Leo Cheng receives Fraunhofer-Bessel Research Award

18 September 2014

Twice a year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft jointly grant the Fraunhofer-Bessel Research Award. The award recognizes academics from non-European countries for an outstanding performance in applied research. Award winners receive an award and are invited to conduct a research project of their own choice for six to twelve months at one of the Fraunhofer Institutes in Germany.


Leo Cheng

This year, Associate Professor Leo K. Cheng from the Auckland Bioengineering Institute at the University of Auckland in New Zealand was selected to receive the prestigious award. Over the next two years, the New Zealand biomedical engineer will spend a total of nine months at the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation IPA in Stuttgart. He plans to expand his research at the interdisciplinary department of Biomechatronic Systems and develop methods to measure and interpret vital electromagnetic signals in the gastrointestinal tract.

To be admitted to the competition, researchers have to be nominated by the director of an institute or senior academics at an institute belonging to the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Cheng was nominated by Professor Alexander Verl, former Director of Fraunhofer IPA and currently Executive Vice President for Technology Marketing and Business Models of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, and by Professor Oliver Röhrle, Group Manager of Computational Biomechanics at Fraunhofer IPA. Professor Verl got to know the New Zealand biomedical engineer in October 2013, while Professor Röhrle met him conducting research at the University of Auckland in 2000. Both are fully convinced of the excellence of his performance. “I am really impressed by the way Leo manages to translate the findings in basic biomedical research to his specific research field. It is this kind of foresight that is absolutely necessary to make progress in applied research,” says Professor Röhrle.

Cheng looks forward to the time he will spend at Fraunhofer IPA. He finds numerous connections between his main research areas and the Biomechatronic Systems department and the excellence cluster Simulation Technology (SimTech) at the University of Stuttgart, where Professor Röhrle heads the SimTech research group Continuum Biomechanics and Mechanobiology. “I was very pleased to learn that the head of the Biomechatronic Systems department at Fraunhofer IPA has a medical background and that many team members are engineers. These are perfect conditions for developing methods that will really help patients around the world,” says Cheng.

Long-standing collaboration is intensified
Fraunhofer IPA, the University of Stuttgart, and the University of Auckland have successfully collaborated for many years. Professor Verl, the latest winner of the New Zealand Julius von Haast Fellowship Award, has held an honorary professorship at the University of Auckland since 2012. For four years from 2000, Professor Röhrle worked at the Auckland Bioengineering Institute. Both professors believe that the collaboration will be an important link between the University of Auckland, Fraunhofer IPA, and the University of Stuttgart. “This collaboration enriches not only our research activities. We can also set up university exchange programs to provide opportunities for our students to gain intercultural experience at an early stage,” says Professor Verl.

Associate Professor Cheng’s research focuses on the analysis of electrophysiological signals resulting from the muscles in the human body. One of his key focuses is the development of methods for analyzing weak electrical and magnetic fields in the smooth muscles of the gastrointestinal tract. His research aims to improve the understanding of the disturbances originating in this part of the body and to develop novel treatment methods.

About the Fraunhofer-Bessel Research Award
The Fraunhofer-Bessel Award was first awarded in 2006 by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. Unlike the Friedrich Wilhelm Bessel Research Award, which supports basic research, the Fraunhofer-Bessel Research Award recognizes outstanding scientists in applied research. The prestigious award is given to up to three recipients annually. Previous award winners include researchers from all disciplines, for example the materials scientist Professor Wolfgang Windl or the mathematician Dr. Yalchin Efendiev.

About the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation was established in Berlin in 1860 and revived in Bonn in 1925. Every year, the foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time researching in Germany. The foundation maintains a worldwide network of more than 26,000 academics from all disciplines in over 140 countries – including 50 Nobel Prize winners.