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Helmholtz International Lab

Closing knowledge gaps on air pollutants

The starting signal has been given for the German-Israeli aeroHEALTH project. The Presidents of the Helmholtz Association and the Weizmann Institute in Israel, Prof. Otmar D. Wiestler and Prof. Daniel Zajfman, opened the joint Helmholtz International Lab in Rehovot near Tel Aviv yesterday.

Joint laboratory for aerosol research opened: Helmholtz President Prof. Dr. Otmar Wiestler, Tropospheric Researcher Prof. Dr. Astrid Kiendler-Scharr, Weizmann President Prof. Dr. Daniel Zajfman, Project Coordinator Prof. Dr. Ralf Zimmermann and Aerosol Specialist Prof. Dr. Yinon Rudich (from right). © Weizmann Institute, Photography unit, Itai Belson

AeroHEALTH researches the effects of atmospheric pollutants on human health. Scientists from Helmholtz Zentrum München, Weizmann Institute of Science and Forschungszentrum Jülich have joined forces in this project. It is one of the first projects in an initiative launched by Helmholtz. It will further expand international cooperation between research establishments on socially relevant topics in jointly run Helmholtz International Labs.

"We are very pleased to be able to develop aeroHEALTH together with the renowned Weizmann Institute", said Helmholtz President Prof. Otmar D. Wiestler at the inauguration ceremony in Tel Aviv. "Air pollution is one of the greatest risks to health of our time. But major gaps in our knowledge of the causes and underlying mechanisms still remain. We now want to make another important contribution in order to close that gap. "In the aeroHEALTH cooperation project, Helmholtz Zentrum München, Forschungszentrum Jülich and the Israeli Weizman Institute combine their expertise to elucidate the impact of air pollutants on human health.

“Scientific research is a real international endeavor since the results are always valid for everyone. Especially a project like AeroHEALTH, which will directly address the health effects of fresh and atmospherically aged anthropogenic and biogenic aerosol emissions, is a concern for every individual living in this planet. As such, we are more than happy to collaborate with the prestigious Helmholtz Association on this multidisciplinary project, and I’m confident that together, we will be able to create a better understanding of the effect of industrial emission, and its effect on our health," said Prof. Dr. Daniel Zajfman, President of Weizmann Institute of Science.

“We are investing in this new international research laboratory together with Weizmann Institute in order to understand even better the complex role of air pollutants in environmental and health interactions. Above all, through the strategic use of artificial intelligence methods, we hope to make rapid progress in this increasingly important field of research", commented Prof. Matthias Tschöp, Scientific Director of the coordinating Helmholtz Zentrum München.

The abbreviation aeroHEALTH stands for "Impact of Atmospheric Aerosols on Human Health". The partners involved can draw on many years of cooperation and extensive joint preparatory work, explains Prof. Ralf Zimmermann, Head of the Comprehensive Molecular Analytics Cooperation Group at Helmholtz Zentrum München. Zimmermann coordinates the project, which will initially run for five years. His team delivers expertise and infrastructure for the chemical characterization of airborne aerosols, the realistic exposure of biological systems to aerosols and the investigation of the toxicological and cellular effects of particulates, reinforced by the big data expertise of the groups centered around Prof. Fabian Theis, also of Helmholtz Munich.

The transformation and aging of aerosols through atmospheric processes is the field of the group centered around Prof. Astrid Kiendler-Scharr at Forschungszentrum Jülich. The Jülich Institut für Troposphärenforschung (Institute for Tropospheric Research – IEK-8) investigates physical and chemical processes that determine the trace substance content of the troposphere. Tropospheric photochemical self-cleansing and the formation of secondary pollutants are investigated in the SAPHIR atmospheric simulation chamber. The findings are utilized to assess the impact of secondary pollutants on air quality and climate using regional and global models. Prof. Yinon Rudich at the Weizmann Institute, on the other hand, specializes in the in-vivo toxicology of air pollutants and their decomposition products, as well as physical aerosol characterization.

"Our research groups are broadly interdisciplinary and complement each other ideally", says a delighted Ralf Zimmermann. The conditions for investigating the influence of atmospheric aging on the health effects of the pollutant particles, which has so far received little attention, are ideal. AeroHEALTH is about illuminating the basic active mechanisms of air pollutants.

The Helmholtz Association funds aeroHEALTH with up to €300,000 per annum. The participating centers and the foreign partner also fund a corresponding share.

Additional information

The German-Israeli aeroHEALTH Helmholtz International Laboratory researches the biological and health effects of atmospheric aerosols, caused by both originally emitted aerosols and those formed as secondary aerosols. The atmospheric aging of biogenic and anthropogenic emissions is simulated under realistic conditions and time periods in order to correlate laboratory results with actual observed health effects.

The aeroHEALTH Helmholtz International Lab is a cooperation between

  • Helmholtz Zentrum München, Head Scientists: Prof. Ralf Zimmermann, Prof. Fabian Theis
  • Forschungszentrum Jülich, Head Scientist:  Prof. Astrid Kiendler-Scharr
  • Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, Head Scientist: Prof. Yinon Rudich

Further information is available at

The Virtual Helmholtz Institute "HICE-Aerosol and Health", which was led by Prof. Ralf Zimmermann from 2012 to 2017 and has since been consolidated at Helmholtz Zentrum München, carried out important preliminary work on the composition and biological effects of combustion emissions.

Forschungszentrum Jülich makes effective contributions to surmounting major societal challenges in the fields of information, energy and the bioeconomy. It focuses on the future of information technologies and processing, complex processes in the human brain, the transformation of the energy system and a sustainable bioeconomy. The research center develops simulation and data science as a key method of research and employs large, often unique, scientific infrastructures. Its work is cross-cutting and interdisciplinary and utilizes synergies between research fields. With around 6000 employees and approximately 800 visiting scientists from more than 75 countries every year, it is one of Europe's largest interdisciplinary research centers.

The Weizmann Institute of Science is one of the world’s leading multidisciplinary basic research institutions in the natural and exact sciences. It is located in Rehovot, Israel, just south of Tel Aviv. It was initially established as the Daniel Sieff Institute in 1934, by Israel and Rebecca Sieff of London in memory of their son Daniel. In 1949, it was renamed for Dr. Chaim Weizmann, the first President of the State of Israel and Founder of the Institute.

As German Research Center for Environmental Health, Helmholtz Zentrum München pursues the goal of developing personalized medical approaches for the prevention and therapy of major common diseases such as diabetes mellitus, allergies and lung diseases. To achieve this, it investigates the interaction of genetics, environmental factors and lifestyle. The Helmholtz Zentrum München has about 2,500 staff members and is headquartered in Neuherberg in the north of Munich. Helmholtz Zentrum München is a member of the Helmholtz Association, a community of 19 scientific-technical and medical-biological research centers with a total of about 37,000 staff members. 

Die unabhängige Kooperationsgruppe Comprehensive Molecular Analytics (CMA) ist eine Forschungskooperation zwischen dem Helmholtz Zentrum München und der Universität Rostock (Lehrstuhl für Analytische Chemie). Gegenstand der Forschung ist die Entwicklung und Anwendung massenspektrometrischer Analysetechniken, um komplexe molekulare Substanzgemische zu charakterisieren. In dem gemeinsamem Massenspektrometriezentrum (JMSC) werden neue Messtechnologien entwickelt und molekulare Profile erstellt, insbesondere im Hinblick auf die Analyse von Aerosolen und ihrer Effekte auf die Gesundheit.

The Institute of Computational Biology (ICB) develops and applies methods for the model-based description of biological systems, using a data-driven approach by integrating information on multiple scales ranging from single-cell time series to large-scale omics. Given the fast technological advances in molecular biology, the aim is to provide and collaboratively apply innovative tools with experimental groups in order to jointly advance the understanding and treatment of common human diseases.