Dr. Laura Heinen
Laura Heinen’s research is inspired by the mesmerizing complexity of living systems. Life-like functions require from a material to be dynamic, to regulate autonomously and to sustain reactions over time. The most obvious reason why biological systems succeed in this without precedent is in Laura’s opinion the fact that they operate out of equilibrium and orchestrate information on various levels. Living systems are by far superior to any man-made non-equilibrium systems exactly because of this: they are equipped with a full-fledged metabolism and controlled by an elusive informational subsystem. With her research, she wants to fill this missing link and engineer soft material systems provided with a minimal metabolism, i.e. kinetically controlled reaction networks that guide the fluxes of energy and matter.
Her main research interest is developing energy-autonomous and metabolically active soft material systems. By energy-autonomous she thinks of systems that are capable of harvesting, converting and storing energy which (later) can be used to do work and sustain active material functions. By metabolically active she thinks of systems that possess internal reaction networks that are able to control the fluxes of energy and matter i.e., in particular the supply, regeneration and removal of building blocks. The central theme of her research is thus, how can we couple energy to non-equilibrium soft material systems so that we can understand, sustain, and control their lifecycles while new systemic material properties may emerge.
Her research in short: Energy matters!