Post-Graduate Studies Get A Boost

Germany puts bio- and chemical engineering at heart of future prosperity.

By Seán Ottewell, Editor at Large

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Two major investments announced in Germany in recent weeks show how important bio- and chemical engineering are considered to be to the country’s future prosperity.

In the first, Bayer, Leverkusen, says that it now covers the “entire spectrum in bio- and chemical engineering” following its decision to fund the first Chair for Apparatus Engineering at the Technical University (TU) of Dortmund.

“Now, with this new professorship, the TU can offer the entire scientific spectrum in bio- and chemical engineering – from basic research, through process and plant engineering to apparatus engineering,” said rector Professor Ursula Gather at the February 20 signing of the agreement in Dortmund. “Bayer's new endowed professorship thus fits perfectly into the profile of the faculty, which is the biggest of its kind in Europe.”

Dr. Wolfgang Plischke, member of the Bayer board responsible for innovation, technology and environment, explains: “The cooperation with TU Dortmund is a further step in the expansion of our strategic excellence networks with universities and research institutes. For a company like Bayer, which relies on innovation and technology leadership, excellently trained young engineers are of major importance.”

Bayer believes that apparatus engineering will play an increasingly important role in planning and construction of chemical production plants. Modularized facilities, a main topic for the new chair, are designed to provide greater flexibility and economic efficiency. Another area of focus is micro-process engineering, which is used to help with the building of ultra-small production plants.

Alongside RWTH Aachen, TH Karlsruhe, University Erlangen-Nuremberg, University Stuttgart, TU Dortmund is one of the leading universities for bio- and chemical engineering in Germany. More than 25% of young engineers joining Bayer in Germany in recent years have come from TU Dortmund.

The Chair for Apparatus Engineering is to be filled by the winter semester of 2009/10 following an international search for suitable candidates, according to TU Dortmund. The cost to Bayer is €750,000 for the first five years, then TU takes over financial responsibility for the post.

As the search began for the new chair, TU Dortmund then announced that its post-graduate school is joining forces with those of the universities of Bielefeld and Düsseldorf to launch the biggest-ever European PhD program on industrial biotechnology research.

The program, ending in December 2012, will enable 84 young scientists – 28 of them in Dortmund – to take their doctoral degrees in the subject. The North Rhine-Westphalian Innovation Ministry is providing €4.1 million of the total €7.2 million budget, with the rest coming from universities and biotechnology companies involved in the initiative.

“With the new graduate cluster TU Dortmund and its two partner universities become the first international address for highly-qualified young researchers in industrial biotechnology,” said Gather.

“The new post-graduate college accentuates that, above all, the close interaction with industrial practice is a unique feature of the new graduate program. The research orientation towards questions relevant for the industry and the involvement of companies in the education are integral components of the post-graduate program,” adds Gerhard Schembecker, professor for Plant and Process Design at TU Dortmund.

Bio- and chemical engineering students at TU Dortmund routinely have the opportunity to work with well-known local companies such as Bayer and Evonik. But this new initiative also encourages the involvement of smaller high-tech companies on the periphery of the university. These include Bitop, Witten, which has patented a number of biotechnological processes to produce stress-relieving extremolyte substances, and InterMed Discovery, Dortmund, which has developed technologies to identify natural products with potential for use by the pharmaceutical and food industries.


The 84 participants of the post-graduate program will be selected by international tendering; highly-qualified students, among others, from the fields chemistry, biology, process engineering or medicine can apply. The young scientists are funded by a monthly €1,500 grant.

Thematically the research program focuses on four technology fields. In “polyomics,” it deals with how processes within a cell can be influenced so that they specifically generate requested products. The second field builds on this and focuses on ‘ “expression..” Here the ability of these products to be transported through cell walls will be investigated — to establish whether or not they have potential catalytic or enzymatic properties.

The third field is ‘“biocatalysis” and will try to encourage novel chemical reactions, for example to produce primary products for plastic from regrowing natural resources.

Finally, and most importantly from the chemical engineering point of view, comes “processing.” Here, the students are charged with creating suitable methods to separate byproducts or pollutants that emerge during biochemical reactions.


Seán Ottewell is Chemical Processing's Editor at Large. You can e-mail him at sottewell@putman.net.
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