Prof. Dr. Ralf Wehrspohn, Director Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials
Title of presentation: Trends in Nanotechnology
Conference language: german
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Professor Ralf. B. Wehrspohn is heading the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials in Halle. He also holds a Chair in microstructure-based material design at the Martin Luther University in Halle.
Ralf B. Wehrspohn studied physics at the University of Oldenburg, and received his doctorate at the École Polytechnique in France at the age of 26. He became a professor at the University of Paderborn aged 32. In the meantime, he worked in industry at Philips Research in London, and assumed a professorship at the Max Planck Institute of Microstructure Physics in Halle.
Wehrspohn's work is centered on nanostructured materials and components, as used in microelectronics, sensors, photonics or photovoltaics, for instance. He has received several awards for his work: Ralf B. Wehrspohn has won the Heinz Maier Leibniz award of the German Research Foundation, the Scientific Association Award of DOW Chemical and the Innovation Prize of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology MIT (TR100). In 2004, Financial Times Deutschland listed him as one of Germany’s most innovative people.
For all thematic challenges which Fraunhofer IWM confronts, access to the material forms a basis, as does the question of how the material properties and the component behavior can be changed by technology or use-dependent mechanical, thermal, chemical or electrical forces.
The significance of nanotechnology in materials science has increased considerably over the past years. This development is driven not least by the currently fast changing economic and political situation. Factors such as scarcity of resources and high raw material and energy costs are currently significant technology drivers in materials research. Stricter political and regulatory specifications, such as the prohibition of certain materials, are intensifying this trend.
As a result, the number of possible materials is decreasing all the time, and new ways must be found to manufacture products with the desired functionalities. Nanotechnology structuring plays a key role here. Materials researchers therefore use nanotechnological procedures more and more often in order to manufacture completely innovative or improved products. What can nanotechnology contribute to materials research? What new trends are there here?
Professor Wehrspohn, Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials in Halle is a top research center for materials and components that are used in business and society. What role does nanotechnology play in research?
Prof. Wehrspohn: The Fraunhofer IMM concentrates on issues related to reliability and lifespan of components and the production of substances in processing. The reliability and functionality of parts and components are defined at the microscopic level. For example, a gap always first emerges between two atoms. Therefore understanding the microcosmos is extremely critical for us. To this end, we have the latest equipment for investigating microstructures at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and provide our customers with application-specific microstructure investigation methods.
From your perspective, what spectacular nanotechnological applications can we look forward to in the next few years? Where is the journey heading?
Prof. Wehrspohn: Based on revenues, nanotechnology has the greatest significance for information and communications technologies. The functionality of components in integrated circuits or storage media has increased in the last 20 years. We are seeing similar effects of nanotechnology in the increased functionality of surfaces. Moreover, we are currently undergoing a paradigm shift from a trend toward ever increasing functionality to greater resource efficiency.
Nanotechnology can also make substantial contributions in this area, e.g., by substituting rare or toxic materials with nanostructured multimaterial systems. We are however only at the beginning. President Obama announced the Materials Genome Initiative in June 2011 for precisely this reason.
Why is your presentation also interesting for people who have had no previous experience with nanotechnology?
Prof. Wehrspohn: In the past, nanotechnology was always associated with greater functionality – but nanotechnology also has the potential to deliver important milestones on the way to a more resource-efficient society.