Penn State, University of Freiburg living materials partnership begins virtually

The universities signed an agreement for a joint center late last summer

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Faculty members from Penn State and the University of Freiburg met and shared their work in two joint webinar sessions on May 27 and 28. Each session lasted about two hours and saw speakers from both sides of the partnership share their research.

The purpose, says Zoubeida Ounaies, director of the Penn State Convergence Center for Living Multifunctional Material Systems, was to figure out where and how collaborations could best occur.

“The first step to this partnership is figuring out where the strengths are and where there is a natural convergence of topics,” Ounaies said at the beginning of the second day’s session. “That is not something that can be forced from the top down. It has to happen naturally.”

Jürgen Rühe, director of the University of Freiburg Cluster of Excellence for Living, Adaptive and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems (livMatS), agreed.

“A key goal in these initial meetings is to see each other’s activities and where they might work together,” he said. “Our role is to facilitate faculty connection. We are the catalysts that bring together scientists across the Atlantic to perform exciting research for a better society.”

Overall, there were 10 presentations by 10 different faculty members from both institutions. Roughly 40 people tuned in to the webinar each day to watch the presentations. They covered a multitude of topics, from plant cell wall dynamics, to antimicrobial polymers, to artificial synapses. One presentation focused on the role of philosophy in determining the ethics of living materials research, which sparked a healthy discussion about the role of culture in determining scientific progress.

The online environment presented opportunities and challenges for the group.

“We would have loved for this meeting to be in Freiburg,” said Ounaies. “Especially since it’s so beautiful there!” However, said Ounaies, despite some technical difficulties, the attendees were engaged and attentive.

While the pandemic has changed the time schedule of the joint venture and partnership, Ounaies and Rühe said they have plans to continue with joint activities virtually for the foreseeable future. These include supporting joint position papers and creating a joint website. They are also planning to hold another webinar in the summer, likely in July.

“I am thrilled to see this important initiative develop and take shape in such a productive and energetic way,” said Alexandra Persiko, strategic partnership manager in Global Programs, who attended the webinar. “It was truly great to see so many engaged and enthusiastic researchers and scientists participate, and to witness how the University of Freiburg and Penn State partnership keeps growing in exciting ways.”

For more information about the Penn State-Freiburg Living Materials initiative, contact Ounaies at

Last Updated June 04, 2020