Ideas lab

In the world of science, there are ideas that go beyond the ordinary – ideas that challenge conventional thought patters, open new horizons and pave the way for ground-breaking discoveries. However, these ideas often appear to be too risky or unconventional to be immediately pursued through common funding formats. In order to initiate and promote such projects at the University of Münster, the strategic funding line “Ideas Lab” was established.

The scientists of the 2024 funding cohort pursue exceptionally innovative and risky project ideas in research, teaching and transfer. In doing so, they drive forward academic discourse in their respective disciplines and beyond.”

  • Dr. Dombovski
    © Alexander Dombosvki

    Natural Protein-Based Sweeteners: Making it Profitable 

    Recently, sweet-tasting proteins gained considerable attention, particularly their application as sugar substituents. In comparison to conventional sugars such as sucrose, the advantage of sweet-tasting proteins is their low caloric value and the fact that they are neither cariogenic, nor diabetogenic. Hence, sweet-tasting proteins can be used as sweeteners in foodstuffs and represent a healthier alternative to conventional sugars. As an example, the sweet-tasting protein thaumatin from Thaumatococcus daniellii is an approved food additive (E 957) in the EU since 1996. However, production of sweet-tasting proteins is more laborious, when compared to synthesis of small-molecule sweeteners such as saccharin. The proteins are either extracted from plant material or produced as recombinant proteins by means of biotechnology. The limiting factors for extraction are obtaining sufficient amounts of plant material and rather low product yields. Production of recombinant proteins by means of biotechnology offers an alternative to classic extraction, however it relies on protein purification steps to yield a product with acceptable purity and separation from the genetically modified organism. This project aims to establish a novel method for the production of sweet-tasting proteins with the aim to circumvent protein purification steps and provide a method that is more cost-efficient when compared to established methods.

    Dr. Alexander Dombovski (Institut für Pharmazeutische und Medizinische Chemie)

  • Verena Raker
    © Verena Raker
    © Lucas Lamparter

    Fixing the "Percutaneous Device Dilemma" Using Biologically Functionalized Titanium Implants

    A central function of our skin is to maintain an effective barrier between the inside of the body and pathogens in the environment, such as viruses and bacteria. Particularly fascinating is the skin's ability to autonomously restore this barrier after an injury. In this process, skin cells that have lost their direct neighbors move towards the wound site until they find new neighbors. They connect with these new neighbors, thus restoring the barrier.

    However, there are situations in which a disruption of this skin barrier is medically necessary. This is the case, for example, with transcutaneous gastric tubes, insulin pumps, central venous catheters, or bone-anchored leg prostheses. Here, a passage through the skin is necessary, but it also means that the skin barrier is incomplete, and thus there is a constant risk of infection. This presents a true dilemma, known as the Percutaneous Device Dilemma.

    The goal of this project is to develop an innovative approach to address this dilemma. By applying a special surface coating, the surrounding skin cells are to be tricked into thinking that the implant is a neighboring cell. The aim is to stimulate the skin cells to grow on the implant, thereby restoring an intact skin barrier. In the dermatology laboratory, we coat titanium surfaces with adhesion molecules and then test them in cell cultures and skin models for tensile strength and stability. Here, our biophysical and skin immunological competencies come together.

    PD rer. nat. Verena K. Raker (UKM - Klinik für Hautkrankheiten)
    Lucas Lamparter (Institut für Medizinische Physik und Biophysik)

  • Carsten Wegscheider
    © Carsten Wegscheider

    Mapping (Anti-)Globalization Attitudes (MAGA): An Exploratory Geo-Coded Survey Analysis 

    Anti-globalization attitudes, such as skepticism towards free trade, rejection of immigration or opposition to the transfer of national sovereignty to supranational organizations, are considered significant drivers of current political developments. In addition to the outcome of the Brexit referendum in 2016 and the election of Donald Trump as US President in 2018, the rise of populist radical right parties such as the Alternative for Germany is also attributed to anti-globalization attitudes among the population. Despite this importance, we currently lack a measurement tool to capture the multidimensionality of globalization attitudes. Moreover, the impact of local and regional factors on anti-globalization attitudes has not yet been sufficiently investigated. However, it is important to understand how regional characteristics such as unemployment rates, lack of access to public or private services, population migration or the proportion of people with a migration background affect citizens’ attitudes towards globalization. This research project therefore aims to develop a survey instrument to measure citizens’ attitudes towards the economic, cultural and political dimensions of globalization. Furthermore, spatial differences in attitudes are examined using a geo-coded survey, taking local and regional determinants into account.

    Dr. Carsten Wegscheider (Institut für Politikwissenschaft)

  • Photos

    © Thorsten Quandt
    • © Thorsten Quandt
    • © Thorsten Quandt
    • © Thorsten Quandt

    "What Matters to us: Real-time  Image Analysis for Social Media Content Based on Human Attention Mechanisms (Acronym: WUWI)."

    Image analysis using artificial intelligence methods often faces a problem: the methods struggle to decide which of the many objects in an analyzed image are important and which (in the current context) play no significant role. The project aims for reducing the complexity of image analysis by introducing “focus” for the (AI-based) algorithmic analysis. This focus is intended to mimic human attention on important aspects of an observed image. Therefore, in the project we first investigate the detection of human focus (by eye-tracking) and the transfer of this mechanism to AI-based image analysis. The objective of our research is to provide a technical perspective for the rapid (perhaps even real-time capable) analysis of image content. This can be used, for example, in the analysis of social media data and for the detection of disinformation.

    Prof. Dr. Thorsten Quandt (Department of Communication)
    Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christian Grimme (Department of Information Systems) 

  • Prof. Albiez-Wieck; Historisches Seminar
    © Stefan Klatt

    Mestiz*in als Travelling Concept

    Colonial legal categorizations had significant impacts on those categorized, as they determined their rights and obligations in society. At the same time, they reveal much about the worldview and the notions of order of the colonizers. To some extent, they persist to this day. The category of Mestizo existed in many, but not all, European colonial empires. It referred to the descendants of Europeans and Indigenous people, i.e., colonizers and colonized. This category and term existed in the Spanish (mestizo), Portuguese (mestiço), French (métis), Italian (meticcio), Dutch (mestizo/mesties), and Belgian (métis/mesties) colonial empires, as well as in most of the resulting post-colonial nation-states, but not in other colonial empires such as the German or British, where terms such as "mixed race" were common. The project inquires into the emergence, adoption, and distribution of the terms Mestizo and Mestizaje in (post)colonial societies in Africa, Asia, America, and, intentionally also in Europe.

    Prof. Dr. Sarah Albiez-Wieck (Neuere und Neueste Geschichte unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der außereuropäischen Geschichte)

  • Scientists in front of blackboard
    © ITP

    Can Databanks for Advanced Nonlinear Models "Synergize" Modelling Efforts across Fields?

    In our pilot project, we aim to specify the requirements for a general database for advanced (nonlinear) models and their solutions, and to develop an appropriate framework. Such a database should, on the one hand, allow for the many models, scalings, and parameter studies that exist across various sciences and between the contributions of different groups, to be situated within a higher-level order. On the other hand, the structure should enable the versatile conversion between models in different scalings and between the resulting data, thereby making individual data and solution structures (known as bifurcation diagrams) reusable for everyone. To this end, it must first be demonstrated that three hurdles we have identified can be overcome: diversity (i) of nonlinear models, (ii) of used scalings/parameterizations, and (iii) of representations of numerically obtained solution structures in different publications.

    Prof. Dr. Uwe Thiele (Institut für Theoretische Physik)

  • Christina Jordan
    © Christina Jordan
    Project overview
    © Christina Jordan

    Establishing a Synergistic Partnership for Structural Biology between the University of Münster and the ETH Zürich: Merging BioNMR and Fluorinated Glycochemistry to Expand a New Frontier in Biomedicine

    Hospital superbugs are a major societal concern that requires urgent attention: Treating patients infected with multi-resistant bacteria is often very difficult or even impossible, with small organic molecules being very much at the forefront of this battle. In 2019, bacterial infections were responsible for 7.7 million deaths worldwide, with half of these caused by just five bacterial species (S. Aureus, E. Coli, S. Pneumoniae, K. Pneumonia, P. aeruginosa) that belong to the group of drug-resistant pathogens. The World Health Organisation (WHO) predicts that the threat of antimicrobial resistance will continue to grow rapidly over the next few years and will become one of the greatest global threats unless alternative therapeutic approaches are urgently explored.

    Driven by the urgent societal need for alternative effective therapeutic avenues, a collaborative initiative has been established which aims to elucidate key aspects of bacterial infection at the molecular level, and facilitate the design and development of next generation drug targets. The focus of this project is on specific carbohydrate structures that play a key role in the infection process. The expertise in specifically modifying complex carbohydrates to harness bio-NMR spectroscopy for monitoring lies in the group of Prof. Ryan Gilmour, Professor of Chemical Biology at the Institute of Organic Chemistry. By introducing fluorine into the carbohydrate molecule, it is possible to identify important interactions with bacterial proteins that are involved in the spread and development of resistance against antibiotics.

    In this context, dynamic NMR spectroscopy is a key technology to speed up the target identification within this project. Our aim is to exploit and strengthen the potential of carbohydrates in drug development by establishing a unique carbohydrate-specific NMR platform in Münster. To realise this project, Dr Christina Jordan will acquire the expertise in bio-NMR spectroscopy at the internationally renowned ETH Zurich in the working group of Dr Alvar Gossert and transfer it to Münster. This synergistic combination of expertise from two research areas (organic chemistry and structural biology) will create a unique platform to accelerate drug discovery and tackle the threat posed by multi-resistant bacteria.

    We are very grateful for the funding from the Zukunftslabor and the "Ideenlabor" initiative at the University of Münster, as it will enable us to identify and exploit new interdisciplinary interfaces and thus lay the foundations for the implementation of this project.

    Dr. Christina Jordan (Organisch-Chemisches Institut)