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Cluster of Excellence
Engineering of Advanced Materials
How are atoms arranged in a material? How are they bonded together? The answers to these questions are the key to understanding how materials behave – and how they can be improved to make them even more stable, heat-resistant or conductive. The development of such high-performance materials is one of the 21st century’s key technology challenges and affects areas as diverse as energy reform, mobility, medicine and IT. For example, the detailed understanding of materials at the atomic scale will be instrumental for the production of cheaper and more efficient solar cells or gas turbines that can withstand ever higher temperatures. It will also open new avenues in nanoelectronics to overcome the current limitations of silicon technology. In order to meet these aims, more powerful instruments are needed which can probe the physical and chemical nature of matter at an ever finer scale.
FAU’s brand new Titan Themis3 300 transmission electron microscope, the first of its kind in Europe, will allow the atomic structure of materials to be visualized with unprecedented clarity. The instru ment is housed in the newly-inaugurated Institute of Micro- and Nanostructure Research (Chair: Prof. Dr. Erdmann Spiecker) and, with a resolution below 0.1 nanometers, can image structures more than half a million times smaller than a human hair. Thanks to state-of-the-art electron optics including two special lens correctors and many other features, the microscope can not only pinpoint the position of atoms extremely precisely but can also analyze the chemical nature of the bonds between them. The latter is especially important, as information about bonding is required in order to better understand and design the electronic, optical, thermal and mechanical properties of materials.
Besides using this extremely powerful microscope to probe matter at an ever finer scale, a major research priority of the new institute is in situ electron microscopy, a field which is still in its relative infancy. Thanks to microscopes with improved stability and novel specimen mounting devices, materials can now be specifically altered on a minute scale within the microscope by heating, cooling or applying a mechanical force or electrical current to them. While this is happening, the materials’ nano- and microstructure can be observed in real time to see how it reacts. “By analyzing how a material reacts to such specific interference we can gain unique insights into the relationship between the microscopic structure and the properties of a material,” says Prof. Dr. Erdmann Spiecker, “This is essential information that can be used to improve the properties of materials in the future.” Spiecker already coordinates the DFG Research Training Group “ In Situ Microscopy with Electrons, X-rays and Scanning Probes“, in which more than 20 PhD students from the physics, chemistry, materials science and chemical and biological engineering departments work closely together in the development of new in situ microscopy techniques and their application to various types of nanostructures and nanostructured materials. The new institute, with its cutting edge equipment and highly experienced staff is an ideal nucleus around which such interdisciplinary activities can grow and it is well on course to become a world-renowned center for excellence in electron microscopy.
The acquisition of the €3.7m microscope and establishment of the new institute is a major success-story for the Cluster of Excellence “Engineering of Advanced Materials” which has promoted, since its inception in 2007, the establishment in Erlangen of state-of-the-art analytical techniques and expertise through its research area A2 which is embodied in the Center for Nanoanalysis and Electron Microscopy (CENEM). To recognize these important developments, a formal inauguration for both the microscope and new institute was held on 30 April in the presence of Bavarian State Secretary for Education, Science and the Arts, Bernd Sibler, representatives of the FAU administration and leading figures from the scientific community. A key note speech by Prof. Joachim Mayer (Forschungszentrum Jülich) on the application of advanced microscopical techniques in the development of energy materials set the scene for the scientific work shop which followed the inauguration in the afternoon.
“The new transmission electronic microscope and the Institute of Micro- and Nanostructure Research have opened up brand new research opportunities with the potential to boost the inter national reputation of the Cluster of Excellence ‘Engineering of Advanced Materials’, the University as a whole and last but not least, Bavaria as a key location for research.”
Bernd Sibler, MdL, state secretary at the Bavarian State Ministry of Education, Science and the Arts
“In order to carry out high-level research projects, we must ensure that our equipment is being continually adapted to the current state of the art technology. The University’s profile has been strengthened considerably with this powerful microscope and with the appointment of Prof. Spiecker, the new Chair. FAU is demonstrating once again that it is an international leader in materials research.”
FAU-President Prof. Dr. Joachim Hornegger
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