New cross-border projects between Münster and Twente

University managements award four Collaboration Grants / Interview with Claudia Voelcker-Rehage about a winning project in 2022

Rector Johannes Wessels (front left) and Rector Magnificus Tom Veldkamp (front r
Rector Johannes Wessels (front left) and Rector Magnificus Tom Veldkamp (front right) congratulate the four winning teams. © WWU - MünsterView
On June 30, the managements of the Universities of Münster and Twente again awarded so-called Collaboration Grants, with a total of four teams convincing the jury with their concepts. The Universities have been using this funding instrument since 2018 in order to finance internal start-ups, intensify existing research collaborations between Münster and Twente, and provide the impetus for cross-border cooperation. In addition, the Grants unfold a great potential for acquiring third-party funding.

This year, a total of 15 project applications were submitted, with eight of the teams presenting their projects to the jury in short, five-minute presentations. Two projects - the so-called Strategic Collaboration Grants - each receive 80,000 euros, which are financed fifty-fifty by the University of Münster and the University of Twente for a duration of twelve months. For the first time, two more teams received funding for bilateral research projects which will be worked on by PhD students - the so-called Collaboration Grants for Young Researchers. Experienced researchers can receive up to 50,000 euros a year, for up to four years, for supervising junior researchers.

Award-winning projects

Strategic Collaboration Grants

Dr. Stephan Rave (Faculty of Mathematics and Computer Science, Institute for Analysis and Numerics, Münster) and Associate Thomas Weinhart (represented today by Dr. Anthony Thornton, professor of Granular Materials within the Department of Thermal and Fluid Engineering at the UT):

"Model Order Reduction for Discrete Particle Systems"

Granular materials are the most manipulated substance on the planet, after water. They play a vital role in numerous industries, including chemical, pharmaceutical, agri-food, energy, high-tech manufacturing, mining, and construction. While other sectors like aerospace have embraced computer-aided design, these industries still heavily rely on time-consuming and costly experimentation. To bridge this gap, a project is underway to combine two prominent open-source codes, MercuryDPM (UT) and pyMOR (UM), for the simulation of the behavior of granular materials, which promises to save time and resources in the design and development processes as well as to improve the overall performance and reliability of the final product or system.

Bart Jan Ravoo (Organic Chemistry Institute and Center for Soft Nanoscience at UM), Professor Dr. Jeroen Leijten and Julieta Paez (both Faculty of Science and Technology, Developmental Bioengineering Group):

"Novel tools to study and steer the volume of living cells"

Living cells within tissues interact with their surrounding extracellular matrix (ECM), a protein-based network, through intricate physical and chemical signals spanning various time and length scales. Understanding the mechanisms behind this communication is crucial in the field of healthcare. Gaining insight into tissue imbalances and diseases allows for the development of precise and effective treatments to restore tissue function and enables innovative tissue engineering approaches. This project aims to introduce a groundbreaking photo-chemical approach that grants unprecedented control over the volume of cells in three dimensions, in a reversible manner, and under the user's direction. This innovative technique will facilitate precise analysis of the influence of cell volume on cell behavior with enhanced precision and flexibility. Furthermore, it offers simplicity of implementation, cost-effectiveness, and compatibility with high-throughput production and analysis, opening doors to extensive research and potential applications in the field.

Collaboration Grants for Young Researchers

Hanna Meyer (Institute of Landscape Ecology, Münster) and Associate Ling Chang (Faculty of Geo-Information Sciences and Earth Observation, Twente):

"Quantifying and modelling peat breathing with satellite radar data"

Peatlands are crucial carbon sinks, vital for mitigating climate change. To enhance our understanding of peat breathing and carbon loss, Chang and Meyer propose a novel approach utilizing satellite remote sensing, specifically radar technology. Their study focuses on the Amtsvenn and Hündfelder Moor, an 894-hectare cross-border peatland area. Through the integration of satellite and in-situ observations with machine learning techniques, they aim to develop and validate a model that accurately captures current and future trends in peatland degradation and carbon release.

Ursula Wurstbauer (Institute of Physics and Center for Soft Nanoscience, Münster) and Rebecca Saive (Faculty of Science and Technology/S&T, Inorganic Materials Science Group, Twente):

"Role of contacts in two-dimensional van der Waals heterostructures for solar energy harvesting applications"

As our society grapples with an urgent energy crisis, local and renewable energy sources such as wind and solar power have become paramount, especially in regions like the Netherlands and Germany. In pursuit of sustainable solutions that promote a circular economy with minimal material usage and easy recyclability, Wurstbauer and Saive delve into the investigation, improvement, and fabrication of a highly promising class of materials for solar cells: nearly atomically thin two-dimensional heterostructures.

"It’s important to have a clearly defined topic with a specific plan of work"

Interview: How Claudia Voelcker-Rehage assesses the potential of Collaboration Grants

Last year, a team headed by Prof. Claudia Voelcker-Rehage from the Institute of Sport Science and Prof. Ciska Heida from the University of Twente received a Collaboration Grant for their project entitled "Study of vibrotactile cueing by means of vibration socks in a virtual environment to alleviate ’freezing’ in patients suffering from Parkinson’s disease". Kathrin Kottke spoke to Claudia Voelcker-Rehage about the contents and the aims of the project, and the role the funding played.

What is the project about specifically?

Parkinson patients’ gait can be marked by ’freezing’. Imagine your feet suddenly sticking to the ground, so that the next step cannot be taken: that’s what ’freezing’ is like. It impairs the mobility of the patient and leads to them losing their balance and falling, and this reduces the quality of life. Treating this freezing with medication is inadequate. A much more promising approach - and a non-pharmacological one - is so-called ’cueing’.

What exactly happens with this method?

External (rhythmic) temporal or spatial stimuli (cues) are used to initiate a movement, for example walking, or to continue the movement. What’s especially promising is the use of vibrotactile signals - i.e. whenever freezing occurs the patient gets a tactile stimulus, for example through a vibration element worn on the ankle. Vibrotactile cueing therefore has a lot of potential to reduce freezing. In the Collaboration Grant we’re studying the impact of vibrotactile signals on cognitive-motoric performance under conditions similar to those in everyday life. This takes place in virtual reality - in a virtual Gait Realtime Analysis Interactive Lab (GRAIL). The aim is to demonstrate the efficacy of ’vibrating socks’ in realistic scenarios - in particular, in comparison with other (visual or auditory) cueing systems.

How have you been using the 80,000 euros of funding?

We have used the money primarily for personnel expenditure. Our aim was firstly to carry out a pilot study to examine the cognitive effects of cueing and, building on that, to design a bigger study. Secondly, we wanted to prepare an application for external funding. In our team we decided to put the focus on preparing the project application because, in our experience, this takes up a great deal of time and personnel resources - and, also, relevant submission deadlines have to be observed.

And was your application successful?

It was! We got the approval back in March this year, and the project is starting in July. This enables us to continue working seamlessly on our project. Our aim is to develop a vibrotactile prototype which is centred on patients and has been clinically and scientifically assessed: a small device which can be worn round the ankle and which contains a sensor. This system analyses the pattern of steps taken by means of machine learning algorithms and gives off a vibrotactile cue when freezing is detected. We’re also developing an app which links up to the device and stores relevant data for patients and carer, summarising these data is an easy-to-understand way.

Where is the scientific value-added in the Collaboration Grants for cross-border cooperation?

Collaborating with colleagues from the University of Twente offers us the opportunity to approach our research topic in an interdisciplinary way, set up new research collaborations and, because there is no great distance between us, to have discussions face to face (and not only digitally).

What advice would you give colleagues who would also like to apply for a Collaboration Grant - or have just received one?

In my opinion, it’s important to have a clearly defined topic with a specific plan of work so that it is realistic to meet your aims with the funding available.