Three more Adolphe Merkle Institute researchers have been granted any early boost to their careers, after being awarded funding from the European Commission and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF).
Alessandro Ianiro, a postdoctoral researcher in the AMI BioPhysics group, was selected to become a prestigious Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellow. His project funded by the European Commission will focus on developing a novel class of nanocomposite materials that mimic natural muscles by combining stimuli-responsive hydrogels and colloidal liquid crystals. The hydrogels are soft and shape-compliant actuating materials like muscles, but they generally exhibit poor mechanical resistance and they expand in no specific direction. These limitations will be overcome by attaching them to the colloid particles and assembling them to make them function along a single axis. Ideally, this will lead to a novel class of soft actuators that will bring significant advancement to fields like robotics and medicine.
Saurabh Awasthi, another postdoctoral researcher from the AMI BioPhysics group, is the recipient of an SNSF Spark grant. His project will focus on the detection of so-called Tau protein oligomers, whose presence can promote the development of Alzheimer’s Disease. Current assays for these proteins in cerebrospinal fluid do not provide information on the size or shape-distribution of Tau oligomers, indicators of their potential toxicity. Awasthi will develop a nanopore detection system to characterize and quantify Tau oligomers in biological fluids on a single particle level, by binding them with Tau specific antibodies that recognize them.
José Augusto Berrocal, a group leader in the Polymer Chemistry & Materials group, is another Spark recipient. He aims to develop artificial systems capable of mimicking nature and generating electricity in a sustainable way, namely by using ubiquitous stimuli from our daily lives and without the use of fossil fuels or non-renewable sources. His inspiration is the mechanism used by plants to convert sunlight into chemical energy via complex molecular systems. This relies notably on the generation of electrochemical gradients across biological membranes. Berrocal plans to synthesize molecules and polymers that can shuttle protons - positively charged elementary particles found in the nuclei of all atoms - upon stimulation with light or mechanical force, recreating a gradient system.
The aim of the Spark program is to fund the rapid testing or development of new scientific approaches, methods, theories, standards, and ideas for applications for example. It is intended for projects that show unconventional thinking and introduce a unique approach. Altogether, three AMI researchers have been awarded most recently one of these grants.