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Günter Gauglitz: research at the boundaries of physics, chemistry and biology

Biosensors and label-free optical bioanalysis are the major research priorities of Prof. Dr. Günter Gauglitz from the Institute for Physical and Theoretical Chemistry IPC at the University of Tübingen. His whole career has been about the acquisition of multi-million third-party funded projects that are worked on by a team of 15 scientists at the IPC.

Prof. Dr. Günter Gauglitz is the head of the Department of Analytical Chemistry at the Institute for Physical and Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Tübingen. © IPC, University of Tübingen

As a student, Gauglitz was already drawn towards the duality of the job as university professor - carrying out research and doing teaching and training. "I've always been a supporter of the Humboldt principle according to which research and teaching form one single unit. My experience shows that research and teaching are mutually beneficial activities. I quite often come up with excellent research ideas during a lecture, and vice versa," said Gauglitz.

When he finished school in the 1950s, Gauglitz was torn between becoming an engineer, natural scientist or architect. However, a period of work experience with his uncle, a plant manager in the chemical industry, tipped the scales towards chemistry. During his studies in Tübingen, Gauglitz was elected student representative, which brought him in close contact with the university's international office. This led to plans to spend some time abroad. He received a Fulbright scholarship in 1967 to do some research at Iowa City University. "I travelled to the USA on board a packet boat. Together with another 20 students, I was one of the last students from Germany to go and study in the USA. 700 students had already left for the USA to take up their studies, and we were the last ones," said Gauglitz recalling the adventurous start to his present career.

Basic experiences: learning and teaching in the USA

In Iowa, Gauglitz gained valuable insights into the American university system. “Even back then, everything was already different from Germany; every student had an individual advisor who took great care of us. In addition, student work rooms, which were shared by a number of students, were available close to the university. “As the Americans knew what a German ‘Vordiplom’ (editor’s note: intermediate examination after 4 semesters) was, the German students were streamed according to their qualifications,” said Gauglitz. Gauglitz took time out from his studies to travel the States by Greyhound bus. He visited all the American states except Alaska. He obtained his first teaching experience as “teaching assistant”, which only served to increase his passion for imparting knowledge. “As a teaching assistant I had so much freedom that I was even allowed to change the multiple choice test system into typical German-style comprehension questions. The Americans really liked this type of questions and continued using them when I returned to Germany,” said Gauglitz.

Back in Germany, Gauglitz obtained a degree in chemistry before starting his doctoral thesis on absorption and fluorescence spectroscopy at the Institute of Physical Chemistry at the University of Tübingen. In theory, he could have done a PhD on the basis of his American master’s degree, but Gauglitz wanted to play safe. His mother had a state exam that was not recognised by what is now the Czech Republic. “This left a lasting impression, and I did not want the same thing to happen to me,” said Gauglitz. During his postdoctoral period at the University of Philadelphia in the mid-1970s, he became extremely interested in biology and investigated the reaction kinetics of biological systems as part of a project funded by the National Institute of Health NIH. The project grant was in my name and the Americans actually wanted me to stay. But when my supervisor in Tübingen became ill, he contacted me to ask whether I could supervise his group of around 10 scientists,” said Gauglitz.

A lot of responsibility during his postdoctoral period

Gauglitz then decided to return to Tübingen where he spent the following two and a half years managing the IPC team, a challenge that was rather unusual for a postdoctoral student. Gauglitz habilitated in 1979 and was appointed professor of analytics and informatics in the chemistry department. At that time, Germany no longer permitted tenure track positions (editor's note: known as Hausberufung in Germany), but the University of Tübingen wanted to make an exception. Gauglitz had received an offer from the University of Vienna, but Tübingen wanted to keep him. "This was in our mutual interest. I had some DFG- and BMBF-funded projects and excellent contacts with industry. In addition, right from the start I had been involved in the university's pilot projects on further training and technology transfer to industry. These pilot projects meant that Tübingen was way ahead of all other German universities and was carrying out real pioneering work," said Gauglitz explaining what made him stay in Tübingen.

As a committed networker, Gauglitz cemented even closer contacts with other research groups and associations. He was not afraid of taking on organisational work either, indeed he sees this as part and parcel of a successful professional life. "You have to pull up your sleeves and get involved by taking on jobs where your own interest is perhaps put on the backburner on the basis that if everybody is doing well, I am also doing well."

From 1994 to 2000, Gauglitz was vice-spokesman and from 2004 onwards the spokesman of the "Analytical Chemistry" DFG-funded research training centre in Tübingen. From 2004 to 2008, he was chairman of the "Analytical Chemistry" section in the Association of German Chemists GDCh and has been a member of the GDCh's executive board since 2006. The Austrian Society of Austrian Chemists GÖCh honoured his long-standing efforts in analytical chemistry with the Pregl Medal in 2006. He also received the Wallace Award from the Society of Biomolecular Screening in 1997.

Excellent project work, many third-party funds

At an age when other researchers are thinking of retirement, Gauglitz is still acquiring new projects with the same energy as before. The 66-year-old has extended his contract as head of the Department of Analytical Chemistry with the University of Tübingen until April 2011. If everything goes to plan, Gauglitz would like to remain at the university for even longer. “I still enjoy research and teaching tremendously. I am also supervising quite a few projects, including two EU projects and two projects funded by the Work Group of Industrial Research Associations (AIF).” The research in his department focuses primarily on spectroscopy, kinetics, optics, bio- and chemosensors. All his projects have been successful: “The excellent results are largely due to my staff. And I have always been given a great deal of support by the university,” said Gauglitz.

The extension of the “CARE-MAN – HealthCARE by Biosensor Measurements and Networking” project is one of his major goals. The project has a financial volume of 17 million euros, and is thus one of the largest third-party funded projects at the University of Tübingen. Gauglitz coordinates the research of 30 project partners, consisting of academic and industrial scientists, and is also in charge of subprojects at the IPC. The goal of the project is to develop a fully automated and modular measurement device for use in medical diagnostics, combining transduction principles, biochemical recognition methods and modern communication tools. This enables the simultaneous analysis of several parameters that characterise certain diseases. The “MoDekt” project, which is carried out in cooperation with the University of Stuttgart at the IZST (Interuniversity Centre of Medicinal Technologies Stuttgart-Tübingen), has similar goals and has been so successful that “the project management organisation and the BMBF have already asked us to submit a request for project extension,” said Gauglitz.

Further information:
University of Tübingen
Institute for Physical and Theoretical Chemistry
Department of Analytical Chemistry
Prof. Dr. Günter Gauglitz
Auf der Morgenstelle 18
72076 Tübingen
Tel.: +49 (0)7071 29-76927
E-mail: guenter.gauglitz(at)ipc.uni-tuebingen.de
Website address: https://www.gesundheitsindustrie-bw.de/en/article/news/guenter-gauglitz-research-at-the-boundaries-of-physics-chemistry-and-biology