation.