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Mimicking Nature: National Competence Center for Intelligent Bio-Inspired Materials at the University of Fribourg

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The University of Fribourg will be the home of a new National Center of Competence in Research focused on smart materials inspired by nature. The center will receive a total of 12 Mio CHF in federal funding over the initial four-year operating period and is poised to become an international hub for research, education, and innovation in one of the most promising research domains of materials science.

Virus with a specific surface structure that facilitates penetration through cell membranes (Source: Thinkstock)

The Federal Department of Economic Affairs, Education and Research (EAER) announced on December 17. 2013 that it will fund the proposal by the University of Fribourg for a new National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) on “Bio-Inspired Stimuli-Responsive Materials”. The NCCR is part of a cohort of 8 new NCCRs, selected from 63 submitted proposals via a rigorous and competitive selection process carried out by the Swiss National Science Foundation and international expert panels. NCCRs are designed to enable long-term research projects in areas of vital strategic importance. Each center is affiliated with a university which offers strong competences in the relevant research domain and which serves as the leading house. NCCRs are generally funded over a period of 12 years.

The overarching research theme of the new NCCR is to take inspiration from nature in order to design artificial materials which can change their properties “on command”. Such materials, sometimes referred to as “smart” or “intelligent” materials, are of fundamental scientific interest and potentially useful in countless applications, ranging from climate control elements for buildings to drug delivery systems.

The new NCCR at the University of Fribourg will be led by Professor Christoph Weder, who also serves as Director of the University of Fribourg’s Adolphe Merkle Institute (AMI). The national competence center will unite fourteen research groups based at AMI and the University of Fribourg’s departments of chemistry, medicine, and physics, as well as leading research groups at the University of Geneva, the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETHZ), and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Lausanne (EPFL).

Hair bundles in the inner ear that transduce mechanical motion into electrical signals (Source: Thinkstock)

Professor Guido Vergauwen, Rektor of the University of Fribourg, views the award of the National Competence Center for Research as an endorsement of the University’s strategy to develop the domains of materials science and life sciences as core competences for which the Faculty of Natural Sciences is recognized. “The award of the NCCR reflects that Professor Weder and his team not only rapidly established the Adolphe Merkle Institute, founded in 2008, as an internationally recognized competence center, but also effectively integrated AMI’s activities in the domain of materials science with existing competences of the University in chemistry, physics, and biomedical sciences. The NCCR will further leverage this positive development and will strengthen Switzerland’s position as hub for research and innovation in this important research domain”.

“We are delighted that our vision and plans for the new center are supported by the federal authorities” says Professor Christoph Weder, the designated director of the NCCR. “Cutting-edge research in the domain of biologically-inspired materials requires sustainable interdisciplinary collaboration between multiple research teams possessing complementary competences. An NCCR is the perfect instrument to support such a venture. We are very much looking forward to putting our project into action”.


Prof. Guido Vergauwen, Rector, University of Fribourg, 026 300 70 02,;

Prof. Christoph Weder, AMI, Director of NCCR, 026 300 94 65,

Prof. Curzio Rüegg, Dpt. of medicine, Deputy Director of NCCR, 026 300 87 66,

Website of the new NCCR:

Infos & annexes

Publié le 17.12.2013


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