Adding Biophysics to the Mix

Interview with Stephan Grill, new director at the MPI-CBG


The Dresden-based scientist Stephan Grill was recently appointed as new director of the MPI-CBG. He will continue to be Professor of Biophysics at the Biotechnology Center of the TU Dresden and will use his new position to strengthen the existing ties between the TU Dresden and the MPI-CBG. Stephan Grill is also speaker of the new Cluster of Excellence "Physics of Life" (PoL) at the TU Dresden, which will deal with the fundamental questions of cell and developmental biology. Grill talks about his research at the MPI-CBG and his vision. 

Can you describe your research at the MPI-CBG in a nutshell?
At the MPI-CBG, I will explore the basic physical principles of the structure and dynamics of living matter. My research group and I are interested in morphogenesis, which is the development of organs or tissues, at the different levels of molecules, cells and tissues, and we are combining biology and biophysics. We’ve worked with C. elegans and we’ll move on to quail. I am looking forward working with my colleague Anne Grapin-Botton on organoids and organoid pattern formation. We will slowly start working with organoids in my research group as well, by taking cells out of the C.elegans embryo and growing them further in the dish. 

What’s your vision for the MPI-CBG?
Keeping the spirit of the institute. It’s the best place on the planet and we want to keep it the best place on the planet. The scientific vision is to move into organoids. I think, one has to include biophysics and I am adding it to the mix. Dresden is such a great place to do this. 

You also have other jobs, professor at the Biotechnology Center of the TU Dresden and speaker of the new Cluster of Excellence ‘Physics of Life’. How do you manage?
I don’t see myself as a very organized person but with these things, the only way to do them is to be organized. So what can I do, there is no other option than to grow with the tasks, and to become organized is a matter of discipline and having the right people that help and support. I consider myself lucky, this all only works because I have the best people in the lab, although they have suffered a bit in the past year from not seeing me as much as they should have. I am looking forward to focus a bit more on science again at CBG. 

You have been a research group leader before at the MPI-CBG. What made you come back?
It was an easy decision: I can’t think of any better place than here. There is a special spirit here that is all about science and collaborations. It is the perfect place. 

Stephan Grill was born on May 5, 1974 in Heidelberg and studied physics at the University of Heidelberg. He received his PhD from the European Molecular Biology Laboratory in Heidelberg and the University of Munich. He did his postdoctoral work first at MPI-CBG from 2002- 2003, and then at the University of Berkeley in California, USA. Stephan Grill returned to Dresden in 2006, where he worked jointly at MPI-CBG and the Max Planck Institute for Physics of Complex Systems in Dresden as a junior research group leader. Since 2013 he is Professor of Biophysics at the Biotechnology Center of the TU Dresden. He is also the speaker of the new Cluster of Excellence “Physics of Life” at the TU Dresden and became a director at the MPI-CBG in September 2018. He has received a number of awards including the 2011 Paul Ehrlich- und Ludwig Darmstaedter-Nachwuchspreis and the 2015 Raymond and Beverly Sackler International Prize in Biophysics.