Porträt Dr. Müller, Katharina; FWOG

Photo: André Wirsig

Dr. Katharina Müller

Head Surface Processes
Phone: +49 351 260 2439

Social Media


Department of Surface Processes

The why? The how? The what?

The ultimate goal of our research, driven by scientific curiosity, is to gain fundamental and independent knowledge of the (geo)chemistry and environmental fate of long-lived radionuclides (RNs). One prominent and socially important application is the safe disposal of radioactive waste, to aid future generations in the responsibility of dealing with “our” legacy from energy production in nuclear reactors.

For this purpose we provide the radiochemical knowledge, namely structural and mechanistic data of important mobilizing and immobilizing reactions of RNs in solution, at interfaces, and in solids.

Our particular focus is using a variety of established and advanced microscopic and spectroscopic techniques, to accurately describe complex formation reactions and complex structures that govern RN interactions in the geosphere. In addition, we investigate the creation and chemical speciation of activation products in materials from nuclear power plants in the context of their safe decommissioning.

As part of a value chain, the derived structural information forms a sound basis for a reliable thermodynamic description of the investigated systems, which can be integrated in thermodynamic databases. The thermodynamic work is done in close collaboration with the department of Actinide thermodynamics.

Foto: Forschungsfelder der Abteilung Grenzflächenprozesse ©Copyright: Dr. Katharina Müller

Our core competencies

  • Chemistry of long-lived RNs – Expertise in handling RNs, ranging from fission- and activation products to transuranium elements, and access to radiation safety labs.
  • Structural characterization – Expertise in applying and coupling spectroscopic and microscopic as well as diffraction techniques for accessing molecular information.
  • Thermodynamic description of RN complexes – Using macroscopic, spectroscopic, and calorimetric information of reactant-water-surface phenomena as basis for the derivation of surface complexation models and their thermodynamic parameters.

Research fields

  • Coordination chemistry of RNs in aqueous solution and in human artificial biofluids, e.g. RADEKOR project.
  • Molecular characterization of RN reactions at natural and engineered mineral-water interfaces, e.g. REDOX project.
  • Incorporation of actinides and lanthanides in solid phases, e.g. AcE project.
  • Environmental technetium chemistry., e.g. Young Investigator Group TecRad.
  • Development of a method for pre-activity and dose rate calculations of components in the reactor vicinity based on neutron fluence distributions (EMPRADO) 12/2018 –03/2024, BMBF.

Latest Publication

Effect of Ba(II), Eu(III), and U(VI) on rat NRK-52E and human HEK-293 kidney cells in vitro

Senwitz, C.; Butscher, D.; Holtmann, L.; Vogel, M.; Steudtner, R.; Drobot, B.; Stumpf, T.; Barkleit, A.; Heller, A.


Heavy metals pose a potential health risk to humans when they enter the organism. Renal excretion is one of the elimination pathways and, therefore, investigations with kidney cells are of particular interest. In the present study, the effects of Ba(II), Eu(III), and U(VI) on rat and human renal cells were investigated in vitro. A combination of microscopic, biochemical, analytical, and spectroscopic methods was used to assess cell viability, cell death mechanisms, and intracellular metal uptake of exposed cells as well as metal speciation in cell culture medium and inside cells.

For Eu(III) and U(VI), cytotoxicity and intracellular uptake are positively correlated and depend on concentration and exposure time. An enhanced apoptosis occurs upon Eu(III) exposure whereas U(VI) exposure leads to enhanced apoptosis and (secondary) necrosis. In contrast to that, Ba(II) exhibits no cytotoxic effect at all and its intracellular uptake is time-independently very low. In general, both cell lines give similar results with rat cells being more sensitive than human cells.

The dominant binding motifs of Eu(III) in cell culture medium as well as cell suspensions are (organo-) phosphate groups. Additionally, a protein complex is formed in medium at low Eu(III) concentration. In contrast, U(VI) forms a carbonate complex in cell culture medium as well as each one phosphate and carbonate complex in cell suspensions. Using chemical microscopy, Eu(III) was localized in granular, vesicular compartments near the nucleus and the intracellular Eu(III) species equals the one in cell suspensions.

Overall, this study contributes to a better understanding of the interactions of Ba(II), Eu(III), and U(VI) on a cellular and molecular level. Since Ba(II) and Eu(III) serve as inactive analogs of the radioactive Ra(II) and Am(III)/Cm(III), the results of this study are also of importance for the health risk assessment of these radionuclides.

Keywords: Cytotoxicity; Radionuclides; Kidney cells; Heavy metal speciation; TRLFS; Chemical microscopy


A list of publications can be found here.

Research groups

Currently running third-party funded projects

  • Experimentally supported calculations of neutron fields and the resulting activities in spaces far from the reactor (EBENE) 04/2024 – 09/2027, BMBF
  • Interactions of technetium with microorganisms, metabolites and at the mineral-water interface – Radioecological considerations (TecRad) 07/2022 – 06/2027, BMBF
  • Redox reactivity of selenium in environmental geomedia (REDOX) 06/2022 – 05/2025, ANDRA
  • Speciation and transfer of radionuclides in the human organism especially taking into account decorporation agents (RADEKOR) 07/2020 – 12/2023, BMBF.
  • Fundamental investigations of actinide immobilization by incorporation into solid phases relevant for final disposal (AcE) 01/2021 – 12/2023, BMBF.

An overview of finished projects can be found here.



NameBld./Office+49 351 260Email
Dr. Katharina Müller801/P2482439


NameBld./Office+49 351 260Email
Daniel Butscher801/P3523154
Aline Chlupka801/P2033198
Sebastian Friedrich801/P3523154
Dr. Norbert Jordan801/P2182148
Stephan Weiß801/P3162758
Maud Emilie

Incorporation in solid phases

NameBld./Office+49 351 260Email
Dr. Nina Maria Huittinen801/P2182148
Dr. Astrid Barkleit801/P2073136
Luiza Braga Ferreira dos Santos801/P2543487

"TecRad" Wechselwirkung von Technetium mit Mikroorganismen, Metaboliten und an Mineral-Wasser-Grenzflächen - Radioökologische Betrachtungen

NameBld./Office+49 351 260Email
Dr. Natalia Mayordomo Herranz801/P2522076
Caroline Börner801/P2542251
Arkadz Bureika801/P2012434
Irene Cardaio801/P2542251
Vijay Kumar Saini801/P3523328


Name at HZDR Derzeitigte Institution
Isabelle Jessat Ph.D. student ASML, Veldhoven, Netherlands
Quirina Isabella Roode-Gutzmer Ph.D. student Wismut GmbH
Maximilian Demnitz Ph.D. student,
graduated 2022
Eindhoven University of Technology, Department of Chemical Engineering and Chemistry, Het
Diana Marcela Rodriguez Hernandez Ph.D. student,
graduated 2021
Rotop Pharmaka GmbH
Henry Lösch Ph.D. student,
graduated 2021
Radiation Protection, Analytics & Disposal (VKTA)
Manuel Eibl Ph.D. student,
graduated 2020
Avantgarde Labs GmbH
Susanne Lehmann Ph.D. student,
graduated 2020
Institute for Geosciences at the Friedrich-Schiller-University Jena