Clusters of Excellence

Starting in 2019, TUM and its partners will be investigating some of the highly topical scientific challenges of our time in four new Clusters of Excellence. These new clusters build on the success that TUM’s clusters enjoyed in the 2006 – 2017 Excellence Initiative, which underscored Munich’s status as an exceptional hub of scientific research. Clusters of Excellence are interdisciplinary research projects that enjoy high visibility among the international community. They are a key component of the competition to promote excellence in research and science funded by the German government and the federal states.

Press release of Sept 27, 2018:

Clusters of Excellence launching 2019

These are the new Clusters of Excellence to be run by TUM and its partners. Over the coming years, they are set to evolve into internationally acclaimed centers researching highly topical scientific subjects. Funding will commence in January 2019.

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. The spokesperson for TUM are Prof. Karsten Reuter and Prof. Ulrich Heiz (Chemistry).

The e-conversion cluster

  • brings together technologies ranging from photovoltaics through (photo)electrocatalysis to battery technologies in an overarching approach to energy research;
  • enables more efficient and stable forms of energy generation and a broader raw materials base;
  • characterizes, models and shapes energy conversion processes with the latest methods from materials sciences and nanotechnology;
  • builds up a high-performance electron microscopy center to closely observe the changes at material interfaces during energy conversion;
  • combines the nanoscience and energy sciences expertise of two Munich universities (TUM and Ludwig Maximilian University) with the know-how of the Max Planck Institutes for Solid State Research (Stuttgart) and Chemical Energy Conversion (Mühlheim/Ruhr).

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 (MCQST) is to further the scientific understanding of quantum mechanics phenomena and thus advance basic components, materials and concepts for quantum technologies. The interdisciplinary research extends from the analysis of entanglement in multiparticle systems to the development of a new generation of quantum-based devices and sensors – including scalable quantum computers, sensors for precision metrology, secure communication systems for everyday applications, nanosensors for living cells and new kinds of quantum matter.

Funding to the tune of 40 million euros is being jointly provided by the federal government and the Free State of Bavaria. TUM’s spokespersons for the cluster are Prof. Rudolf Gross (physics) and Prof. Ignacio Cirac (physics / MPI of Quantum Optics).

The MCQTS cluster

  • combines research in the disciplines of physics, mathematics, informatics, materials sciences, chemistry and cosmology in the emerging, multidisciplinary field of quantum science and technology (QST);
  • advances basic research in the move to establish a comprehensive understanding of quantum entanglement over different time, length and energy dimensions;
  • develops futuristic technologies ranging from innovative quantum materials through high-performance quantum information systems to techniques for the precise management and control of quantum systems;
  • unites Munich-based researchers in an interactive quantum research center – the only one of its kind in the world. The 30-plus research groups are drawn from TUM, Ludwig Maximilian University, the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and the Walther-Meißner-Institute for Low Temperature Research.

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).

The ORIGINS cluster

  • brings together researchers in astrophysics, biophysics and particle physics;
  • provides an internationally unique research environment in Munich and Garching for scientists from TUM, Ludwig Maximilian University, various Max Planck Institutes, the European Southern Observatory (ESO) and the Leibniz Supercomputing Center.

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. The spokesperson for TUM is Prof. Thomas Misgeld (medicine).

In the new funding phase, the SyNergy cluster will

  • further develop cross-disciplinary research spanning systems biology, bioinformatics and systemic neurosciences in combination with clinical neurology;
  • deepen cooperative ties between scientists from leading Munich institutes including TUM, Ludwig Maximilian University, the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases in Munich, the Max Planck Institutes of Neurobiology, Biochemistry and Psychiatry and Helmholtz Zentrum München; 
  • build a second research center to investigate how neuroinflammation and neurodegeneration play a role in multiple sclerosis;
  • engage medical scientists more actively in basic research focused on systems neurology.

Clusters of Excellence in the 2006–2017 Excellence Initiative

From 2006 to 2017, TUM conducted top-level research at six interdisciplinary Clusters of Excellence, which greatly helped to sharpen TUM’s profile as one of Europe’s leading universities.

The CIPSM-Cluster took a holistic approach to studying the properties of proteins and their networks using methods drawn from genetics, (bio)chemistry and (bio)physics. By gaining a greater understanding of the properties and functions of proteins, scientists can learn more about their biological role and the causes of serious diseases, and find new forms of treatment and therapy.

The CIPSM cluster brought together TUM, Ludwig Maximilian University, the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry and Helmholtz Zentrum München.

Funding period: 2006–2017

The CoTeSys Cluster of Excellence developed intelligent machines capable of acting as service robots – whether for household tasks or industrial manufacturing processes. The research explored how cognitive skills like perception, logical thinking, learning and planning can be integrated into technical systems. The aim was to develop machines and robots that can interact with humans autonomously and “intelligently”, i.e. with the ability to react flexibly to different situations. To this end, CoTeSys developed sophisticated experimental systems for kitchen and factory robots as well as intelligent solutions for human-machine communication.

This interdisciplinary cluster merged brain research with informatics, biophysics, psychology and mechanical engineering. It was an important forerunner of the Munich School of Robotics and Machine Intelligence (MRSM), TUM’s new Integrative Research Center founded in 2018.

In the CoTeSys cluster, TUM headed up around 100 researchers from a wide variety of disciplines drawn from three Munich universities (TUM, Ludwig Maximilian University, Universität der Bundeswehr), the Max Planck Institute of Neurobiology and the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Oberpfaffenhofen.

Funding period: 2006–2012

New coherent light sources and laser-driven particle sources with unique properties formed the basis of research at the MAP Cluster of Excellence. Ultra-short pulses, high intensities and high energy characterize these new light sources. They open up possibilities for new applications in physics, chemistry, biology and medicine. For example, they will help researchers investigate the structure of biomolecules and observe the tiniest alterations in tissue. The overarching aim of the cluster was to enable early tumor detection and thus the development of new and more targeted therapies.

The main cooperation partners in the MAP cluster alongside TUM and Ludwig Maximilian University were the Max Planck Institute of Quantum Optics and Helmholtz Zentrum München.

Funding period: 2006–2017

The NIM Cluster of Excellence developed into one of the world’s leading nanoscience research centers. The goal of this cluster was to design, fabricate and control multi-functional nanosystems for applications in information technology, energy conversion and medical technologies. The integration of such nanosystems into real environments was a key focus of the research. NIM brought together researchers from the Munich area specialized in physics, biophysics, physical chemistry, biochemistry, pharmacy, biology, electrical engineering and medicine.

The Cluster of Excellence was a joint project of TUM, Ludwig Maximilian University, the University of Augsburg, the Walther Meißner Institute (Bavarian Academy of Sciences and Humanities), the Max Planck Institutes of Biochemistry and Quantum Optics, Helmholtz Zentrum München and the Deutsches Museum.

Funding period: 2006–2017

From its home in Munich, the SyNergy cluster established a new research field, namely systems neurology. It seeks to explain the mechanisms behind the development of neurological disorders. The cluster blurred the traditional boundaries between research on neurodegenerative, inflammatory and vascular diseases. Funding for the work of the SyNergy cluster is set to be continued from 2019 as part of the new Excellence Strategy.

SyNergy is a joint project of TUM, Ludwig Maximilian University, the Max Planck Institutes of Biochemistry, Neurobiology and Psychiatry, Helmholtz Zentrum München and the German Center for Neurodegenerative Diseases.

Funding period: 2012–2017

Successful in the 2019 Excellence Strategy

The Universe Cluster of Excellence has evolved into one of the world’s largest and most active research hubs spanning a unique combination of disciplines in physics, astrophysics and cosmology. The participating scientists investigated questions like the origin and structure of the universe (matter, energy, space, time) and the nature of fundamental forces. They arrived at some important findings, including a better understanding of how supernova explosions occur and how chemical elements are formed in space. The current application “ORIGINS: From the origins of the universe to the first building blocks of life” builds on the major successes of recent years.

The Universe cluster saw close collaboration between physicists from TUM and Ludwig Maximilian University along with their counterparts from the Max Planck Institutes of Physics, Astrophysics, Extraterrestrial Physics and Plasma Physics, the Leibniz Supercomputing Center, the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Zentrum and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) – the only such combination of disciplines in the world.

Funding period: 2006–2017

The ORIGINS cluster succeeds “Universe” in the 2019 Excellence Strategy