Otto Hahn Medal for Young Researcher from the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry

Dr. Anna Theresa Kunert receives the Otto Hahn Medal for her outstanding doctoral thesis on protein interactions related to biological ice formation, allergies and inflammation. The medal was awarded on June 23 2021 at this year’s digital annual meeting of the Max Planck Society.

July 16, 2021

As part of her doctoral research at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry (MPIC), the 31-year-old chemist achieved fundamental new insights into the molecular interactions, properties and effects of native and chemically modified proteins, which can trigger the formation of ice crystals, allergic reactions or inflammatory immune responses. The protein interactions are of particular relevance to climate and health, and are among the central questions and challenges of current atmospheric and biomedical research.

„An outstanding feature of Anna Theresa Kunert's dissertation is the strongly interdisciplinary nature of her work. She has worked closely with biomedical, chemical and physical researchers from the two Max Planck Institutes for Chemistry and for Polymer Research, the University Medical Center of the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz, as well as international partner institutions," explains Ulrich Pöschl, director at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry.

Among the most important results of Anna Theresa Kunert's doctoral thesis is the development of a novel and powerful method for determining the activity of biological ice nuclei. Biological ice nuclei are, for example, bacteria on which water crystallizes into ice. Second, she has elucidated chemical and immunological reactions of proteins that play a central role in allergies and inflammatory diseases.

To characterize the biological ice nuclei, Kunert developed the Twin-plate Ice Nucleation Assay, TINA. She used this fully automated high-throughput freezing assay to research bacterial, fungal, and chemically modified ice nuclei and airborne dust. In the second part of her work, she explored the interactions of proteins with reactive oxygen and nitrogen species (e.g., ozone, nitrogen dioxide). In doing so, she looked at how the proteins were altered and what impact they might then have on human health.

With her research, the young scientist aims to improve the understanding of protein interactions and their effects. She hopes to be able to assess the consequences of the rapidly increasing human impact on air quality, climate and health. „Man-made environmental changes in the environment, in particular in air quality, are becoming more threatening and already have substantial consequences for climate and public health," Kunert says. „Thus, basic research is essential to elucidate the underlying mechanisms and effects of modified proteins on climate and health to contain this process and to preserve a healthier environment for future generations.” Anna Theresa Kunert will continue her research as a postdoctoral fellow at the Max Planck Institute for Chemistry in Mainz.

About the Otto Hahn Medal

Every year since 1978, the Max Planck Society has awarded the "Otto Hahn Medal" to young scientists for outstanding scientific achievements, usually in connection with their doctoral thesis. This is associated with a recognition sum of 7,500 euros. The award is intended to motivate particularly talented young scientists to pursue a university or research career at a later stage. The award is presented during the Annual General Meeting in the following year.

About the Max Planck Society

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