European funding to unravel scientific mysteries

Steffen Rulands receives ERC Starting Grant


The prestigious ERC starting grants allow the best young researchers in Europe to build their own teams and to conduct pioneering research across all disciplines. Among this year’s awardees is Steffen Rulands, research group leader at the Max Planck Institute for the Physics of Complex Systems, and the CSBD! With the interdisciplinary project “AHH-OMICS” Steffen and his group aim to apply theoretical methods originally developed in the physics of solids to understand the mechanisms underlying the behaviour of cells during development, regeneration and ageing.

Steffen explains, “The recent breakthroughs of single-cell sequencing technologies for the first time give us the opportunity to probe the inner life of cells with unprecedented molecular detail. Biological function, however, relies on how many molecules work together in space and time, which up to now cannot be inferred from these experiments.” The theoretical physicist continues, “It’s like a car, where from detailed knowledge of all car parts we still cannot understand how an engine works. We need methods from statistical physics to do that! The same holds true for the cell – from detailed measurements of molecules we don’t learn about biological function. The theoretical tools that will be developed in my project will bridge this gap.”

The ERC project will combine the novel single-cell technologies with methods from statistical and solid-state physics to understand collective processes regulating cellular behaviour. With this conceptually new approach the Rulands group will overcome existing limitations in an emerging technology and pioneer the application of methods from statistical physics to single-cell genomics. Steffen Rulands will receive 1.5 million Euros from the ERC over a period of five years.

The European Research Council (ERC) has selected 436 early-career top researchers from 40 nationalities across Europe in their 2020 'Starting Grant' competition. The funding, worth in total 677 million Euros, is part of the EU’s Research and Innovation programme, Horizon 2020.

Congratulations to the Rulands group!

ERC Press Release on 2020 Starting Grants