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Prof. Dr. Peter Hegemann

Biophysics, Humboldt University of Berlin

Prof. Dr. Peter Hegemann

Prof. Dr. Peter Hegemann

© DFG / David Ausserhofer

Peter Hegemann is universally recognized as the founder of one of the most dynamic fields of research in life sciences and neuroscience: optogenetics or neurophotonics. Working from his own earlier research into chlamydomonas (a species of single-cell green algae), Hegemann was the first to prove that a wide variety of cell types can be "switched" using light once they are equipped with a specific light receptor protein, the channelrhodopsin-2 protein. This discovery opened up the long-desired ability to investigate the effects of changes to ion composition or the pH value in cells, for example, without requiring invasive procedures. As a result, Hegemann was then able to use channel rhodopsins to stimulate individual nerve cells or complex neuronal networks, including even a mouse brain, using precise spacial-temporal light patterns. In more recent work, Hegemann even induced behavioural changes in the mouse using light. His work – often in collaboration with Karl Deisseroth of Stanford – is fundamental for basic research and as a tool for life sciences. However, it can also contribute to the treatment of neuronal illnesses, which are based on impaired sensory cells, or of autism and schizophrenia.

After earning his degree in chemistry at Münster and Munich, Peter Hegemann completed his doctorate under the supervision of Dieter Oesterhelt at the Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in Martinsried. He then did postdoctoral work at Syracuse University in New York. He returned to Germany for stations in Munich and Regensburg before becoming a professor for experimental biophysics at the Humboldt University of Berlin in 2005.