Bioinspired Energy Conversion - Theme, Pufendorf Institute

Project: Network

Research areas and keywords

UKÄ subject classification

  • Engineering and Technology
  • Natural Sciences

Description

Theme at the Pufendorf Institute for Advanced Studies

Layman's description

Energy conversion is closely associated with all life and with society’s development. It powers technology and animal locomotion, it is fundamental to cellular processes in all organisms, and is coupled to metabolic diseases in humans.

Energy conversion also includes processes of many types on many scales. A bird, for example, performs mechanical work on a larger scale during flight, and on a smaller scale through molecular motors in its cells. On a fundamental level, these processes are chemically powered. An airplane, on the other hand, converts energy from fuel into mechanical work through a long chain of complex
events, including thousands of chemical reactions and a host of thermodynamic processes. Globally, both examples constitute the transformation of energy bound in organic molecules into carbon dioxide and work, but the pathways are completely different.

Since energy conversion manifests itself in so many types of processes, it tends to be studied by different methods in different disciplines. In a bird, for example, it may be studied by respirometry, while in a combustion engine it is studied by thermodynamic analysis. This diversity makes it difficult to communicate between different fields. On the other hand, this diversity of approaches and perspectives opens up possibilities for transferring methods and general ways of thinking between the fields. New perspectives tend to result in new ideas, and this is the aim of the Bioinspired Energy Conversion theme.

The participants come from various research areas that have energetics as a common denominator. They belong to the faculties of medicine, natural sciences and engineering. Some work with flight in animals and focus on how efficiently metabolic energy is transferred into mechanical work during flight. This field has several points in common with important engineering applications. But
mechanical work only accounts for a part of an animal’s full metabolic rate.

There is a basal metabolism to consider as well. It consists of idle costs for powering internal organs and maintenance costs associated with, for instance, the immune system. There are several physicists in the team, working with energetics in small systems like molecular motors and stochastic thermodynamics. Researchers from the medical faculty work with pathological aspects of energy conversion. They study diabetes from the perspectives of glucose regulation, fatty acid mobilization, and protein phosphorylation. They also study the transformation between chemical and mechanical energy in
tissue, which plays a role in cardio-vascular diseases, for example. The members from the engineering faculty mainly work with energy conversion and energy utilization in technical applications, with a focus on society’s needs for transportation and power.

Our mode of working is to structure the energy conversion processes within our diverse topics into different categories and different length scales. A number of thematic topics will be formulated which tie these different categories together. Working with these themes we aim to identify new approaches and areas of research. During the course of our work these will be developed into specific ideas for research collaborations between two or more of the participating groups.

The immediate goal of the theme is not to solve practical problems, but rather to question and develop our ways of studying energy conversion. In the long run, however, this work could lead to new ways of interpreting and controlling the energy flows in everything from our own cells to the vehicles on our roads.
StatusFinished
Effective start/end date2012/08/122013/08/13

Participants