Spark grants for AMI researchers


Four Adolphe Merkle Institute researchers have been awarded Spark grants by the Swiss National Science Foundation. The grantees will investigate the detection of Huntington’s disease, structural color in nature, metal-free perovskites, and biomarkers for pollution-induced lung inflammation.

Dr. Anasua Mukhopadhyay of the AMI BioPhysics group will aim to develop a nanopore-based sensor to detect and quantify mutant protein aggregates that feature in Huntington’s disease, a so-far untreatable disorder that causes the breakdown of nerve cells in the brain. This could open the door to improvements in the discovery and development of potential therapies.

Dr. Viola Vogler-Neuling of the Soft Matter Physics group will investigate how structural color forms in nature in the pupae of butterflies. She will test the hypothesis that these colors form through the self-assembly of lipidic lyotropic liquid crystals, which are already used in drug delivery. By understanding this process, she hopes to mimic it to develop biocompatible and environmentally friendly photonic pigments for the food and cosmetics industry.

Prof. Jovana Milic of the Smart Energy Materials group will attempt to develop novel metal-free all-organic molecular perovskites by using mechanosynthesis strategies. These materials are envisaged to feature exceptional ferroelectric properties, which would, unlike conventional perovskite ferroelectrics, not pose environmental concerns associated with toxic metal components.

Finally, Dr. Ruiwen He of the BioNanomaterials group aims to establish an in vitro database of volatile organic compound (VOC) biomarkers for specific biological processes such as air pollution-induced lung inflammation. The result could help boost in vivo research and non-invasive clinical detection of air pollution-related lung diseases.

Spark funding is intended for projects that show unconventional thinking and introduce a unique approach. The focus is on promising ideas of high originality, relying on no or very little preliminary data that are unlikely to be financed by other available funding schemes. Applicants can request between CHF 50,000 and CHF 100,000 for a project duration of six to twelve months.