Emmy Noether-Fellow Katrin F. Domke do research on solar cells (Photo: PR MPIP 2012)
The promotion scheme which is named after mathematician Emmy Noether (1882-1935) uncovers an early opportunity for outstanding young researchers to step into scientific independence.
Solar cells coated with a thin dye layer are less expensive, thin and flexible compared to their counterparts made of silica. However, dye-sensitized solar cells are still lacking energy efficiency. Current prototypes only convert around 10 per cent of solar energy into electricity. “There are complex processes on surfaces of solar cells which have to be better understood in order to develop more efficient solar cells. This is what our research is about”, Katrin F. Domke said. For that purpose she has developed a novel spectroscopy method which allows her to actually watch the behaviour of single molecules during energy conversion in detail on the basis of their chemical fingerprint. Directly watching the complex interaction of the different solar cell compounds is the key to understand energy conversion and enriches first-class photovoltaic research at the MPIP by an innovative attempt.
For a Portrait in the newspaper Allgemeine Zeitung you click here.
Max Planck Institut for Polymer Research
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Dr. Xinliang Feng (Photo: PR/MPI-P)
Mainz. The European Research Council awards the ERC Starting Grant for top-level early-career scientists to Xinliang Feng, who is employed at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P). With that the chemist receives development funds amounting to 1.5 million euros for the next five years in order to set up a research group. These funds allow Dr. Feng to continue and intensify research on two-dimensional materials. These two-dimensional nanosheets which consist of one layer of atoms, have unique characteristics and can be considered for a wide range of applications. "Our research will concentrate on materials for energy storage and conversion but will not be limited to that. It is clear that possible areas of application may reach much further," Dr. Feng is expecting.
Material synthesis on order
Since 2004, when Dr. Feng started his doctorate at the MPI-P, he has been working on synthesizing and studying these ultra-thin nanomaterials – especially graphene. This material, which is a layer of carbon atoms arranged in honey combs, is regarded as being promising in the future. Graphene excellently conducts electricity and heat, it is very light and elastic, however, as hard as diamond and hundred times more tearproof than steel. Its properties vary dependent on configuration and structure of the layer. Dr. Feng aims to produce these graphene materials by chemical synthesis as well as by mechanical exfoliation in order to adjust the properties to the functions and thus to the future applications. The chemist also aims to develop the synthesis of other nanosheets with tailored functions from metal oxides, polymers and organic compounds.
In this regard, not only single layers are interesting for Dr. Feng: He will develop strategies to combine several two-dimensional layers to compound materials, so-called composites. Again, this is how their properties can be specifically combined. Theoretically! This task that seems to be so easy requires comprehensive scientific know-how and experience in practice. Promising results have already been achieved at the MPI-P: The research group centered around director Klaus Müllen, where Dr. Feng belongs to as well, succeeded in developing a material composition for much more efficient lithium ions batteries amongst others. Instead of the storage material graphite, the scientists used metal oxides with significantly higher charge capacity. Due to the fact that these are not suitable for long term use, they were coated with graphene layers. The proceeding included some chemical tricks, but the prolonged battery life achieved indicates a great potential for countless users of mobile devices.
Practically based fundamental research
This was just the beginning for Xinliang Feng. The projects are still in their infancy; they must be optimized and standardized in order to allow the two-dimensional nanomaterials to develop from being hope to achieve performance in innovative applications. The European Research Council (ERC) honoured his results achieved so far, but also expresses high expectations for future developments.
ERC Starting Grants are among the most prestigious grants awarded by the European Research Council for world-class researchers. They give the opportunity for top-level early-career scientists to conduct fundamental research and establish or consolidate their own research team. According to ERC, the ERC 2012 promotes more than 500 research scientists and their projects with a total of about 800 million euros. All in all, more than 4,100 scientists applied for this grant.
Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research
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Grand Opening: BASF Executive Director Dr. Andreas Kreimeyer (l.) and MPIP Director Prof. Klaus Müllen © BASF
• Investment in Carbon Materials Innovation Center adds up to €10 million
Ludwigshafen and Mainz, Germany – BASF and the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research (MPI-P) opened their joint research and development platform, the Carbon Materials Innovation Center (CMIC), today at BASF’s Ludwigshafen site. A multidisciplinary task force will research the scientific principles and potential applications of innovative carbonized materials. The twelve-member international team is composed of chemists, physicists and material scientists. The activities conducted in the 200 square meter laboratory will include synthesizing and characterizing new materials and evaluating their potential uses in energy and electronic applications. The total investment for the joint research and development platform amounts to €10 million. The cooperation is initially scheduled to run for three years.
"We are on the threshold of a new cross-sectional technology that will revolutionize numerous applications and open the way to innovations. The race to discover future applications of carbon-based materials like graphene is in full progress and we want to be among the very front runners when it comes to utilizing this potential," said Dr. Andreas Kreimeyer, Member of the Board of Executive Directors of BASF and Research Executive Director, at the laboratory inauguration ceremony. "Through the Carbon Materials Innovation Center and together with our partners, we want to become better acquainted with the materials in order to evaluate the possibilities for sustainable applications. There is a wide range of ideas for applications, including displays or batteries with a vast market potential for these applications," Kreimeyer added.
MPI-P and BASF have been jointly researching the carbon material graphene since 2008. The CMIC is the next important step in jointly investigating and successfully accessing the potential of not only graphene, but also of other innovative carbon-based materials. "Graphene is a novel material with many promising properties and potential applications", Prof. Dr. Klaus Müllen, Director at MPI-P, who has already made important advances in synthesizing defined graphene nanoribbons, said. The material features its specific semiconductor properties with unique performance characteristics only in this specific form.
Graphene is closely related to graphite that is used, for example, in pencils. In contrast to graphite, graphene consists of only a single atomic layer of carbon atoms. Müllen emphasized the great potential of graphene: "The properties of the two-dimensional crystal are fascinating. Graphene conducts electricity and heat very effectively, is ultra-light weight and simultaneously very hard. Graphene is also chemically very stable, elastic and practically transparent. These properties make the material highly attractive for numerous technological applications." These include solar cells and touchscreens, for instance. Graphene could also be used in certain components in the automotive industry: besides using graphene-based composites, further potential uses for this interesting material include batteries, catalysts or catalyst carriers.
The CMIC is the first research platform to be operated by BASF jointly with a scientific partner on a BASF site. "The cooperation with MPI-P is an outstanding example of our knowledge Verbund in BASF research. The aim is to gain access to new technologies and business areas in the field of carbon-based materials and allow the rapid transfer of our application-oriented knowledge base into industry, so we can use it to generate sustainable solutions from chemistry," Kreimeyer added.
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About the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research
The Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, which was founded in 1984, ranks among the world-wide leading research centers in the field of polymer research. The focus on so-called soft materials and macro-molecular materials has resulted in the worldwide unique position of the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research and its research focus. Coworkers from Germany and abroad are conducting fundamental research on both production and characterization of polymers as well as analyzing their physical and chemical properties. The beginning of 2012 saw a total of 503 people working at the MPI-P, of whom 119 were supported by third-party funding and 70 were privately sponsored. The work force was made up of 109 scientists, 149 doctoral and diploma students, 70 visiting scientists and 175 technical, administrative and auxiliary staff.
BASF is the world’s leading chemical company: The Chemical Company. Its portfolio ranges from chemicals, plastics, performance products and crop protection products to oil and gas. We combine economic success, social responsibility and environmental protection. Through science and innovation we enable our customers in almost all industries to meet the current and future needs of society. Our products and system solutions contribute to conserving resources, ensuring healthy food and nutrition and helping to improve the quality of life. We have summed up this contribution in our corporate purpose: We create chemistry for a sustainable future. BASF posted sales of about €73.5 billion in 2011 and had more than 111,000 employees as of the end of the year. BASF shares are traded on the stock exchanges in Frankfurt (BAS), London (BFA) and Zurich (AN). Further information on BASF is available on the Internet at www.basf.com.
Modern life seems scarcely conceivable without liquid crystals
Liquid crystals have already been discovered in the end of the 19th century. During the last two decades liquid crystals have widely spread within the technology sector and nowadays they can be found in almost any display or flat screen. Therefore, liquid crys-tals are the most outstanding example for organic functional materials. The scientists participating in the conference will present latest research results on liquid crystalline substances and will discuss their further development. The topics are ranging from structure and formation of liquid crystalline phases to molecular design of new materials to optimising optoelectronic properties. Besides typical topics, the organisers have chosen four interdisciplinary subjects as well. One of which is on how to use liquid crystalline formation principles in order to improve electric properties of organic semiconductors, which can be used for flexible solar cells. On the other hand, liquid crystalline formation processes in living organisms and biological systems are of particular interest for applications which range from material science to medicine.
Prof. Dr. Harald Pleiner
Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research
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Die von den Universitäten Mainz und Kaiserslautern zusammen mit dem MPI-P gegründete Forschungseinrichtung konnte die Gutachter aus Wissenschaft und Politik nach 2007 erneut überzeugen. Sie erhält damit in den nächsten fünf Jahren bis 2017 Fördergelder für die Graduiertenausbildung.
Die Graduiertenschule hat zum Ziel, exzellente Ausbildung junger Naturwissenschaftler durch ihre Mitwirkung an exzellenter Forschung zu erreichen. Ausgerichtet ist diese Forschung auf die Materialwissenschaft, denn ohne neue Materialien lässt sich die Zukunft unserer Gesellschaft nicht sichern: Von der Energie- und Kommunikationstechnologie bis hin zu medizinischer Diagnostik und Therapie. Zweites Merkmal des Graduiertenkollegs neben der Verpflichtung zu Spitzenleistungen ist der fachübergreifende Ansatz, welcher Chemie, Physik und Biologie ebenso zusammenführt wie Theorie und Experiment. Die Breite der Themen reicht dabei von ultrakalten Gasen zu organischen Halbleitern in elektronischen Bauelementen bis hin zu Nanoteilchen für die gesteuerte Freisetzung von Wirkstoffen.
Die Exzellenzinitiative zielt darauf ab, gleichermaßen Spitzenforschung und die Anhebung der Qualität des Hochschul- und Wissenschaftsstandortes Deutschland in der Breite zu mit finanziellen Mitteln aus Bund und Ländern zu fördern.
Es wird beschichtet: Dr. Renate Förch und Doktorand Martin Heller am Plasma-Generator (Foto: Christian Meier)
Lesen Sie in einem Beitrag von Christian Meier (Max-PlanckFORSCHUNG 1/2012), was die Entwicklungen von Renate Förch so bedeutend macht und welche wissenschaftlichen Herausforderungen dahinterstecken.
a squad of creative scientists : Aránzazu del Campo, Cristina Serrano, Radu Gropeanu, Jiaxi Ciu & Zahid Shafiq v. l. (Foto: MPI-P)
Aránzazu del Campo who is leading the Minerva research group at the Max Planck Institute for Polymer Research, has developed a type of glue which orientates towards the biochemical structure of the adhesive material with which mussels adhere to rocks, wood or metallic ship’s hulls. The bionic glue has the same adhesive characteristics as its natural model and can be removed, if necessary.
In order to adhere to rocks or to ship’s hulls mussels form tear proof byssus filaments from endogenous secretions. These consist of collagen and special adhesive proteins and become hardened in sea water. The amino acid 3,4 Dihydroxyphenylalanin (DOPA), which is a crucial component for ensuring the protein‘s function, forms a cross-linked polymer matrix, which firmly sticks to inorganic material. Metallic ions – mainly iron ions extracted from sea water – help the adhesive to achieve self-repairing characteristics.
The research team centred around Aránzazu del Campo has managed to produce polymers which contain the molecule nitrodopamin. This molecule is chemically related to the amino acid DOPA and thus the synthetic adhesive has very similar characteristics compared to the natural model: The cross-linked polymers form a firmly adhesive structure in water. This structure is able to repair itself after mechanical destruction. Another highlight is that the adhesive may be removed quickly and without leaving any residues by means of UV light.
There are diverse applications for such an all-purpose adhesive: Numerous medical applications are possible, such as using the adhesive for closing wounds. Additionally, the glue is suitable for several industrial applications.
The complete paper in "Angewandte Chemie"
Aránzazu del Campo in an interview with "radioeins"
Challenge for Hospital Germs
The dangers of infection that occur during the process of wound healing are a much under-estimated problem which causes difficulties for treating doctors, hospital managers and health politicians. According to studies conducted by professional associations in Germany, infected injuries and operation wounds lead to significantly more deaths than road accidents do. Medical staff try to combat hospital germs, which can hardly be controlled due to growing antibiotic-resistant characteristics, by using certain dressing materials. In future, these dressings will become multi-functional materials; Intelligent mechanisms will help them to support the healing process: they will almost prevent the development of germs, indicate infected areas on time and fight against germs with antibacterial substances. Developing such materials is more complex than it may seem at first sight, as there are certain endogenous bacteria that are essential for the healing process and, consequently, they must not be eliminated. Another aspect is the duration of the usability: Every time the dressing is removed and re-applied this contributes to cicatrisation and thus hinders the recovering progress – this especially applies to patients with burns. These are exactly the medical aspects Renate Förch’s project BacterioSafe deals with. Since July 2010, first material samples with the necessary characteristics have been successfully developed within the project. The group at the MPI-P cooperates with research groups at the University of Bath (UK) and the University of Siegen, biologists and medics at the University Medicine Mainz and Bristol (UK) as well as with the Dublin City University (Ireland). Engineer technical institutes in Belgium and Finland deal with the technical challenges connected to producing industrial applications in future. Therefore, industrial partners also supply the researchers with several basic materials. Certain natural mechanisms distinguish between essential bacteria and infectious germs. The wound material indicates an infection by releasing colouring agents and, at the same time, it releases antibiotics and antiseptics. The polymeric shells of the particles including active agents are attracting hazardous bacteria. For these bacteria the particles seem to be a nutrient source and thus the bacteria’s metabolism gets going – this leads to the fact that the active agent is released. The research group of Katharina Landfester (director at the MPI-P) develops tailored particles and vesicles with different characteristics; amongst others they are aimed at controlled transport of medical active agents. The appropriate application of such particles and the “distinction” between good and bad germs is supposed to reduce the development of resistance. Renate Förch’s group works on combining those particles or vesicles with the dressing materials.
The KOALA network is the next step aiming at optimizing single characteristics of dressing materials. The major non-EU partner within the exchange programme is a research group at the University South Australia in Adelaide. This group has achieved considerable results in surface analytics and in developing surface coatings for dressing materials. The Australian scientists test dressing materials which produce an endogenous substrate with the patient’s skin cells and thus naturally fasten the process of closing the wound.
Renate Förch hopes to achieve most promising results in view of this mutual knowledge transfer: "Treating burns and other large wounds is an urgent problem. There is often only a choice between scars and infections and recognizing infections may save lives. This is why intelligent dressing materials are urgently required. We can easily fasten the scientific progress by establishing networks, such as KOALA."
Fundamental Experience with Implants
Renate Förch has established the basics with her previous research project EMBEK1. The same aspects that apply for wound healing have to be considered when talking about implants: Healing process and physical compatibility. A comprehensive understanding of the whole process on molecular scale is required to model natural material and processes. The scientists have identified the biological mechanisms that play a significant role with regard to germs adhesion on surfaces and they have found measures to interrupt them. This basic knowledge is fundamental for research on intelligent dressings. The knowledge, which is combined throughout the network KOALA, aims at creating prototypes for clinical studies, which will be developed out of the so far produced wound materials.
BacterioSafe in Detail