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TUM successfully gets four research Clusters of Excellence

Physics involved in three of the research clusters – twice in a leading role

2018-09-27 – Nachrichten aus dem Physik-Department

The Technical University of Munich (TUM) has got off to another successful start in the extremely competitive Excellence Initiative organized by Germany’s government and federal states. Over the next seven years, four research clusters run by TUM and its cooperation partners will each receive up to 70 million euros in funding. Three have substantial contributions from TUM’s physics department. The clusters will focus on research into energy conversion, quantum technology, the origin of the universe and neurological diseases. TUM is now also preparing to submit its application for the next round of funding as a University of Excellence. It is the only technical university in Germany to have held this title consecutively since 2006.

The ORIGINS Cluster of Excellence looks into the origins of both life and the universe itself.
The Helix Nebula, 700 light-years away from Earth. The ORIGINS Cluster of Excellence looks into the origins of both life and the universe itself. – Image: ESO/VISTA/J. Emerson

“TUM, in cooperation with its strong partners, has confirmed its leading role in research and science in Germany. The decision underlines the quality of our research program. Excellent scientists will use the funding to establish important international hubs addressing highly relevant research topics. We will thus be giving added momentum to the strong impetus which the Excellence Initiative has already brought to the research landscape in Germany,” says Prof. Wolfgang A. Herrmann, President of TUM.

“Successful collaboration between different disciplines and multiple partner institutions in TUM’s Clusters of Excellence over the past twelve years has shone the spotlight on Munich as a leading international hotbed of science. The particularly close partnership between Munich’s two universities, the Max Planck Institutes and Helmholtz Zentrum München has proved yet again that we are on the right strategic path, with each institute contributing its specific research strengths,” says Herrmann.

After counting the votes cast by international expert committees, the selection committee approved the following applications from Munich:

Munich Center for Quantum Science and Technology (MCQST)

quantum-mechanical properties of spin systems
This rendering visualizes quantum-mechanical properties of spin systems. Understanding quantum mechanics - the research field of MCQST - is important for several technologies, among them the spin systems of magnetic resonance tomography (MRT). – Image: S. Glaser / TUM

Breakthroughs in quantum mechanics have inspired everyday technologies such as microchips, computers and lasers. Quantum mechanics describes the physical properties of the smallest particles, and work in this area revolutionized the world of science in the 20th century. A technological leap forward is currently taking place known as “Quantum 2.0”. It is based on the use of superposition and entanglement of quantum states. The number of potential applications is huge, with ultra-high-performance quantum computers and secure quantum communication systems being just two examples.

The objective of the Munich Center for Quantum Science and Technology is to further the scientific understanding of quantum mechanics phenomena and thus advance basic components, materials and concepts for quantum technologies. Interdisciplinary research extends from the analysis of entanglement in multiparticle systems to quantum chemistry, astronomy and precision metrology. A new research building is under construction at the Garching campus of TUM. Funding to the tune of 40 million euros is being jointly provided by the federal government and the Free State of Bavaria.

Alongside TUM and LMU as joint applicants, the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics, the Walther Meißner Institute of the Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities and the Deutsches Museum are involved in MCQST. TUM’s spokespersons for the cluster are Prof. Rudolf Gross (physics) and Prof. Ignacio Cirac (physics / MPI of Quantum Optics).


The creation of the universe – from the “Big Bang” to the emergence of life – has always been one of the most intriguing mysteries for the human race. Understanding it remains one of science’s greatest challenges. Building on the internationally acclaimed research achievements of Munich’s Universe Cluster of Excellence (2006 - 2018), the new ORIGINS cluster will try to reveal more about the innermost structure of the universe as well as the origin of life. To this end, scientists from the fields of astrophysics, astrobiology, biophysics and particle physics will collaborate to unearth new findings about the relationship between planet formation and the emergence of the first prebiotic molecules, to name one example. The Munich - Garching research hub is one of the foremost locations in the world for research in this area.

Joining TUM and LMU as joint applicants, the Max Planck Institutes of Astrophysics, Biochemistry, Extraterrestrial Physics, Physics and Plasma Physics as well as the European Southern Observatory (ESO), the Leibniz Supercomputing Center and the Deutsches Museum are all partners in the “ORIGINS – From the origins of the universe to the first building blocks of life” cluster. TUM’s spokesperson is Prof. Stephan Paul (physics).


FRM II is an important research tool in the e-conversion Cluster of Excellence.
Scientists at the neutron research source FRM II employ positrons to measure the properties of batteries. FRM II is an important research tool in the e-conversion Cluster of Excellence. – Image: W. Schürmann / TUM

The e-conversion Cluster of Excellence is exploring ways to deliver a stable, efficient and sustainable supply of energy by combining nanoscience with energy sciences. This cluster focuses on the energy conversion processes of different technologies – from photovoltaics through (photo-)electrocatalysis to battery technologies. To date, inadequate control of these processes in nanomaterials and at relevant interfaces has led to resistance, recombination losses or overvoltage, all of which compromise the efficiency of power generation.

e-conversion is using experiments to study the basic mechanisms of energy conversion with a time resolution in the femtosecond range. The findings will enable scientists to design and synthesize energy materials with atom-scale precision. The cluster will build an electron microscopy center in order to characterize the materials.

Alongside TUM and LMU as joint applicants, the Max Planck Institutes for Chemical Energy Conversion (Mülheim/Ruhr) and for Solid State Research (Stuttgart) are taking part in e-conversion. TUM’s spokespersons are Prof. Karsten Reuter and Prof. Ulrich Heiz (chemistry).


(without involvement of TUM’s physics department)

The SyNergy Cluster of Excellence studies the onset of neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis and Alzheimer’s. Given the highly complex nature of the nervous system, a large number of processes influence the development of neurodegenerative diseases. The Munich-based research team will take a new interdisciplinary approach to systems neurology.

This cluster has been funded by the Excellence Initiative since 2012. The close collaboration between teams from different scientific disciplines has already yielded highly impressive results, including the discovery that catabolic products of lipid metabolism aggravate inflammations in damaged nerve fibers and prevent healing in multiple sclerosis.

Alongside TUM and LMU as joint applicants, the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases (federal initiative), Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Max Planck Institutes of Biochemistry, Neurobiology and Psychiatry are collaborating in “SyNergy – Munich Cluster for Systems Neurology”. The spokesperson for TUM is Prof. Thomas Misgeld (medicine).

57 out of 88 cluster applications approved

Through the Excellence Strategy (formerly: Excellence Initiative), the German government and the federal states want to promote research at top international level at German universities on a permanent basis. The decision on the allocation of funding to research clusters was announced today by an international committee comprising 39 votes from the science and research community and 32 votes from policy-makers (government and federal state ministries). 57 out of 88 applications were approved. The Munich clusters have been jointly designed by TUM and LMU. The funding period is seven years starting in January 2019. After that, the universities can apply for a second seven-year funding term.

Universities with at least two approved Clusters of Excellence – such as TUM – can apply in December for the status of University of Excellence based on their institutional strategy. This decision will be announced in July 2019.

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