Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin

Editorial Dear friends of »Matters of Activity«,

We are especially pleased about this CZ# issue with exciting event information and, above all, the first insight into the content of our Annual Conference.

Due to the current circumstances, we have decided to enrich our Cluster with a virtual environment. Our Annual Conference will take place there digitally for the first time for all of us, and we are excited to try out this new format with you. As of today, the abstracts are online, and soon the virtual Cluster space will be opened – get a first impression below.

See you on November 11th and happy reading
Antje Nestler, Eva Schmidt and Franziska Wegener


Liebe Freund*innen von »Matters of Activity«,

wir freuen uns ganz besonders über diese CZ# Ausgabe mit spannenden Eventhinweisen und vor allem ersten Einblicken in unsere Jahrestagung diesen Mittwoch.

Aufgrund der aktuellen Umstände, haben wir uns entschieden, unseren Cluster um eine virtuelle Umgebung zu bereichern. Unsere Jahreskonferenz wird für uns alle dort das erste Mal digital statt finden und wir sind gespannt, dieses neue Format mit Euch gemeinsam auszuprobieren. Ab heute sind die Abstracts online und bald wird der virtuelle Clusterraum eröffnet – nachfolgend bekommen Sie einen ersten Eindruck.

Bis zum 11. November und viel Spaß beim Lesen!
Antje Nestler, Eva Schmidt, Franziska Wegener

Our Annual Conference is Guided by the Motto of the Virtual, the New, the Explorative
Get an Insight into our Topics and Soon into our Virtual Cluster Space
3D Anchor Room of Annual Conference. Design by Helen Galliker and Object Space Agency. Copyright: Matters of Activity

3D Anchor Room of Annual Conference. Design by Helen Galliker and Object Space Agency. Copyright: Matters of Activity

Event | Annual Conference In times when science communication gets a new public, we open our doors to a virtual Cluster space and show our laboratories, 3D presentations of selected research objects and current research topics in 360° formats. Pre-recorded video lectures from the natural sciences, the humanities and design disciplines will be launched in so-called »Knowledge Rooms« followed by »Live Q&A« in Zoom.

View all abstracts below and also check our → event page for updates to the schedule, and on November, 11th the entrance to the conference space!

Access to the virtual conference space can be found at → on the morning of November 11th. There is no registration needed beforehand.

Part of a 360° picture of the Green House at Botanical Garden Berlin. Copyright: Julia Trinkle

Part of a 360° picture of the Green House at Botanical Garden Berlin. Copyright: Julia Trinkle

10:05 am
→ Claudia Mareis
Truth to Materials: Entangled Histories of Design and Material Politics

This lecture explores the entanglement of design and material politics against the background of industrial production in the mid-19th century. It brings a specific historical site of the global North into dialogue with an active material of the global South and sheds light on how the two are connected.

The starting point is ›The Great Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations‹ of 1851, which was held in the Crystal Palace in London. This first international trade fair aimed to compare the ingenuity and industrial progress of all nations and to foster the free interchange of knowledge and ideas. Materials played a key role in the attempt to understand the world from an industrial perspective. They were not merely presented in the form of raw materials and commodities; they also structured the classification system of the exhibition.

Taking ›natural rubber‹ as an example of both an active material and an industrial commodity, the lecture will discuss the presentation of this tropical material at the Great Exhibition and its subsequent development into an essential building block of industrialization. Particular emphasis will be placed on the fact that there was no straight path leading from the milky sap of the wild rubber tree in the Amazon rainforest to the commercial rubber goods on display at the Crystal Palace in London. Rather, it was a complicated process of chemical material transformation, aesthetic education and, above all, forced human labor and ecological extraction that made natural rubber a useful – which is to say passive – material for industrial production.

Visualization of the cellular network inside a compact bone. Copyright: Andreas Roschger & Richard Weinkamer, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces

Visualization of the cellular network inside a compact bone. Copyright: Andreas Roschger & Richard Weinkamer, Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces

11:00 am
→ Peter Fratzl
Natural Active Materials

This talk discusses material activity in the context of biological and bioinspired materials. A material property (such as electrical resistivity) defines the relationship between input (voltage) and output (current). The responsiveness of a material is defined as a change in a material property resulting from an external signal, which in the case of resistivity could simply be the temperature. A further example is shape change due to humidity, which is typically found in wood and wood-based materials. Adaptive materials respond in a feedback loop to the output, with this output serving as an (internal) signal to modify the material property if the input changes. This can lead to homeostasis or to instabilities, depending on the feedback signal. Adaptive growth and bone remodeling are discussed as examples of adaptivity. Finally, the emergence of complex shapes and structures from simple interactions is considered in the context of tissue growth under the influence of the environment. 

Tesseract. Copyright: Wikipedia adapted by »Matters of Activity«

Tesseract. Copyright: Wikipedia adapted by »Matters of Activity«

12:00 pm
→ Jürgen Rabe
Matters of Free Energy and a Tesseract

Matters of activity are matters of ›free energy‹, which is that part of the ›inner energy‹ of a system that can be converted into work. Nature makes smart use of it, for example with water. Depending on the ambient humidity and temperature, water can exert forces in suitably designed structures, which may open a blossom in the morning and close it in the evening, for instance. Here we make use of the free energy of water to cut a complex material with inner surfaces precisely at those interfaces exclusively. Molecular mixtures, such as water contaminated with organic molecules, may wet such interfaces, and in a thermodynamic filtering process, phase-separate there into their pure constituents. From the perspective of physics, these activities are many-body effects, and thus thermal energy is the key. We therefore began to expand our previously investigated Cube of Physics model for the fundamental theories of few-body systems into a Tesseract of Physics for large many-body systems. The tesseract is an object in four-dimensional space and hence challenging to visualize.

Wax moulage from Navena Widulin from the Conservation Lab at Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité. Copyright: Matters of Activity

Wax moulage from Navena Widulin from the Conservation Lab at Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité. Copyright: Matters of Activity

12:55 pm
→ Nina Samuel
Passivity Matters! Transience and Conservation Practices. Examples from the 18th Century until Today

Since conservators have perfected the practice of passivating materials and slowing down their material transformation process, they have acquired a comprehensive knowledge of the activity of materials and can be considered experts in active and passive matter. This talk investigates pathological specimens and wax moulages from the conservation laboratory of the Berlin Museum of Medical History at the Charité. Asking which practices of activating and passivating are associated with these objects, the talk analyses their intrinsic activity. Linking the findings to aspects of the history of conservation, the talk argues that the dominant conservation paradigm still active today can be regarded as a legacy from the late 18th and the 19th centuries. The talk concludes with a reflection on the contemporary challenges of preserving and remembering, and with the question of how processes of material disintegration can be made productive in an ever-expanding museum culture and age of collecting.

Medallion commemorating Lorenzo de’ Medici: Felt hat and two daggers, after 1537. Copyright: Arthor’s Archive

Medallion commemorating Lorenzo de’ Medici: Felt hat and two daggers, after 1537. Copyright: Arthor’s Archive

2:50 pm
→ Horst Bredekamp
Die materielle Metaphysik des Filzes / The Material Metaphysics of Felt

This lecture treats felt as a material that transcends its pure materiality and has since time immemorial embodied specific qualities that can be characterized as symbolic activity. These qualities refer first to an effect of protection and security that exceeds physical impulses as well as to an aura of freedom that goes beyond this. Since antiquity, when felt hats were evidence of liberation from slavery, felt, which is composed of tangles of individual hairs and threads, has come to be associated with the community of the republic and the state of freedom and autonomy. A person who wears felt is free: This attribution has been used both as a sign of the tyrannicide and as an iconography of the autonomous status of artists. Michelangelo and above all Joseph Beuys can be evaluated as felt artists in this sense and hence as protagonists of ›active matter‹.

This lecture will be held in German. An English translation will be provided.

Bacterial cellulose curtain. Copyright: Bastian Beyer and Iva Rešetar

Bacterial cellulose curtain. Copyright: Bastian Beyer and Iva Rešetar

3:45 pm
→ Bastian Beyer & → Iva Rešetar
Soft Fibrous Structures: Spatial Concepts for Cellulose Biofilms

The practices of cultivating materials by working with bacterial cultures and fermentation processes, long associated with agriculture or food processing, have recently found their way into architectural design. Cellulose is such a material; it not only occurs in plant tissues but can also be a result of bacterial metabolic processes.

As a biological material, bacterial cellulose belongs to a new generation of renewable polymers that are fundamentally different from standardized, industrial materials. Its outstanding properties, such as high water absorption and filtering capacity, high crystallinity, and the ability to withstand high tensile forces, are dependent on cultivation methods, microbial activity and a constant exchange with the environment. In contrast to conventional chemical-intensive processes for extracting plant cellulose to manufacture derivatives and products, design with bacterial cellulose opens up the possibility of bringing design practices closer to the processes of organic growth.

By engaging in an interdisciplinary collaboration between microbiology, materials science and architecture, our experiments with co-weaving soft fibrous structures with living organisms explore how these new entanglements of the natural, technological and material realms can connect temporal and spatial scales and contribute to transforming our current material and environmental practices.

Biofilm. Copyright: Matters of Activity

Biofilm. Copyright: Matters of Activity

4:45 pm
→ Myfanwy Evans & → Regine Hengge
Buckling, Wrinkling and Folding: Microstructure, Active Matter Behaviour and Geometric Modelling of Bacterial Biofilms

Bacterial colony biofilms are highly structured multicellular aggregates held together by an elastic extracellular matrix of self-produced biopolymers, which buckle up and fold into intriguing forms that are visible even to the naked eye. These self-organizing biofilms are an excellent model system for exploring how the interaction between nano/microscale material and microenvironment actively generates macroscopic form. Bringing together microbiological and mathematical perspectives, the presentation will cover a wide range, from molecular materials – amyloid fibers and cellulose fibrils – to living fiber microarchitectures and dynamic macroscopic form. Alongside this, we will present experimental geometric processes related to the various length scales that underly bacterial morphogenetic activity, ranging from hyperbolic folding to entangled geometries.

Keyvisual »The Analog in the Digital Age«. Copyright: Matters of Activity

Keyvisual »The Analog in the Digital Age«. Copyright: Matters of Activity

5:45 pm
→ Wolfgang Schäffner
Material Energy Information: Towards an Analog Code

This talk tries to pick up some threads of the recent talks. It focuses on the fundamental dichotomy of the material and the symbolic, the analog and the digital, and how the Cluster’s approach tries to overcome it by taking biological materials as a model of symbolic material. Since industrialization technology has implemented this dichotomy in all our culture; this becomes evident in mechanical and digital machinery. In contrast, bio-materials show no longer a separation of motor, information processing and working unit, but an integration of all these components in one and the same material structure. Thus material, energy and information result integrated within the material’s structure that includes environmental conditions within its activity. In terms of code, the material structure can be regarded a material or analog code that does not only represent or simulate physical processes but performs symbolic and physical operations at the same time.


We are looking forward to your attendance on November 11th and hope for fruitful discussions and new insights for everyone! All relevant information, as well as access to the virtual conference space, can be found on our event page

Embodied Interaction (1) : HyperHaptics
Oscillating between Physical and Virtual Tactility
Embodied Interaction (1) : HyperHaptics. Oscillating between physical and virtual tactility. Copyright: Judith Glaser.

Embodied Interaction (1) : HyperHaptics. Oscillating between physical and virtual tactility. Copyright: Judith Glaser.


Cutting | Teaching | MoA Design Research Studio | Haptics This winter semester, the Cluster Professorship for ›Embodied Interaction‹ was hosting the practice project ›HyperHaptics‹ at the weißensee school of art and design berlin. Together with MoA researchers, Bachelor and Master students of the Department of Product Design explored the potential of interlocking virtual and physical tactility. ›HyperHaptics‹ is thus a direct continuation of the research work of the project »Cutting«. The overall aim of »Cutting« is to investigate the haptic dimension of the cut. How can new haptic experiences be encoded? How can the ›Sensing Knife‹ or ›Virtual Dissection‹ be experienced in a prototypical setup and what is needed for this? → more

COVID-19, Platform Capitalism and the Predominance of Small Forms in Digital Space: A Talk with Joseph Vogl
As Video and Podcast at De Gruyter (in German)

Interview → Joseph Vogl is Professor of German Literature, Cultural and Media Studies at the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and spokesman for the Research Training Group History of Literature and Knowledge of Small Forms. At De Gruyter, he edited the handbook Literature & Economics in 2020 and the first volume in the new series Minima, entitled Reduction: Epistemology and Literary History of Small Forms.

The whole conversation can be found ↗ here (only in German).

→ Joseph Vogl ist Professor für Literatur- und Kulturwissenschaft an der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin und Sprecher des Graduiertenkollegs Literatur- und Wissensgeschichte der kleinen Formen. Bei De Gruyter hat er 2020 das Handbuch Literatur & Ökonomie sowie den ersten Band in der neuen Reihe Minima mit dem Titel Verkleinerung: Epistemologie und Literaturgeschichte kleiner Formen herausgegeben.

Das ganze Gespräch zu »COVID-19 und kleine Formen im digitalen Kapitalismus« ist ↗ hier zu finden.

Distinguished Speaker Series
by the Cluster »Science of Intelligence«
Copyright: Cluster of Excellence »Science of Intelligence«

Copyright: Cluster of Excellence »Science of Intelligence«

Event The Cluster of Excellence »Science of Intelligence« is excited to announce its »Distinguished Speaker Series« lectures (Fall 2020 edition). As these will be taking place on Zoom, they invite the public to attend and participate, especially that the themes covered in the lectures can be of interest to a broader public. Please see the attached poster for more information and note that registration is required. ↗ more

Engineering Neo-Pancreas
Journal »Acta Biomaterialia« accepted Paper by Cluster Members Johann Pratschke, Igor M. Sauer, Marie Weinhart and Colleagues



Material Form Function | Cutting | Publications Together with their colleagues, Cluster members Johann Pratschke, Igor Sauer and Marie Weinhart published the paper »Engineering an endothelialized, endocrine Neo-Pancreas: Evaluation of islet functionality in an ex vivo model« in the international journal »Acta Biomaterialia« (Impact Factor: 7.242). → more

MoA Research Group »Adaptive Fibrous Materials« – New Members and Roles


The MoA research group »Adaptive Fibrous Materials« is interested in interactions between biological material and its environment. The fact that plants are sessile makes them particularly interesting regarding their adaptability and optimization strategies – there is no way for them to escape. Remodeling processes, such as those found in the animal kingdom, are absent, and adaptation takes place by growth. Interestingly, a large proportion of the newly formed cells dies after a short period of time in order to take over the function of a water transporting- or mechanical supporting element. Over time the properties and functions of these dead cells can change, but at any time, they depend on the temperature and humidity of the environment. This requires an intrinsic activity of the material. Prominent examples are wood swelling and shrinkage and seed capsule opening or seed dispersal, which becomes active upon an environmental trigger. But their work is not restricted to plants. Other fibrous materials such as the nests of African wild silk moths are studied in the group as well.

Dr. Michaela Eder

Michaela Eder is a Wood Scientist by training with a strong interest in (plant) materials in general. Since her doctoral studies on structure, properties and functions of single wood cells of Norway spruce, fibrous structures play an important role in her research. In her research group »Plant Material Adaptation« ecological aspects are considered which allows for a better understanding of material structure and properties with respect to the functionality for the organism in particular environments. → more

Friedrich Reppe

Friedrich Reppe is a Pre-Doctoral Researcher in the MoA research group »Adaptive Fibrous Materials« at the Max Planck Institute of Colloids and Interfaces after finishing his masters in Wood Sciences at Hamburg University in 2017. He focusses particularly on functional plant organs. One example is his investigation of a seed pod, on the scale of nanometer-thick cellulose microfibrils up to the distance of kilometers between climatically different growing sites. → more

Dr. Ing. Charlett Wenig

Charlett Wenig is an interdisciplinary Material and Product Designer. She is interested in waste materials with a current focus on barks of different tree species. In the MoA research group »Adaptive Fibrous Materials« at the MPI for Colloids and Interfaces she explores potential fields of application, creates different design scenarios for bark use while taking into account her research findings on structure, properties and functions. → more

Common Ground.
Art in the Lab. Science in the Studio

Call The Schering Stiftung wants to invite scientific institutions that are interested in or have experience with transdisciplinary projects to plan and realize an exhibition project together with us. Apply for a grant by January 15th, 2021!

As part of a collaboration with scientific institutions, the Schering Stiftung offers grants of up to 38.000€ as well as practical support for the realization of projects at the intersection of art and science. »Common Ground« for the first time offers scientific institutions based in Germany an opportunity to realize transdisciplinary projects in cooperation with the Foundation and to present them at the exhibition space of the Schering Stiftung. The exhibition – plus, ideally, a related transdisciplinary symposium – will provide a platform for the dialogue between art, science, and society. ↗ more