• ERC Consolidator Grant Supports Development of Intelligent Materials
    Prof. Andreas Walther

News & Views

ERC Consolidator Grant Supports Development of Intelligent Materials

Jan 04 2021

In support of his research at Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz (JGU) into the creation of intelligent materials with properties characteristic of life, Professor Andreas Walther has received EUR 2 million from the European Research Council for his Metabolic Mechanical Materials: Adaptation, Learning & Interactivity (M3ALI) project. He plans to produce mechanical materials equipped with the ability to adapt, learn and interact. The long-term goal is to generate a form of coevolution between synthetic materials and living cells, which would blur the boundaries between animate and inanimate matter. The ERC Consolidator Grant, is one of the most richly endowed EU funding awards given to top-level researchers. Walther joined Mainz University in October 2020 from the University of Freiburg.

Plastics have been industrially manufactured for over 100 years and are now present in all areas of our lives. "Plastics, or more generally, materials with a polymer structure have shaped and improved human life over the past century. Today, there are polymers that change in response to external stimuli and developments inspired by the world of biology with innovative functions and properties," explained Walther. "If we were able to endow synthetic materials with the qualities of living organisms, we could transform these otherwise static substances into dynamic, truly intelligent and fully interactive material systems."

These intelligent materials are to be created using DNA-based hydrogels. "I will try to link various research areas together in the M3ALI project and combine what we have achieved to date. The new direction we are taking involves metabolic-mechanical materials that can be trained, that learn and adapt and show interactive behavior in systems," said Professor Andreas Walther, summarizing the work ahead. Possible applications could be tissue cultures that could be used to create artificial tissue structures or even trainable, self-learning materials, such as artificial muscles.

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