Picture of the month

Picture of the Month: Living Cell Factories

At first glance it could be the graphics of a thermal imaging camera. But in fact our picture of the month April shows a living cell factory under the microscope.The image was created in the course of a research cooperation between the Institute of Solid Mechanics and the Institute of Biochemical Engineering at the Technische Universität Braunschweig.

Filamentous microorganisms such as fungi or bacteria of the genus Actinomycetes are used and cultivated in biotechnology as living cell factories, for example to produce valuable enzymes, organic acids or pharmaceutical agents. Depending on the conditions under which these microorganisms are cultivated, they develop different forms (morphologies). Their filamentous cells (hyphae) can grow as mycelia, in which each hyphe is surrounded by the culture medium, or they can form dense, pellet-like structures in which the hyphal agglomerates combine to form a mostly spherical pellet.

The picture of the month shows the structure of such a pellet. Using a confocal microscope, a special light microscope, the scientists from the Institutes of Solid Mechanics and Biochemical Engineering of the TU Braunschweig have created a picture of a living cell factory. They have visualised the hyphal structure of a biopellet of the Actinomycetes bacterium Actinomadura namibiensis. The colour coding provides information on the position of the hyphae: blue hyphae are located close to the microscope objective, red ones are further away.

Compression of filamentous pellets

A characteristic of filamentous microorganisms is that the viability and productivity of their hyphae are closely linked to the morphology of the pellet and especially to the density of the hyphae. Their morphology is significantly influenced by changes in cultivation conditions, such as the addition of salt. This is shown, for example, by the fact that the addition of salt also significantly changes the pellet stiffness. The researchers from the Institutes of Solid Mechanics and Biochemical Engineering carried out compression experiments using a micromanipulator. This is a measuring device with which forces and paths in the micronewton or micrometer range can be recorded on individual biopellets. Biopellets were clamped between two plates and the force response exerted by the hyphal structure was determined over the distance between the plates. The results of these investigations were recently published in the Biochemical Engineering Journal.

Actinomadura namibiensis

As part of its metabolism, the bacterium A. namibiensis produces the antiviral agents Labyrinthopeptin A1 and A2. Labyrinthopeptin A1 shows antiviral activity against the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). In addition, synergistic effects with other standard antiretroviral drugs were found, which makes Labyrinthopeptin A1 a promising candidate for the development of a new broad-spectrum antibiotic. In contrast, Labyrinthopeptin A2 shows activity against neuropathic pain.

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Does everything fit? Then send us your photo with the subject “Picture of the month” to presse@tu-braunschweig.de. We reserve the right to decide which photos to publish.

Pictures of previous months

Picture of the month March 2020

Visualization of settlement patterns of the urban region of Qingdao from the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism. Picture credits: ISU/TU Braunschweig

How do we get an indepth understanding of urbanisation patterns in a rapidly growing urban region? And how do we open up new approaches for a more sustainable development? In the international inter- and transdisciplinary research project “EAST-CITIES”, the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism (ISU) of the Technische Universität Braunschweig is evolving the TOPOI method, which is applied to enable the integrated analysis and description of settlement patterns along an urban-rural gradient in Qingdao in the eastern Chinese province of Shandong in our picture of the month. The interdisciplinary EAST-CITIES team of Tongji University Shanghai, Technische Universität Braunschweig, GESIS Leibniz Institute for Social Sciences and partner institutions in Qingdao develop new approaches for integrated, data driven, scientifically validated, inter- and transdisciplinary founded sustainable development scenarios decoupling human development from negative environmental, social and economic impact. Researchers from the disciplines of architecture and urban planning, landscape and transport planning, engineering, economics and information sciences from China and Germany focus on the holistic development of “medium-sized” urban regions of up to 10 million inhabitants. The team of the Institute for Sustainable Urbanism (ISU) identifies and typifies existing and planned settlement patterns in Qingdao, China, on the basis of various attributes (e.g. density, functions, land use, accessibility, permeability, blue and green networks, proximity). In an iterative process, these TOPOI are enriched with findings of other disciplinary research, ultimately modeling and simulating the diverse interdependencies. Through the TOPOI method the scientists are able to gain a better understanding of settlement patterns along the urban-rural gradient. By evaluating these through a morphological approach it is possible to more accurately define and analyze dynamic urban-rural systems. The visualization gives insight into current EAST-CITIES research. ISU develops data-driven methods such as Image Classification to generate a comprehensive geospatial database based on satellite imagery and other accessible data sources. Based on this the scientists refine the TOPOI method initially developed within the METAPOLIS project. Model and data-driven multi-criteria geospatial analysis, advanced visualization techniques and visual analytic methods are applied to research on manifold attributes defining the Qingdao TOPOI, of which the map visualizes one: the proximity of buildings within a radius of 450 meters (5 minute walking distance) around each single building in the city. The ISU-team developed the map applying the Inverse Distance Weighted interpolation. IDW weighs the influence of one point to another relative to the distance between the points. This method allows to visualize building proximity and is one of a series of attributes describing the TOPOI to have a better understanding of the morphology and specifics of settlement patterns of Qingdao. Areas in purple have a low proximity score and areas in yellow have a high proximity score.

Picture of the month February 2020

Shapes made of ice and snow were created by architecture students from the Institute for Architecture-Related Art in Norway. Picture credits: Aleigh Smith

Will or won’t it come this winter? The snow. Things are looking bad for our region right now. Reason enough to choose a photo from a snow-sure area as the picture of the month February. In Vinje, a municipality in southern Norway, the scenery is covered with freshly fallen snow crystals in February. Perfect weather for skiing, sledding, snowball fights – and sculpting. This is why every year many people make a pilgrimage to Telemark for the “Vinje Snoforming Festival”. Students at the Institute of Architecture-Related Art at the TU Braunschweig have been shaping snow sculptures in this international and interdisciplinary exchange project for eight years in a row under the guidance of the artist Ilka Raupach. “A walk through the wilderness” is the name of the snow sculpture by Nils Aschemann, Isabel Dohle, Leo Goldenbaum, Nadine Grabiger, Johanna Hamel, Daniel Ilunga Matthiesen, Anna-Lisa Lignow, Jan Schellhorn, Aleigh Smith and Xingyu Zhu. Arranged around two concentric circles, each carefully crafted piece represents a state of wilderness: fear, refuge, expanse, liberation and tranquility. In Braunschweig, the architecture students designed their models on a scale of 1:30. On site, in Vinje, they decided where to place the sculptures – in keeping with their surroundings and facing the sun. Before the sculptural work could begin, the students had to construct three-metre high cubes using plywood boarding, which they filled with snow. The Braunschweig students moved 20 tons per cube – regardless of the weather conditions. They stamped the snow in the mould until it solidified. Then they could remove the wooden casing and let the raw blocks freeze overnight. Only then did the actual sculpting begin: first with shovels, then with saws and grinding tools to refine the shape. For one week they worked on their sculptures. Works that disappear when the snow melts. “This way, the snowy landscape becomes a laboratory for us. Walk-in sculptures and temporary architecture in the context of the landscape are created,” says Ilka Raupach. “Working with snow as a material offered the students a rare opportunity, as it is not a material typically used in architectural design. This unique experience will certainly influence their work as architects”.

Picture of the month January 2020

Quadrocopter ALiCE from the Institute of Flight Guidance will soon be in use on the MOSAiC expedition. Picture credits: Axel Behrendt

It is still properly packed in crates, underway on a ship from Bremerhaven, heading for the Arctic. Its destination is the icebreaker “Polarstern”, which is frozen in sea ice and drifting across the North Pole. The quadrocopter ALiCE of the Institute of Flight Guidance (IFF) at Technische Universität Braunschweig will be deployed on the MOSAiC expedition led by the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research (AWI). Our picture of the month shows it during the Polarstern expedition 2017 east of Greenland. Over the course of the five-week research expedition in September and October 2017, scientists Dr Falk Pätzold and Thomas Krüger from IFF, with support from ALiCE (Airborne tool for methane isotopic composition and polar meteorological experiments), investigated climate issues: how the atmosphere is affected by sea ice and what role sea ice plays in the introduction of methane into the atmosphere. Once again – for MOSAiC, the largest Arctic expedition in history – the quadrocopter will take air samples during flights “on sight” at altitudes of up to 1,000 metres. This will enable the research team to use isotope analysis to determine the sources of methane in the Arctic. Pätzold, a specialist for meteorological measurement technology at the IFF, will fly to Tromsø in Norway at the end of January and from there set out for the icebreaker “Polarstern” to join the international research team on the Arctic expedition. Besides ALiCE, the helicopter towed probe “HELiPOD” of IFF is also on its way to “Polarstern” – equipped with 60 measuring instruments, some new, some tried and trusted. In addition to atmospheric measurements, the ice surface is documented, aerosols are measured and the influence of clouds is analysed. The data will allow scientists to investigate interactions between sea ice, atmosphere and ocean. Pätzold will also be on board the helicopter and make sure that the HELiPOD sensors operate smoothly. According to AWI, hardly any other region has warmed up as significantly as the Arctic in recent decades. At the same time, however, year-round observations from the ice-covered Arctic Ocean are lacking. With the MOSAiC expedition this is now possible. The “Polarstern” and its international research team are spending a whole year in the Arctic, with the icebreaker drifting through the Arctic Ocean while it is frozen. This means that for the first time research can take place near the North Pole during the Arctic winter.

Picture of the month December 2019

It’s very Christmassy at the Institute for Electrical Measurement Science and Fundamental Electrical Engineering: Students made something different nutcrackers with 3D printing. Picture credits: Kristina Rottig/TU Braunschweig

Called back into action: nut tongs, screw nutcrackers, “Nusschleuders” and also nut biters – grim-looking wooden figures that crack walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds with their mouths using leverage. Somewhat different nutcrackers were created in the summer semester 2019 at the Institute for Electrical Measurement Science and Fundamental Electrical Engineering (EMG), which we show in our picture of the month. Students designed and produced a total of eight different models in their semester project for the lecture “Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing)”. They were free to let their creativity run wild. The only requirement was that all printing processes available at the institute had to be used and that the object should be able to really crack peanuts, walnuts or hazelnuts at the end of the final presentation. “That actually worked for most of them, although some designs had to surrender  hazelnuts, at the latest, and occasionally broke,” says Dr. Benedikt Hampel, who gives the lecture and has already dealt with the topic of 3D printing in his doctorate. In the course, the students first learned the basics of construction on the computer, so that they could later use it to design objects for 3D printing. Subsequently, the details of different printing processes with their advantages and disadvantages were discussed. Of course, the practice in 3D printing was not to be missed. Some groups focused on attractive design: for example, a dinosaur and a nut-cracking helicopter were created. Other students implemented additional functions in their objects so that different adapters were developed for the different nuts or collection containers for collecting the nutshells. In one project, electronics were even implemented to display the nutcracking force using both LEDs and a computer. There will be a new task during the lecture next summer semester. It will be interesting to see which creative ideas the students will implement.

Picture of the month November 2019

Graphite anode in the drying channel of the continuous coating line at Battery LabFactory Braunschweig (BLB). Picture credits: Marisol Glasserman/TU Braunschweig

It has become an integral part of many areas of our lives and is used primarily as a mobile energy storage device in smartphones, notebooks and electric cars: the lithium-ion battery is currently in the focus of science in order to economically and eco-efficiently implement topics such as the energy revolution and the change in propulsion technologies. Our picture of the month was taken in the drying channel of the continuous coating line at Battery LabFactory Braunschweig (BLB). These are the process steps “coating and drying”, two of 18 process steps in total that a lithium-ion battery passes through during production. In the simplest case, a lithium-ion battery cell consists of two electrodes (anode and cathode), an electrolyte and the separator, which electrically separates the two electrodes from each other. The picture of the month shows a copper foil on which the active electrochemical and passive materials were applied in advance using a comma bar process, i.e. a coating process. This is a graphite anode that represents the negative electrode. Of the various institutes that are active at BLB, the Institute for Particle Technology deals, among other things, with the process steps of coating and drying.  An alternative process that is being investigated at BLB is slot die coating. Besides the advantage of the intermittent coating, a coating with interruptions, the independence of the coating thickness from the properties of the electrode paste is given here. Drying is a cost-intensive step in all industrial processes. The main focus is on technologies such as infrared drying to increase drying speeds and reduce energy costs. Furthermore, coating errors and binder migration can be avoided through optimized drying, thus reducing material waste.

Picture of the month October 2019

What does an AI see in a photo of the BRICS building? Picture credits: Erwin Quiring und Prof. Konrad Rieck/TU Braunschweig

Klimt, Hundertwasser or who created this psychedelic picture? As a matter of fact, the photo, in which BRICS building can be made out in the background, comes from the Institute for System Safety at the TU Braunschweig. It gives an exciting insight into the world of artificial intelligence. In the photo, the scientists have reinforced the patterns that an artificial neural network “sees” internally. To classify the image as a building, dog or street sign, for example, the network first extracts fine block structures that were reinforced throughout the photo. Later, these are processed internally into more complex patterns, easily recognizable by the dog’s snouts. This example visually shows how we can better understand artificial neural networks before they are implemented, for instance in autonomous driving vehicles. As part of their research at the Institute for System Security, the scientists are investigating the use of artificial intelligence in safety-critical applications. They research how intelligent systems can be trained on the basis of data and thus adapt themselves to new risks. In this way, researchers can, for example, develop new methods for detecting computer malware. However, today’s artificial intelligence methods are themselves vulnerable. Attackers can either manipulate the learning process itself or produce the desired output through targeted manipulation. It has been shown, for example, that by affixing stickers to road signs it is possible to specifically manipulate the recognition of autonomous vehicles. Because of this, the institute scientists are also also investigating the target of artificial
intelligence. A better understanding of the learned interrelationships themselves is a key issue here – similar to how an exam helps to understand what the students have learned from a lecture.

Picture of the month September 2019

View into the sample chamber of the X-ray photoelectron spectrometer (XPS) in the LENA, which is used for example in biomedical engineering. Picture credits: Markus Hörster/TU Braunschweig

Our picture of the month September comes from the new Research Center for Quantum and Nanometrology, “Laboratory for Emerging Nanometrology” (LENA). More precisely, it is a direct view into the sample chamber of one of the large nanoanalytical instruments, the X-ray photoelectron spectrometer (XPS). This is a surface-sensitive technique that allows qualitative and quantitative statements to be made about the chemical elements present on the surface as well as their chemical environment, bonds and oxidation state.

The XPS is used, for example, in biomedical engineering. Within the research group “FOR 2180 Graded Implants”, Sarah Oehmichen from the Institute of Technical Chemistry deals with the surface optimization of polymer-based implants. These are electro-spun fibre mats which have been modified both in a classical chemical way and by plasma treatment. The XPS methodology is used here to prove the success of the respective modification and to better understand and classify results from other investigations, for example from cell tests. This is done with regard to the development of an implant for the tendon-bone transition in the shoulder. Another field of application is battery research, where the analysis of material properties on surfaces and interfaces plays an important role.

Technical details

The new measurement setup in the LENA is equipped in such a way that scientists can reduce the standard information depth of this technique from 10 nm (with monochromatized Al K-alpha at 1486eV) to the outermost 1-3 nm of the sample surface by angle-resolved measurements or increase it to up to 15-20 nm by using a different anode material. With the help of an Arn+ Gas Cluster ion source, depth profiles can be recorded, which then make it possible to look even deeper into the sample. In addition to XPS, other measurement modes such as UPS, ISS, AES, SEM and SAM are also possible.