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22nd Einstein Lecture: Prof. Dr. Peter Hegemann

Peter Hegemann

Peter Hegemann
Image Credit: Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Designing Biology with Light

The lecture will be held in German without translation.

Peter Hegemann (born 1954 in Münster and raised in Aachen) studied chemistry at the University of Münster and the LMU Munich and received his PhD at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry, Martinsried, in 1984 as a member of the Dieter Oesterhelt Group. After a period of postdoctoral research with Kenneth W. Foster at the Physics Institute of Syracuse University (New York, USA), he became head of a research group at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry (1986-1992). In 1993, he took up a professorship in biochemistry at the University of Regensburg before being appointed to a professorship in biophysics at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin in 2004. Since 2016, he has held the title of Hertie Professor of Neuroscience, also at Humboldt-Universität.

Hegemann studies sensory photoreceptors and is one of the discoverers of channelrhodopsins, a family of light-activated ion channels. This discovery has opened up new scientific opportunities in the study of neural networks and the emerging field of optogenetics. Hoped-for applications include the recovery of lost vision and the treatment of Parkinson's disease and other neurological disorders using deep brain stimulation.

  • Date: Tuesday, November 7, 2023
  • Time: 6:00 p.m. s.t.

The study of light in biology has enjoyed great research interest over the past century, including in Berlin. Otto Warburg laid the groundwork for photosynthesis research with his work in Berlin in the 1940s, but it took until 2020 for scientists to finally understand the mechanisms of photosynthetic water splitting and oxygen evolution, thanks to research carried out by a multidisciplinary team based at Freie Universität Berlin. Berlin-born scientist Max Delbrück also formulated the basic concept of sensory photoreceptors in the 1960s.

Many years of Berlin research on the photoreceptors that enable “seeing” and that control plant development and flowering have fundamentally changed the field of neuroscience through the technique known as optogenetics. Here, photoreceptors are introduced as algae, yeasts, or bacteria into selected cells of neuronal networks in order to target them and control their activity quickly. Specifically, this technique can be used to better understand the brain and our cognitive abilities. OPTOBIO combines photobiology, optogenetics, and high-resolution image processing to harness nature into technology, allowing for countless processes to be controlled in a noninvasive manner using the simple ingredient of light.

Einstein Lectures Dahlem

The Einstein Lectures Dahlem, hosted by Freie Universität Berlin since 2005 in partnership with several external institutions, are dedicated to the epochal work of Albert Einstein. Einstein was the director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics for almost two decades.

Since 2017, this first-rate-interdisciplinary colloquium is hosted in cooperation with the Max Planck Society, the successor of the Kaiser Wilhelm Society.

The lectures are held in Dahlem, a district in Berlin known for its tradition as a center of scientific research. They address a broad academic audience and cover various scientific disciplines influenced by Einstein’s thinking.

Die „Einstein Lectures Dahlem“ erinnern an seine Zeit als Wissenschaftler in Dahlem.

Die „Einstein Lectures Dahlem“ erinnern an seine Zeit als Wissenschaftler in Dahlem.
Image Credit: The Library of Congress/Oren-Jack-Turner/Princeton