New materials and sensors: Kiel University succeeds twice in European Funding for technology transfer

Martina Gerken and Christine Selhuber-Unkel from the nanosciences both receive a Proof of Concept Grant of the European Research Council



They are investigating new materials for the field of vascular surgeries or optical sensors for point-of-care biomedical diagnostics: For their respective projects, Professor Christine Selhuber-Unkel and Professor Martina Gerken from Kiel University receive an ERC Proof of Concept Grant endowed with 150.000 Euro each. Twice of the seven grants in total for research projects from Germany got to the priority research area Kiel Nano Surface and Interface Science (KiNSIS). The funding of the European Research Council (ERC) supports scientiststo explore the innovation potential of their scientific discoveries and bring the results of their frontier research closer to the market. Candidates are required to be already funded with an ERC-Grant which is considered to be one of the highest awards of the European Union for a scientist at the beginning of their career.

Project “VASCUGRAFT”: New materials imitate mechanical behavior of natural blood vessels

Cardiovascular diseases are one of the major causes of death in the EU and appropriate treatment remains challenging and expensive. Often, the only treatment option is the replacement of a native blood vessel, for example, if a coronary artery bypass is needed. Although patient-derived vascular grafts remain the gold standard as a replacement of the original vessel, alternatives have to be found, as donor material is limited. Currently, available synthetic grafts have several drawbacks in comparison to native blood vessels. The major drawback is the mismatch between the mechanical properties of the native vessel and the synthetic graft, thus causing major complications like intima hyperplasia. While the stress-strain-curve in synthetic grafts is linear and the grafts are relatively stiff, native blood vessels are soft and have a non-linear, strain-stiffening mechanical behavior.

In the previous ERC Starting Grant “CELLINSPIRED” Christine Selhuber-Unkel, professor for Biocompatible Nanomaterials at the Institute of Materials Science, has developed a material structure that allows us to mimic the strain-stiffening of blood vessels. She will employ the strain-stiffening materials in synthetic vascular grafts with broad applicability in the field of vascular surgery. Within the Proof of Concept Grant project “VASCUGRAFT”, she now aims at fabricating demonstrators of such biomimetic vascular grafts. “We strive to find a company that licenses our invention and brings it on the national and international market”, says Selhuber-Unkel.

Project “BEAMOLED”: Nanostructured OLEDs for Biosensors

The emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT), Industry 4.0 as well as the drive for point-of-care biomedical diagnostics is accompanied by a strong need for measuring physical, chemical and biomedical status data in real-time with cost-efficient and low-maintenance sensors. With optical measurement techniques being widely employed, miniaturized optical sensor devices are highly promising. Light-emitting diodes based on organic semiconductor materials (OLEDs) are experiencing rapid market growth – in particular in the area of displays. Organic emitter materials may be tailored to any emission wavelength in the visible wavelength range. In addition, cost-efficient fabrication techniques are being developed, for example, based on roll-to-roll fabrication. These properties make OLEDs also very promising for sensor applications.

As part of the ERC Starting Grant “PhotoSmart” Martina Gerken, Professor for Integrated Systems and Photonics at the Institute of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology, developed an OLED matrix as on-chip light source for switching light-sensitive “smart” surfaces for biosensor applications. OLED matrix devices for sensors require OLEDs with directional emission. For the Proof of concept grant project “BEAMOLED” Gerken now aims at fabricating OLED devices on top of a nanostructured fluorescence waveguide layer and a spacer layer. Wide-angle OLED light emitted is absorbed in the fluorescence layer. By appropriate choice of the fluorescence layer regarding the absorption spectrum and emission profile of the photoluminescent emitters, efficient conversion of excitation light to emission into the waveguide is achieved. The design of the nanostructure allows the tailoring of the narrow-angle emitted beam characteristics. “Within this project, we seek funds to support validation of our approach for the sensor application, to carry out an evaluation of market needs, and to review IP with the goal to start a spin-off company”, says Gerken

Project Overviews

ERC Proof of Concept project: „BEAMOLED: Beam-forming OLED with nanostructured fluorescence layer”
Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Martina Gerken
Previous ERC Starting Grant: PhotoSmart (2013-2018)
Funding amount: 150.000 Euro
Expected project start: October 2020

ERC Proof of Concept project: “VASCUGRAFT: Strain-stiffening vascular graft with outstanding compliance“
Principal Investigator: Prof. Dr. Christine Selhuber-Unkel
Previous ERC Starting Grant: CELLINSPIRED (2013-2018)
Funding amount: 150.000 Euro
Expected project start: October 2020



More information:


About the priority research area KiNSIS:

Details, which are only a millionth of a millimetre in size: this is what the priority research area "Kiel Nano, Surface and Interface Science – KiNSIS" at Kiel University has been working on. In the nano-cosmos, different laws prevail than in the macroscopic world - those of quantum physics. Through intensive, interdisciplinary cooperation between physics, chemistry, engineering and life sciences, the priority research area aims to understand the systems in this dimension and to implement the findings in an application-oriented manner. Molecular machines, innovative sensors, bionic materials, quantum computers, advanced therapies and much more could be the result. More information at


[Translate to English:] Portrait Selhuber-Unkel
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[Translate to English:] Christine Selhuber-Unkel, Professor for Biocompatible Nanomaterials receives the same funding of the European Research Council, to explore the application potential of new materials for the field of vascular surgery.


Portrait Gerken
© privat

Martina Gerken, Professor for Integrated Systems and Photonics, successfully raised an ERC Proof of Concept Grant to bring organic light-emitting diodes for biosensors closer to the market.



Prof. Dr. Martina Gerken
Integrated Systems and Photonics
Institute of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology
0431/880 6250


Prof. Dr. Christine Selhuber-Unkel
Biocompatible Nanomaterials
Institute of Materials Science