From Ecology to Biomechanics
I earned my undergraduate degrees in Germany from the University of Düsseldorf (Prediploma Biology) and the Technical University of Dresden (Diploma Hydrobiology). I worked for several years in applied science in the area of water pollution mitigation and control as well as catchment management. Driven by the impulse to gain deeper understanding of the animals in these ecosystems I was pulled back to pure science. I went to the University of Bonn for a PhD in Zoology, studying the impact of surface roughness on attachment of running water insects (Ph.D. supervisor Wilhelm Barthlott and Jochen Koop). During my PhD. I visited the Max Plank Institute for Metal Research (Evolutionary Biomaterials Group) in Stuttgart and worked with Stanislav Gorb, performing measurements of the attachment forces of stream insects. This collaboration has had a significant impact of the direction of my research.
After finishing my PhD.in 2009 I stayed at the University of Bonn as a postdoc with Wilhelm Barthlott, the discoverer of the well-known Lotus effect, investigating specialized biological and biomimetic superhydrophobic surfaces, which can retain an air film underwater. My next postdoctoral position was at the University of Kiel, where I worked again with Stanislav Gorb exploring questions of underwater attachment, antifouling and biomimetics in stream insects. I came to the Friday Harbor Laboratories (FHL) for the first time in 2012 for a three-month research stay with a postdoctoral scholarship of the German Academic Exchange Service. I returned to Germany to investigate several biomimetic questions at the Biomimetics-Innovation-Centre of the University of Applied Science Bremen, but I was drawn back to Friday Harbor and was excited to work with Adam Summers on questions of underwater attachment in the marine intertidal. Together we explored the mechanisms enabling Northern clingfish to attach to rough and slimy intertidal rocks. Transferring these underlying principles to artificial suctions cups, we developed bio-inspired suction cups able to do the same like its biological model - reversibly attaching to rough and slimy surfaces. 2014-2016 I was part of the FHL faculty. The last year I was also working on the biomechanical skin properties of marine mammals in collaboration with the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and local whale researches. After working at the University of Alaska Anchorage on biomechanical properties of the cartilage of sharks and rays I came back to Germany to focus again on bio-inspired design at the University of Bonn.