Two ERC Consolidator Grants for ORIGINS Scientists

The European Research Council (ERC) is funding ORIGINS scientists Prof. Til Birnstiel and Prof. Job Boekhoven with two Consolidator Grants for their innovative projects.

Prof. Job Boekhoven (left side, image: A. Heddergott) and Prof. Til Birnstiel (right side, image: LMU/C. Hohmann)

Modeling planet formation

On average, every star in the universe has approximately one planet orbiting it. Planet formation must, therefore, be a robust process. However, astrophysicists still do not fully understand how planets form. Current models typically make simplistic assumptions, such as smooth gas disks in which planetesimals, the precursors of planets, are present everywhere. More recent results, however, show that substructures already exist in the early stages of the disks and can play a decisive role in planet formation. There are also episodic bursts of luminosity that can heat the planet-forming disk and thus permanently change the composition of the planetary building blocks. Until now, however, there has been a lack of suitable techniques for modelling these dynamic, complex systems on the computer.

EARLYBIRD, short for Early Build-up of Ringed Planet-Forming Disks, by ORIGINS astrophysicist Til Birnstiel (LMU professor of theoretical astrophysics) aims to remedy that. The project will model the planet-forming material and its composition from the initial formation of the disks to the formation of planetesimals and, eventually, planets, showing how these processes arise in observed disks and the properties of exoplanets. Based on pioneering work on the growth and transport of dust particles, EARLYBIRD will use highly innovative 3D modelling techniques that are two orders of magnitude faster than previous approaches.

Creating synthetic life

In his project SynLife, ORIGINS chemist Job Boekhoven (TUM professor of supramolecular chemistry) wants to create synthetic life. This is, however, not about sentient robots or other technological visions. Job Boekhoven is researching so-called active droplets. His research has already been funded with a Starting Grant from the ERC. These tiny droplets of insoluble molecules exhibit life-like behaviour: they only form when external energy is supplied and multiply by dividing with sufficient energy.

NASA defines life as a self-sustaining system capable of Darwinian evolution. To fulfil these criteria, Job Boekhoven wants to develop molecules that form a kind of genetic material. They are intended to influence properties such as the lifespan of the droplets, are passed on when a droplet divides, and can, in new ways, mutate and lead to new properties. Such artificial evolution could not only help provide insights into the origins of life but also make Darwinian evolution usable as a tool for designing new materials.

LMU press release (in German)

TUM press release

ERC press release

Prof. Dr. Til Birnstiel
Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität Munich / Excellence Cluster ORIGINS
E-Mail: til.birnstiel(at)

Prof. Dr. Job Boekhoven
Technical University Munich / Excellence Cluster ORIGINS
E-Mail: job.boekhoven(at)