First annual retreat of the CRC 1411 takes place online

Symbolic picture for the article. The link opens the image in a large view.
A "group photo" from the retreat


To conclude the first year of activities in CRC 1411 all PIs, participating researchers and our two Mercator Fellows gathered from 14-16 December 2020 to reflect on progress and plan for the next year. Originally conceived as a 2 day event at the Forschungscampus Waischenfeld, negative developments in the coronavirus pandemic meant that the retreat had to be held fully online over the course of two afternoons. However, this did not detract from the excellent progress and enthusiasm in the CRC, despite the challenging circumstances of 2020, as demonstrated by an inspiring programme of tandem talks, a seminar on gender awareness, breakout discussion sessions and a poster session. To provide a central “place” to meet and organise all these activities, the retreat was administered from a MURAL (see the image below) which allowed attendees to post questions and comments and also to open zoom rooms and other MURALS where the poster and breakout sessions were held. On each day there were two tandem talks. On day 1, these highlighted collaborations between participating projects of CRC 1411, particularly those considering the chromatographic separation of PEG homologs and nanoparticles. On day 2, a talk was given by two researchers working on project C03, concerning novel and powerful characterisation approaches for a critically important process for the CRC, the diffusion of nanoparticles. Then, researchers of the INF project presented the electronic lab notebook tool which has been chosen to support the management and storage of experimental and theoretical data generated in the CRC.

The scientific programme was administered from a MURAL – an interactive white board which showed the schedule, had space for comments and questions to the plenary talks to be posted and links to sub-MURALs containing the poster session and discussion groups.

Following up from a seminar for members of the Integrated Research Training Group in Particle Science and Technology, Dr Susanne Frölich-Steffen gave a presentation on objective evaluation from the perspective on gender awareness and in the context of the CRC. The ensuing discussion brought ideas on how to continue to make the research environment evermore inclusive.

The retreat also provided an opportunity for researchers to meet and discuss in smaller groups. As with the kick-off meeting in March 2020 these were organized around the 3 Working Groups with the addition of a further group to discuss suitable reference particle systems. Each discussion group was realised as a zoom breakout session with a dedicated MURAL. The latter played an identical role as flip-chart, except that all the information in it was electronically stored and can be easily returned to and reviewed long after the meeting.

A highlight for many was the poster session – feedback from the participants suggested this was the most interactive digital poster session many had experienced in 2020. Each research area of the CRC had one dedicated session. The sessions started with flash talks on zoom, giving the presenters a couple of minutes each to outline the main thrust of their poster. Then attendees then moved to the “poster hall”, in reality a MURAL on which all 21 posters were hosted. Attendees could easily zoom in and view each poster, leave questions and comments next to it, and, by clicking on a portrait of the presenter next to the poster, enter into a zoom discussion with them. The ease of use of the complementary technology zoom and MURAL meant that scientific discussions were promoted to the full and new ideas for collaborative research could be fostered between participants.

On the final morning, the PIs met with the External Advisory Board, who provided valuable feedback and input based on their experiences of the previous two days. The overall impression was highly positive, despite the considerable challenges to collaborative research presented by the pandemic situation.


The poster session MURAL. There was a separate session for each research area of the CRC.