Dual success for Kiel University and its priority research area KiNSIS

German Research Foundation DFG approves a total of around 25 million euros for two research collaborations at the interfaces of technology, biology and medicine.


As the German Research Foundation (DFG) announced today (Friday, 27 November 2020), it is funding the new Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1461 "Neurotronics: Bio-inspired Information Pathways" at Kiel University with around 11.5 million euros. In addition to that, the DFG is extending the CRC 1261 “Magnetoelectric Sensors: From Composite Materials to Biomagnetic Diagnostics”, which started in 2016, by a further four years and approximately 13.5 million euros. The interdisciplinary large-scale research projects on bio-inspired information processing and on magnetic field sensors in medical diagnostics are both located at the Priority Research Area Kiel, Nano Surface and Interface Science (KiNSIS) at Kiel University. The commitments thus strengthen the nanoscience and surface research in Northern Germany and set the course for the future scientific orientation of the biggest university of the state of Schleswig-Holstein. 

"This is a great success for both research networks and Kiel University. The dual commitment of the DFG is clear testament of the top-level research that has been established across different disciplines - congratulations to all the researchers and partner institutions involved", said Professor Simone Fulda, President of Kiel University. "Both major projects offer exciting potential for the future at the interfaces of engineering, biology, and medicine and are important pillars of the foundation of our research in the next round of the German Excellence Strategy," continued Fulda.

Man in front of a lab
© Claudia Eulitz, Uni Kiel

Eckhard Quandt, spokesperson for the CRC 1261 since 2016 and Vice President for Research at Kiel University since October 2020, outside the clean room at the Faculty of Engineering in which the key components of Kiel University’s nano research are being developed.


CRC 1261 “Magnetoelectric Sensors: From Composite Materials to Biomagnetic Diagnostics”

A hand holding a sensor
© Viktor Schell

Heart and brain activity could be measured even more accurately with magnetic field sensors than it could using electric measurement procedures.

Since 2016, researchers specialising in materials science, electrical engineering and medicine in the CRC 1261 have been studying magnetic field-based, highly sensitive diagnosis methods in order to improve detection of heart and brain disorders. As a supplement or alternative to traditional electrical measurement procedures such as electrocardiography (ECG) or electroencephalography (EEG), magnetic measurements could enable significantly improved spatial resolution, facilitate long-term investigations and therefore result in, for example, autonomously reacting implant systems for epilepsy in the future. This is because electric flows in the heart and brain also generate magnetic fields. As human body tissue has varying degrees of electrical conductivity, electric signals can be distorted. Magnetic fields, by contrast, are not influenced by this and, unlike with ECG or EEG, can be measured without direct skin contact. Magnetic fields are, however, extremely weak and are easily disturbed by external signals, which poses complex challenges for magnetic field sensors and signal processing. For this reason, researchers specialising in materials science, electrical engineering and medicine have already been cooperating closely on sensor development in the CRC 1261.

Internationally visible expertise in magnetic field sensors

“The renewed funding by the DFG is a fantastic result for the 22 applicants. It shows that with the unique research approach that we have been pursuing here in Kiel for many years now, we are on a promising path,” said CRC spokesperson Professor Eckhard Quandt. “We have achieved internationally visible expertise through our results to date. If we succeed in further developing designs for these highly sensitive magnetic sensors for broad medical use, they can be used to detect cardiological or neurological disorders that it has not yet been possible to find using electrical measurements,” said the Professor of Inorganic Functional Materials at Kiel University’s Faculty of Engineering, looking to the future. Also involved in the CRC alongside Kiel University are the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH), the Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology in Itzehoe (ISIT) and the Kiel-based Leibniz Institute for Science and Mathematics Education (IPN).

The second funding phase is targeted more heavily at application

After achieving decisive results regarding the sensitivity of the sensors in the first funding phase, the CRC members now want to incorporate these findings more firmly into application. To do this, more medical practitioners and Boston Scientific, international market leader in the field of deep brain stimulation, are to join and strengthen the interdisciplinary network. The treatment method for brain disorders such as Parkinson’s disease or essential tremor is to be improved through an independent transfer project carried out in conjunction with the medical technology manufacturer. “During neurosurgery an electrode is placed in the brain to stimulate a particular area electrically. By using magnetic field sensors, this electrode is to be positioned more precisely than was possible before,” explained the deputy spokesperson of the CRC, Professor Günther Deuschl from the Department of Neurology at the University Medical Center Schleswig-Holstein (UKSH), Campus Kiel.

Since the CRC was established four years ago, 141 articles have been published in major international journals, eight patents have been registered and 28 additional positions for early career researchers have been created. Alongside 21 scientific sub-projects, the research network offers numerous opportunities to support early career researchers, such as international research visits for doctoral researchers, an exchange programme with Pennsylvania State University in the US, summer schools, mentoring programmes and advanced training courses. To make the subject of research accessible to a broad public, diverse teaching material has been produced in cooperation with the IPN, such as modules to be taught at schools, digital exhibition formats and virtual reality applications. Further innovative concepts for the public are to be developed with the Deutsche Museum in Munich as an additional partner in the second funding phase.

Link to the CRC's Website

Group picture
© Boris Kirchhof-Gudschun, Uni Kiel

More than 50 scientists investigate magnetic field sensors in the CRC 1261, that will be extended for four years.

Participating institutions:

  • Kiel University (CAU)
  • University Hospital Schleswig-Holstein, Campus Kiel (UKSH)
  • Leibniz-Institute for Science and Mathematics Education, Kiel (IPN)
  • Fraunhofer Institute for Silicon Technology, Itzehoe (ISIT)
  • Boston Scientific Medizintechnik GmbH, Neuromodulation, Ratingen

Collaborative Research Centre (CRC) 1461 "Neurotronics: Bio-inspired Information Pathways"

Graphic showing a brain and technical circuits
© Pixabay

Learning from the brain: In the Collaborative Research Center (SFB) 1461 "Neuroelectronics", scientists are investigating how the brain's working methods can be transferred to technical information processing.

In the CRC 1461 "Neurotronics: Bio-inspired Information Pathways"scientists from nine participating partner institutions intend to develop a new hardware electronic towards bio-inspired computing architectures. The aim is to transfer basal information pathways of nervous systems into a fundamental novel class of information processing systems and hence improve the pattern and speech recognition or the energy efficiency of existing systems. In addition to Kiel University as the coordinating university, the following partner institutions are involved in the CRC as further supporting pillars: Ruhr University Bochum (RUB), Brandenburg University of Technology (BTU) Cottbus, Technical University Ilmenau (TUIL), Institute for High-Performance Microelectronics Frankfurt/Oder (IHP), Leibniz-Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Kiel (IPN), University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE), Technische Hochschule Lübeck (THL) and the University College Cork (UCC) / Mercator Cork, Ireland, as an international partner.

The interdisciplinary topic requires close cooperation between the fields of neuroscience, biology, psychology, physics, electrical engineering, materials science, network science, and nonlinear dynamics. In addition to numerous scientists from KiNSIS, members of Kiel Life Science (KLS), another priority research area of Kiel University, are also involved. 33 researchers in total will work together in 20 sub-projects in the fields of biological information processing, technical components, and complex circuits. 30 doctoral positions will be created, as well as further training opportunities, infrastructures for data management and public relations. 

"In the development of new, innovative hardware, we aim to include evolutionary biological mechanisms, such as cell growth for example. This is a challenging approach in the research field of bio-inspired electronics and we hope that it will lead to significant progress for future information processing systems," said Professor Hermann Kohlstedt from Kiel University, spokesperson of the CRC 1461, emphasising the special focus of this major project. The CRC will create the conditions for a new generation of computer architectures and technologies with applications in sensor technology, robotics, autonomous vehicles and for the development of bionic prostheses. Preliminary work in this research area has already been carried out in the research group 2093 "Memristive Components for Neural Systems", which has been funded by the DFG at Kiel University since 2014.

Nervous systems work more efficiently than computers

Even though computers are becoming increasingly powerful, the human brain functions much more efficient, when it comes to cognitive skills such as pattern recognition. It processes a huge amount of information in parallel, can adapt to changing external conditions, and needs just 25 watts for this performance. The members of the CRC 1461 are convinced that these are valuable biological models for a new information processing technology. One of the core components of this technology are memristive devices. These electronic memory components are able to "remember" the previous charge flow and are changing their electrical resistance in accordance. "The aim is to implement these electronic components in larger circuits, whereby the structure and the dynamics of nervous systems are essential guidelines to engineer a novel hardware electronics, says Martin Ziegler, Professor of Micro- and Nanoelectronics at the TU Ilmenau and one of the Deputy Spokesperson of the CRC 1461.
"With regard to the applicability for new, hardware-based electronics, a deep understanding of the interwoven relation between the information processing on the local synaptic level and entire functionality of an entire nervous system is essential," says Kohlstedt, Professor of Nanoelectronics. The CRC 1461 focuses in particular on the ontogenesis and phylogenesis of the neurobiological development of nervous systems, i.e. how they are formed in the individual organism on the one hand and how they have generally developed in the course of evolution on the other hand. "The importance of cell growth in nervous systems and its structural and functional plasticity under external stimuli received from the environment are essential for an optimal development of cognitive abilities. The associated growth and decay of neurons, synapses and axons forms the basis for a new type of information processing in technical systems," says Claus Hilgetag, Professor of Computational Neuroscience at the UKE.

Therefor,e findings on basic evolutionary principles could provide essential guidelines, for the development of high-performance dynamical networks. How has the nervous system developed over millions of years into increasingly complex networks of nerve cells and synapses? How complex nervous systems adapted and adapt to a permanently changing environment? The study of biological model organisms with nervous systems of varying degrees of complexity, such as the freshwater polyp Hydra, the cube jellyfish Tripedalia cystophora and the lizard Anolis carolinensis, will provide information about these evolutionary mechanisms.

Participating institutions:

  • Kiel University (CAU)
  • Ruhr University Bochum (RUB)
  • Brandenburg University of Technology (BTU) Cottbus
  • Technical University Ilmenau (TUIL)
  • Institute for High Performance Microelectronics Frankfurt/Oder (IHP)
  • Leibniz-Institute for Science and Mathematics Education Kiel (IPN)
  • University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf (UKE)
  • Technische Hochschule Lübeck (THL)
  • University College Cork (UCC) / Mercator Cork, Ireland

Professor Dr.-Ing. Eckhard Quandt
Spokesperson for the CRC 1261 “Magnetoelectric Sensors: From Composite Materials to Biomagnetic Diagnostics” at the CAU
Institute for Materials Science
Chair of Inorganic Functional Materials
Vice President of the CAU
+49 431 880-6203
Web: www.sfb1261.de/index.php/en/


Professor Dr. Hermann Kohlstedt
Spokesperson for the CRC 1461 "Neurotronics: Bio-inspired Information Pathways"
Research Group “Nano Electronics“
Kiel University
Tel.: +49 431 880-6075
E-mail: hko@tf.uni-kiel.de
+49 431 880-6075


Julia Siekmann
Science Communication Officer, Research area Kiel Nano Surface and Interface Sciences