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Self-Shedding surfaces

What can you do when functional surfaces falter? When catheters become contaminated or sensors become unresponsive? Up until now the answer was simply: remove and replace.

Dr. Karen Lienkamp, junior research group leader at IMTEK, has received a European Research Council (ERC) starting grant totaling 1.49 million euros to develop a new approach. In the future medical devices or sensors, also known as functional polymer surfaces, should “shed” so that the worn surfaces can regenerate and be fully operational once again. Over the next five years, Lienkamp and her team plan to set up a technology platform that will selectively replace the top functional polymer layer of a multilayer system. In the process the defect will be removed and a new functional layer will become exposed, thereby suppressing the build-up of a layer of germs on medical devices and thus preventing life-threatening infections.

Karen Lienkamp studied chemistry in Cambridge and Berlin and got her PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research in Mainz. After completing a three-year post-doc assignment at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Massachusetts in the US, she returned to Germany in 2010 to begin her habilitation connected to the “Laboratory for Chemistry and Physics of Interfaces" at the Department of Microsystems Engineering at the University of Freiburg. She runs the junior research group “Bioactive Polymer Synthesis and Surface Engineering“, that is funded in part by the German Research Foundation’s Emmy Noether Programme. The focus of the research group is bioactive polymer coatings for biomedical applications.

The ERC grants are among the most prestigious grants in Europe. The only criterion for funding is the researchers’ academic excellence along with their applications. In the current procurement round, a total of 3,272 applications for Starting Grants have been submitted to the departments of Physical Sciences and Engineering, Life Sciences and Social Sciences and Humanities.

Natascha Thoma-Widmann