The Jung Foundation for Science and Research is awarding Professor Dr. rer. nat. Dr. h.c. Wolfgang Baumeister with the Ernst Jung Gold Medal for Medicine for 2018. The biophysicist from Munich is receiving the medal for his life’s work in the field of cryo-electron microscopy, as well as clarifying the structure of large macromolecular protein complexes. The award is endowed with a EUR 30,000 scholarship, which Baumeister can award to an aspiring scientist of his choice.

Macromolecular complexes and their interactions are the basis for cellular functions. Identifying their structures consequently helps achieve a better understanding of cellular processes. The standard structural analysis process is to isolate and purify the individual cell components first and analyse them using structural biology methods such as X-ray crystallography, NMR spectroscopy[1] and increasingly cryo-electron microscopy too. Professor Wolfgang Baumeister, Director at the Max Planck Institute of Biochemistry in München-Martinsried, takes a different approach on the other hand: together with his working group, he is researching and developing new methods that allow cell structures to be analysed in their functional, undisturbed context, i.e. in the intact cell.

Wolfgang Baumeister already enjoyed exploring at school. His fascination with structural research starts during his biology studies and he has remained loyal to this ever since. He has experienced the further development of microscopy and shaped it with his research over the decades. Scientists led by Baumeister succeed in mapping macromolecular complexes in intact cells for the first time in 2000. In the meantime it is possible to achieve the molecular resolution of structures in any cell subvolume. Wolfgang Baumeister believes in the importance of his work for medical practice: “Basic scientific research opens up perspectives for new diagnostic approaches and therapies time and time again, which are often enough surprising,” he says. “Unfortunately, method development does not always carry the same importance as hypothesis driven research today. I think we have to work on this as it is the only way to turn visions into reality.” Besides his work, the 71-year-old researcher likes spending quality time in the Tyrolean Alps, skiing and also enjoys cooking and collecting art.

[1] NMR = nuclear magnetic resonance