Press Release 039/2011

How to Make Proteins Happy

KIT PhD Students Björn Waterkotte and Dorothea Helmer Win “Science Slam“
Anschaulich statt abstrakt: Was Proteine können, zeigten die Science-Slam-Gewinner Björn Waterkotte und Dorothea Helmer vom KIT (Foto: Katja Schmitz)
Descriptive rather than abstract: The Science Slam winners Björn Waterkotte and Dorothea Helmer from KIT demonstrated what proteins are able to do. (Photo: Katja Schmitz)

Conveying science in an entertaining way to the broad public: This is the mission of the Science Slam. Björn Waterkotte and Dorothea Helmer from the KIT Institute of Organic Chemistry communicated best to the audience: Both PhD students working in the group headed by Dr. Katja Schmitz convinced the audience at the sold-out Jubez in Karlsruhe with their presenta-tion “How to Make Proteins Happy.” They were given 95 of 100 possible points by the audience jury and won the competition.

Waterkotte and Helmer won the competititon on March 3, 2011 together with Tobias Pfaff from ETH Zurich, who presented the “Physics of Animated Films.” The three winners were awarded the challenge cup and an annual subscription of the journal “Geo.” In total, six participants took part and reported about their projects - from bachelor and PhD theses to scientific work - in a presentation of 10 minutes: Understandably, inventively, and entertainingly. The presentations focused on topics relating to informatics, sociology, chemistry, and materials sciences.

What the audience learned about happy proteins: They have a three-dimensional structure and interact with specific binding partners. This is of particular interest to biotechnology and the development of medical substances. For the corresponding investigations, the proteins have to be attached to surfaces such that they can bind to their partner. Björn Waterkotte, whose PhD thesis focuses on this topic, intends to reach an optimum orientation of the proteins via the properties of the surface and the surrounding medium. This may sound abstract, but it was explained vividly by his PhD colleague, Dorothea Helmer: She played her role as a protein and “specifically” selected the high-heels from all shoes brought along as “binding sites.” The attractive “surrounding medium” was a date with the actor George Clooney. This humorous presentation of molecular binding processes was given a big applause by the audience.

After competitions at Freiburg, Heidelberg, Frankfurt, Ulm, and Stuttgart, the Science Slam on March 3 took place in Karlsruhe for the first time. Other events will follow this year.

Further information:


Being “The Research University in the Helmholtz Association”, KIT creates and imparts knowledge for the society and the environment. It is the objective to make significant contributions to the global challenges in the fields of energy, mobility, and information. For this, about 9,600 employees cooperate in a broad range of disciplines in natural sciences, engineering sciences, economics, and the humanities and social sciences. KIT prepares its 23,300 students for responsible tasks in society, industry, and science by offering research-based study programs. Innovation efforts at KIT build a bridge between important scientific findings and their application for the benefit of society, economic prosperity, and the preservation of our natural basis of life. KIT is one of the German universities of excellence.

le, 07.03.2011


Monika Landgraf
Head of Corporate Communications, Chief Press Officer
Phone: +49 721 608-41150
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Margarete Lehné
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