17. March 2022

EU funds projects worth millions in chemistry, immunology and computer science Three ERC Grants for the University of Bonn at once

Grants from the European Research Council (ERC) are highly coveted because they are hard to come by and provide funding in the millions of euros. At the University of Bonn, three scientists will receive such funding for the next five years.

Receive a grant from the European Research Council (ERC):
Receive a grant from the European Research Council (ERC): - - (from left) Junior Professor Dr. Ala Bunescu, Prof. Dr. Felix Meißner and Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gall from the University of Bonn. © Sabine Hardy/Private/Barbara Frommann/University of Bonn
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Junior Professor Dr. Ala Bunescu works at the Kekulé Institute for Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry and is a member of the Transdisciplinary Research Area (TRA) "Building Blocks of Matter and Fundamental Interactions" at the University of Bonn. An ERC Starting Grant will provide her with 1.5 million euros for her research over the next five years.

The scientist is researching new strategies for tailor-made chemicals with lowest economic and ecological impacts as possible. The focus is on organic compounds, such as those needed in the production of food, drugs, and dietary supplements. "My team strives to develop novel reactions that shorten synthetic routes," says Ala Bunescu. In the project "Multifunctional Ligands for Enhanced Catalysis," she is primarily interested in directly replacing carbon-hydrogen bonds with desired functional groups using earth-abundant transition metal catalysts.

After studying organic chemistry at the Institut National des Sciences Appliquées Rouen (France), Ala Bunescu obtained her PhD at the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (Switzerland). Research stays took her to the University of California Berkeley (USA) and the University of Cambridge (England). She has been a junior professor at the University of Bonn since 2021.

Fire alarm in the tissue

Inflammatory processes are a fundamental part of the body's defense system. But how are they regulated at the molecular level? The biochemist and systems immunologist Prof. Dr. Felix Meißner of the Cluster of Excellence ImmunoSensation2 is investigating this question. He has now received an ERC Consolidator Grant for his research. The project is funded with around two million euros.

Mechanical irritation or injury, infarction or other trauma causes "sterile inflammation". Dying cells in such damaged tissue can trigger a kind of "fire alarm" by sending out messenger substances. Cells of the immune system then help to initiate the repair of the tissue. If their regulation is disturbed, unwanted inflammatory processes occur. With the "FIREALARM" project, Prof. Meißner wants to decipher these molecular basics: "With the ERC-funded project, we will go in search of endogenous messenger substances that are emitted by dying cells and play a role in sterile and chronic inflammatory diseases."

Felix Meißner received his PhD from the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Infection Biology in Berlin. After research stays at the University of California in San Francisco, among others, he has been an independent research group leader at the MPI of Biochemistry in Martinsried since 2015. Since 2021, he has headed the Department of "Systems Immunology and Proteomics" at the Institute of Innate Immunity at the University Hospital Bonn.

Fault prediction with artificial intelligence

More than 90 percent of car accidents are due to human error, as are about half of incidents during surgical procedures and nearly 70 percent on assembly lines. "Many of these errors lead to high costs or are irreversible," says Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gall from the Institute of Computer Science at the University of Bonn. He will use the around two million euros from an ERC Consolidator Grant to carry out the project "Forecasting and Preventing Human Errors" (FORHUE) over the next five years.

He wants to use artificial intelligence methods to predict errors from video data. The idea is to create a model that predicts the movement of people and objects and detects errors before they occur. An acoustic signal is then supposed to warn. "Can we reliably predict errors in time to prevent them?" asks Gall. "This is a very challenging question that the ERC is now funding."

After studying mathematics at the University of Wales Swansea (UK) and at the University of Mannheim, Jürgen Gall earned his doctorate at the Max Planck Institute for Computer Science in Saarbrücken. He worked at ETH Zurich and the Max Planck Institute for Intelligent Systems in Tübingen before accepting an appointment at the University of Bonn in 2013. In 2016, he already received an ERC Starting Grant. The scientist is a member of the Cluster of Excellence PhenoRob as well as the Transdisciplinary Research Areas "Modelling" and "Sustainable Futures" at the University of Bonn.

Contact for the media:

Junior Professor Dr. Ala Bunescu
Kekulé Institute for Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry
University of Bonn
Phone +49-228-732569
E-mail: ala.bunescu@uni-bonn.de

Prof. Dr. Felix Meißner
Institute for Innate Immunity
Cluster of Excellence ImmunoSensation2
University Hospital Bonn/University of Bonn
Phone +49 228-28751210
E-mail: felix.meissner@uni-bonn.de

Prof. Dr. Jürgen Gall
Institute for Computer Science
University of Bonn
Phone +49-228-7369600
E-mail: gall@iai.uni-bonn.de

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