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Thermodynamics and the Shoulders of Einstein and others

"A theory is the more impressive the greater the simplicity of its premises, the more different kinds of things it relates, and the more extended its area of applicability. Therefore the deep impression that classical thermodynamics made upon me. It is the only physical theory of universal content concerning which I am convinced that, within the framework of applicability of its basic concepts, it will never be overthrown (for the special attention of those who are sceptics on principle).”

- Albert Einstein, 1946 (Autobiographical Notes), English translation by Paul Arthur Schilpp

Research and Motivation

Can physical laws explain living systems?

Molecular biology may provide a material basis (the building blocks) of life (causa materialis), but physics has to explain why things happen (causa efficiens). Our dream is to understand biological function based on physical principles or - in other words - to derive biological function from physics.

One key idea is to start from the 2nd law of thermodynamics in Einstein's formulation, as suggested by Konrad Kaufmann, and apply it to hydrated interfaces. In this way different biological functions are derived from looking at the 2nd law for different thermodynamic states.


Communication and Integration in Biology – What makes the cell a cell?

What makes the cell a unit? What orchestrates it or how does one end know about the other? We have demonstrated that linear and nonlinear acoustic pulses can propagate through hydrated interfaces (e.g. lipid monolayers) and that these pulses can be regulated by the thermodynamic state. In particular, pulse stability is largely facilitated by the system being near a phase transition.

Following Einstein's view on thermodynamics, we consider these pulses as the result of non-zero first derivatives of the entropy potential (Einstein 1910). We hypothesize that such pulses play a vital role in biology, forming the foundation of integration and communication in biology from cells, multicellular structures, organs up to the brain. In this sense these pulses would represent a physical origin of Neuroscience. For more detailed information, see references 44, 45, 55 and 48 (further publications on pulses 34, 47,49, 56)

The control of catalytic activity by the thermodynamic state (fluctuations or - in other words - second derivatives of the entropy potential) is a further step which integrates the main pillar of Biochemistry: Enzymes. State changes - isothermal and/or adiabatical - can regulate enzymatic activity (Kaufmann 1996). The latter can and will feed back on the state for instance by chemistry (e.g. by changing lipids and thereby the membrane state). Experimentally, we will study the role of this integration of biochemistry into a thermodynamic picture using Fluorescence Correlation Spectroscopy (FCS). With this technique we hope to gain deeper insight into the physical foundations of the cell.


Health and departure from health – Physically controlled (cell) adaptation.

The described integration of thermodynamic state, pulses and biochemistry opens the door to studying adaptation, growth and structure formation of biological systems. If a certain thermodynamic state (e.g. near a phase transition) is favored, i.e. optimizes the system in some sense, external perturbations will trigger processes that drive the system back to this state. In other words, the system adapts.

We will test this hypothesis on living systems and study its role in addiction and withdrawal. Further, we will investigate the formation of cellular networks and how growth and connectivity relates to the existence of pulses and its coupling to enzymatic activity via state. This ultimately should test whether these ideas hold also for a physical foundation of the brain.

Location & approach

The campus of TU Dort­mund University is located close to interstate junction Dort­mund West, where the Sauerlandlinie A 45 (Frankfurt-Dort­mund) crosses the Ruhrschnellweg B 1 / A 40. The best interstate exit to take from A 45 is “Dort­mund-Eichlinghofen” (closer to South Campus), and from B 1 / A 40 “Dort­mund-Dorstfeld” (closer to North Campus). Signs for the uni­ver­si­ty are located at both exits. Also, there is a new exit before you pass over the B 1-bridge leading into Dort­mund.

To get from North Campus to South Campus by car, there is the connection via Vogelpothsweg/Baroper Straße. We recommend you leave your car on one of the parking lots at North Campus and use the H-Bahn (suspended monorail system), which conveniently connects the two campuses.

TU Dort­mund University has its own train station (“Dort­mund Uni­ver­si­tät”). From there, suburban trains (S-Bahn) leave for Dort­mund main station (“Dort­mund Hauptbahnhof”) and Düsseldorf main station via the “Düsseldorf Airport Train Station” (take S-Bahn number 1, which leaves every 15 or 30 minutes). The uni­ver­si­ty is easily reached from Bochum, Essen, Mülheim an der Ruhr and Duisburg.

You can also take the bus or subway train from Dort­mund city to the uni­ver­si­ty: From Dort­mund main station, you can take any train bound for the Station “Stadtgarten”, usually lines U41, U45, U 47 and U49. At “Stadtgarten” you switch trains and get on line U42 towards “Hombruch”. Look out for the Station “An der Palmweide”. From the bus stop just across the road, busses bound for TU Dort­mund University leave every ten minutes (445, 447 and 462). Another option is to take the subway routes U41, U45, U47 and U49 from Dort­mund main station to the stop “Dort­mund Kampstraße”. From there, take U43 or U44 to the stop “Dort­mund Wittener Straße”. Switch to bus line 447 and get off at “Dort­mund Uni­ver­si­tät S”.


The H-Bahn is one of the hallmarks of TU Dort­mund University. There are two stations on North Campus. One (“Dort­mund Uni­ver­si­tät S”) is directly located at the suburban train stop, which connects the uni­ver­si­ty directly with the city of Dort­mund and the rest of the Ruhr Area. Also from this station, there are connections to the “Technologiepark” and (via South Campus) Eichlinghofen. The other station is located at the dining hall at North Campus and offers a direct connection to South Campus every five minutes.

The AirportExpress is a fast and convenient means of transport from Dortmund Airport (DTM) to Dortmund Central Station, taking you there in little more than 20 minutes. From Dortmund Central Station, you can continue to the university campus by interurban railway (S-Bahn). A larger range of international flight connections is offered at Düsseldorf Airport (DUS), which is about 60 kilometres away and can be directly reached by S-Bahn from the university station.

The facilities of TU Dortmund University are spread over two campuses, the larger Campus North and the smaller Campus South. Additionally, some areas of the university are located in the adjacent “Technologiepark”.

Site map of TU Dortmund University (second page in English)