Six German-Russian research groups receive three years of funding

Helmholtz and the Russian Science Foundation (RSF) have jointly selected research groups for the Helmholtz-RSF Joint Research Groups funding program for the third time. For a period of three years, each of the six groups will receive annual funding of up to 130,000 euros from the Helmholtz Initiative and Networking Fund and an equal amount of funding from the RSF.

“To achieve decisive scientific breakthroughs, we must cooperate internationally and think beyond disciplinary limits,” says Helmholtz President Otmar D. Wiestler. “For many years, we have been working with important partners from Russia who make valuable contributions in a number of research areas. The researchers who have now been selected will continue this tradition. I would like to warmly congratulate the selected scientists and wish them every success in the work that lies ahead of them.”

The Helmholtz-RSF Joint Research Groups are based on a partnership between Helmholtz and the Russian Science Foundation (RSF). One focus of the program is on funding young scientists in both countries. Scientists from Helmholtz Centers and Russian partners are involved in each of the selected research projects.

The most recent call for applications covered the “Materials and Emerging Technologies” and “Structure and Dynamics of Matter” research areas and garnered 32 high-quality entries. From these, six particularly promising projects were chosen. The first Helmholtz–RSF Joint Research Groups call for applications in 2017 was for the “Biomedicine” and “Information and Data Science” fields. The second, in 2018, was for “Energy Storage and Grid Integration” and “Climate Research”. This means that a total of 18 bilateral projects are currently being funded.

The six research projects funded from the most recent call for applications are:

1. COOLedger – easy-to-use digital distributed ledger

The Bitcoin blockchain is the best-known example of distributed ledger technology (DLT). This software technology allows a wide variety of transaction types to be documented in a forgery-proof manner that is transparent to all users by maintaining any number of decentralized ledger copies. The various DLT requirements in logistics, finance, and health care – in the areas of consistency and availability, for instance – has given rise to countless DLT variants. To support users in selecting a suitable DLT variant, the “COOLedger – A COnfiguration toOL for Distributed Ledgers” project is developing a model that identifies the relationships between DLT characteristics and presents them in a comprehensible manner.

Point of contact:

Ali Sunyaev

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

E-mail: sunyaev(at)

Cooperation partner: National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE), School of Business Informatics, Mikhail Komarov


2.Digital twin of block copolymer membranes

The “Development of a Digital Twin of Self-Assembled, Stimuli-Responsive Block Copolymer Membranes” project is developing a digital procedure that maps so-called intelligent block copolymer membranes in a computer model. The properties of these intelligent membranes can be altered by stimuli such as pH value changes and certain additives. To create a digital twin, researchers must first achieve a fundamental understanding of the block copolymer properties and their reactions to external stimuli. To do this, they create various polymers and characterize them. The results are then compared to computer simulations. The goal of the project is to create a digital twin that minimizes the laboratory experiments necessary. It is hoped that, in the future, this technique can be used to develop membranes with customized pore properties faster and more cost-efficiently. The project partner is Lomonosov Moscow State University.

Point of contact:

Volker Abetz

Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre for Materials and Coastal Research (HZG)

Institute for Polymer Research


Cooperation partner: Lomonosov Moscow State University, Igor Potemkin


3. Magnetic quantum materials for future information technologies

Magnetic topological insulators are a unique class of materials that allow spectacular quantum effects. The most important of these effects is the quantum anomalous Hall (QAH) effect. (Bi,Sb)2Te3 is in this material class, and its characteristics can be controlled by doping with external magnetic elements. HZB physicist Dr. Jaime Sánchez-Barriga will study this material at the BESSY II synchrotron source with colleagues from Lomonosov State University, Moscow. Their goal is to develop new ferromagnetic and antiferromagnetic topological materials that can be used in future information technologies. The resulting QAH material has the potential to function even at room temperature and increase currently available computing speeds by orders of magnitude.

Jaime Sánchez-Barriga

Helmholtz Centre Berlin for Materials and Energy (HZB)

E-mail: jaime.sanchez-barriga(at)
Cooperation partner: Lomonosov State University Moscow, Lada V. Yashina


4. Remotely-controlled “light switches” for nerve cells

Optogenetics is a new biomedical technology that uses light to control living cells: It allows neurons to be activated and deactivated with unprecedented precision. This is made possible by light-activated proteins that are introduced directly into the cells. Optogenetics has proven to be a revolutionary method in brain research and offers great potential for clinical applications such as modulating the activity of cerebral circulation systems involved in neurological diseases such as epilepsy and Parkinson’s disease. Viral rhodopsins – a family of membrane proteins – could expand the current optogenetic toolbox. In this project, scientists from Forschungszentrum Jülich and Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology will study the structure and function of viral rhodopsins, focusing on investigating optogenetic applications.

Point of contact:

Valentin Gordeliy

Forschungszentrum Jülich

E-mail: g.valentin(at)

Cooperation partner: Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology (MIPT), Vitaly Shevchenko


5. Biomagnetic nanomaterials for monitoring future stem cell therapies

There are currently no adequate methods for monitoring the viability, functionality, and long-term prospects of stem cell therapeutic agents in the recipient organism. In performing these functions, genetically coded reporters have a decisive advantage over synthetic contrast agents: After cell division, they are passed on to each daughter cell and are therefore easier to trace. Researchers from the Helmholtz Zentrum München and their colleagues from the Russian National Research Medical University (RNRMU) will therefore introduce new biomagnetic nanocompartments into stem cells so that those cells can be visualized with magnetic resonance tomography (MRT) and manipulated with electromagnetic fields.

Point of contact:

Gil G. Westmeyer

Helmholtz Zentrum München – German Research Center for Environmental Health (HMGU)
E-mail: gil.westmeyer(at)

Cooperation partner: Pirogov Russian National Research Medical University (RNRMU), Maxim A. Abakumov


6. Tiny magnetic eddies carry signals in artificial neuronal networks

Tiny magnetic eddies – so-called topological magnetization textures (TMTs) – are considered promising candidates for particularly compact and energy-efficient data storage. They are flat – mere nanometers in height – and have special, stable conductivity (they are topologically protected). Intensive research on TMTs has been in progress for some time. Recently, Jülich researchers experimentally demonstrated a new class of TMTs that behave like three-dimensional particles. Their expected special characteristic is that minimal external stimuli cause extraordinarily large responses. This makes the 3D TMT a key object for potential future neuromorphic components. In the TOPOMANN project, researchers from Jülich and Mainz will work with colleagues from the State University of St. Petersburg to study whether 3D TMTs can carry signals efficiently in artificial 3D neuronal networks. They will develop theoretical and experimental methods to this end.

Point of contact:

Stefan Bluegel

Forschungszentrum Jülich

E-mail: s.bluegel(at)

Cooperation partner: St. Petersburg State University, Valery Uzdin


The Helmholtz Association contributes to solving major challenges facing society, science, and the economy through top-level scientific achievements in six research areas: Energy, Earth and Environment, Health, Key Technologies, Matter, and Aeronautics, Space, and Transport. With more than 40,000 employees at 19 research centers and an annual budget of around 4.7 billion euros, the Helmholtz Association is the largest scientific organization in Germany. Its work is rooted in the tradition of the great natural scientist Hermann von Helmholtz (1821-1894).

August 16, 2019


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