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University of Basel

New National Center of Competence in Research for the University of Basel

Today, the University of Basel has received the grant to establish the National Center of Competence in Research (NCCR) in Molecular Systems Engineering. This opens the doors for Basel to establish itself as a leading competence-center for the development of molecular factories. The Swiss Government is supporting the program with CHF 16.9 million.

17 December 2013

The goal of the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering that has been granted today is to develop tiny artificial machines and factories out of molecules following nature’s example. It is one of eight new NCCRs that have been presented today in Bern by Federal Councilor Johann Schneider-Ammann.

Director of the new NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering will be Prof. Wolfgang Meier from the Department of Chemistry at the University of Basel. Prof. Daniel Müller from the Department of Biosystems (D-BSSE) at ETH Zurich will act as Co-Director. The project will work in strong collaboration with Prof. Thomas Ward, Head of the Department of Chemistry at the University of Basel. In the first stage of funding from 2014 to 2018, the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) will support the programm with CHF 16.9 million. Research is planned to begin in mid of 2014.

Artificial molecular factories

Biological systems display properties that cannot yet be reproduced artificially. These include, for example, the ability to develop new functional molecular modules and to design and control complex molecular processes.

Due to progress in the fields of systems chemistry, systems biology, life sciences and nanoscience, scientists are beginning to understand the molecular engineering principles developed by nature. The new NCCR aims at using this knowledge for the engineering of artificial molecular systems and to use these in the design of functional molecules that will serve very specific means.

Examples include tiny nanoreactors that transport substances or signals and thus support the decomposition of toxic compounds; or synthetic photoreceptor cells that are able to restore vision. First attempts have shown that it is possible to develop molecular machines on an industrial scale as well.

Basel as the ideal location

The NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering will now consolidate the different research activities in this field. Switzerland, and Basel in particular, is the ideal location for such an endeavor. Thanks to the existing strengths and synergies in chemistry, life sciences and nanoscience that are already present in various research institutions and the industry, Basel offers excellent conditions to generate new technologies in the field of molecular systems engineering and to capitalize on its huge economic potential.

Designated NCCR Director Prof. Wolfgang Meier is pleased about the decision from Bern: “This allows us to develop a new, highly topical research area that will lead to the generation of molecular factories that can perform complex reaction cascades in the lab, in cells and maybe even in biological organs. We expect many new, highly interesting applications“.

“I am very proud that the University of Basel can host this new NCCR“, says Rector Prof. Antonio Loprieno. “The NCCR will allow us to build a national network of collaborating laboratories which will be unique worldwide. A particular feature of the NCCR is the way in which individual research leaders and research groups will bring their own areas of expertise and excellence into a broader structure coordinated by the Leading House and the Co-Leading House. We thus achieve a major research infrastructure that is genuinely greater than the sum of its parts. Or in the words of chemists and physicists: The project exhibitis emergent properties. I wish the Molecular Systems Engineering team the very best and look forward to hearing about the stunning new results that will come from the NCCR.“

Prof. Edwin Constable, Vice Rector for Research, also welcomes the Federal Council’s decision: “I am extremely pleased that the SNSF has honored and trusted Basel with the role of Leading House in the NCCR Molecular Systems Engineering. This NCCR combines three of the focal areas of the University identified in the Strategy 2014 (Sustainability and Energy Research, Life Sciences, Nanoscience) in a highly exciting and innovative new project. I genuinely believe, that this NCCR is a first step towards the molecular factories of the future and that the concepts to be developed will fundamentally change the way in which we approach science, both within Switzerland and worldwide.“

National Centers of Competence in Research

NCCRs aim to strengthen Swiss research in areas of strategic importance for the future of Swiss science, business and society. Since 2001, 28 NCCRs have been established. Among those at the University of Basel are the NCCR Nanoscience, the NCCR Iconic Criticism and the NCCR Sesam which ended in 2009.

The now granted eight new NCCRs are the result of the fourth call that was launched in 2011. The SNSF first evaluated 54 project outlines and then proceeded to evaluate 28 complete applications with the support of international panels of experts.


Illustrations of the NCCR directors can be found in our media database.

Further information

  • Prof. Dr. Wolfgang P. Meier, University of Basel, Department of Chemistry, phone: +41 61 267 38 02, email: wolfgang.meier@unibas.ch
  • Prof. Dr. Edwin C. Constable, Vice Rector for Research, University of Basel, phone: +41 61 267 10 01, email: edwin.constable@unibas.ch
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