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Master study program Matter to Life

The objective of the Matter to Life study program is to train innovative and creative inventors who combine new technologies and unknown topics in an explorative learning-by-doing approach and creatively use biological substances to gain new insights and applications in the field of life sciences to accomplish. The program is integrated into the Max Planck School Matter to Life. This internationally-oriented project comprises three independent, but closely cooperating Master's degree programs, in which the topic of Matter to Life at three different university locations is examined from different focal points and supported by a network of more than 40 renowned scientists from German research institutes.

Was genau ist Leben? Können lebensähnliche Prozesse, Funktionen und Objekte im Labor simuliert und nachgebaut werden? Das sind die grundlegenden Fragen, denen sich die Max Planck School Matter to Life widmen wird. Bild: Max Planck Schools

Matter to Life covers areas such as bionanotechnology and synthetic biology. In bionanotechnology, for example, synthetic nanoblocks from biomaterials are used to create molecular machines. These could one day be nanomachines that can move independently, have catalytic activity, or exert mechanical forces. Or imagine a few nanometer transport shuttles that can target cancer cells in a targeted manner. Synthetic biology deals with the challenge of manipulating biological systems on the scale of cells or cell networks in such a way that completely new functions emerge from them. Bacterial strains could then run mathematical programs, such as counting to ten. Or one day they would be able to make completely new raw materials and medicines, or to recycle waste. Another goal is to create life-like minimal systems from individual building blocks. Thus, for example, artificial cells could be generated that can reproduce or move themselves. Another area of synthetic biology, DNA computing, explores the programmability of DNA with the vision of using DNA as a new storage medium and programmable biomaterial for the creation of biological computing machines. Another goal is to quantitatively describe and model biological systems in order to make reliable predictions about the behavior of biological systems. From the modeling of living and life-like systems, a completely new approach to the central question of what constitutes living systems can be deduced. In this way, a deeper understanding of biological processes for basic research can be made possible.

Matter to Life: complex systems, dna nanotechnology, synthetic biology self.assembly, materials science bioengineering, super-resolution microscopy, molecular dynamics, cellular biophysics, molecular systems chemistry & engineering

The master's program is a consecutive, four-semester course that can be started annually in the winter semester. Admission to the degree program is based on a suitability testing procedure.

The aim of the program is to promote students' independent and creative thinking. In the area of Matter to Life, this knowledge can best be conveyed in a learning-by-doing approach directly at the laboratory bench while working on a scientific question. The proportion of modules that provide practical work in the laboratory, therefore, with a total of 78 credits comprises 65 percent of the total benefits.

In order to get acquainted with exploratory research, the students bring 18 credits for the practical module Matter to Life: Explorative Research in the first two semesters. This newly designed module has the goal to encourage the students in their own initiative for a creative approach to scientific issues. It takes up the central idea of the well-known and internationally renowned competitions iGEM and Biomod, in which multidisciplinary teams of university students compete in an international competition in order to develop their own ideas for particularly innovative research projects in the fields of synthetic biology (iGEM) and biodesign (Biomod). imagine. In the iGEM competition, teams are developing, designing, testing and measuring new systems with interchangeable biological components and standard molecular biology techniques that could someday be new solutions to ubiquitous problems. The aim of the Biomod competition is to use biomolecules such as DNA, RNA and proteins as building blocks for the creation of autonomous robots, molecular computers and prototypes for nanoscale therapies. Every year, more than 6000 people dedicate their summer to iGEM and Biomod competitions and then come together each fall to present their work and compete in an annual jamboree.

Based on this successful concept, the students in the module Matter to Life: Explorative Research in a much smaller group of three to four persons are to flexibly develop a research proposal from the field of Matter to Life over a period of two semesters. Here, the groups themselves are involved in the formulation of their own topic, which is generally chosen so that an explorative approach is necessary to approach the topic. The topics pick up on current developments in the Matter to Life area and formulate innovative ideas for new applications. Possible topics could, for example, be as follows:

  • Design of a chemical reaction network that fulfills a new function
  • Design and application of a functional DNA nanostructure
  • Biomedical application of artificial cells
  • Nanorobots for chemical synthesis

The task of the groups is then to develop a coherent research concept and, based on the results of practical (preliminary) experiments and, if possible, theoretical modeling, to prepare a scientific proposal and a poster presentation, which will demonstrate the plausibility and feasibility of the proposal. At the end of the second semester, the groups will be presenting their work within the program for the rest of their year and an examination committee at a poster and lecture session.

The work of the students is accompanied by one supervisor per group whose main task is to stimulate the creative out-of-the-box thinking process in the group and, if necessary, to assist in the practical training and pre-planning of the practical work to give. The supervisor intervenes as little as possible in the process of finding a solution in order to encourage the independent thinking of the students. By participating in the module Matter to Life: Explorative Research, students gain practical laboratory experience, which they combine for the first time with independent out-of-the-box thinking. The work on a project proposal brings the students closer to methods for the planning of scientific projects and provides first insights into the writing of scientific applications, which will gain in importance especially in the later doctoral phase. The given topic provides students with initial experience in the collaborative work of multidisciplinary projects and can provide new impulses for a possible choice of topic in the later collaborative research internship, the Master's thesis or the doctoral thesis. Working in groups also strengthens networking in the classroom from the beginning of the course and trains the students' team and communication skills.

Parallel to their work on the module Matter to Life: Explorative Research, students use the first two semesters to work on (mostly) theoretical modules in which they expand and deepen their specialist knowledge. With a share of 35 credits, students can pursue their own interests and build on individual competences by taking optional modules in the natural sciences. Thematically, the students are given a wide choice of modules from the faculties of physics, chemistry, medicine, mathematics, mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and the WZW. This is based on the goal of the program, to train creative innovators with different skill sets, who work in different research perspectives from different perspectives in the field of Matter to Life (synthetic biophysics, synthetic biology and molecular bioengineering). The freedom of choice enables all students to have a suitable connection to the various basic training courses from the bachelor courses in physics, chemistry, biochemistry or bioengineering, which are approved for the degree program. Through the combination of different elective modules from the areas of mathematics / computer science / external, (bio) chemistry and physics, the graduates can deepen their knowledge in their individual areas of interest and acquire, together with the experiences from the practical modules, an individual subject and method competence.

The remaining 7 credits of the achievements in the first two semesters will be used by the students to study the basics of the engineering of synthetic biological systems and an elective module in the field of ethics (2 CP) at the beginning of their master's program in the compulsory module Synthetic Biology 1 (5 CP). to acquire the basics of ethical consideration in the context of scientific questions, which will take up and deepen the students throughout the course of study from different perspectives.

After the first year of study, the students have acquired an individual profile and have developed initial approaches for an explorative approach to scientific projects. As a result, they are ideally prepared to expand their specialist and methodological skills in the second academic year during the largely independent work on longer-term applied scientific research projects. By participating in current research topics in the field of Matter to Life, students gain direct insight into the future research routine in the practical module Matter to Life: Collaborative Research Practicum and in the subsequent Master's Thesis. An inspirational research environment in multidisciplinary working groups and in particular lively discussions about current research projects, scientific publications and possible solutions and problems in the own project are an essential aspect of the training through the practical modules. Active participation in this everyday form of scientific communication not only trains students' communication skills, but also provides an important context for the development of new solutions and serves as a role model for a creative research culture.

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