More than 1.6 million euros to develop new methods for materials research

Funding of the Federal government for three research projects with extremely strong X-ray light at the cross-state Ruprecht Haensel Laboratory

© DESY / Marta Mayer

The Ruprecht Haensel Laboratory is located at the Center for X-Ray and Nano Science (CXNS) at DESY in Hamburg, a joint facility with CAU.

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is funding three research projects from physics and the priority research area KiNSIS (Kiel Nano, Surface and Interface Science) at Kiel University (CAU). More than 1.6 million euros go to the CAU for developing new methods and instruments to investigate materials. For this purpose, the scientists use high-intensity X-ray light generated at the research centre Deutsches Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY in Hamburg. With synchrotron radiation, ultra-fast processes can be observed at the nano level, for example. The researchers also hope to gain new findings for better batteries and fuel cells, new types of quantum materials or the release of active medical ingredients. The instruments will be located in the Ruprecht-Haensel Laboratory, a joint facility of the CAU and DESY, and available to researchers from all over the world. The funding is planned for three years until 2025.

Particle accelerators like those at DESY speed up tiny, electrically charged particles nearly to the speed of light, thus generating extremely bright X-ray light. Researchers in physics, chemistry, materials science or the life sciences use it, for example, to study the behaviour of electrons, to analyse nanomaterials or to track vital biochemical processes.

"Using state-of-the-art research methods such as synchrotron radiation, we can study materials in a unique way. This creates the basis for completely new knowledge and innovative applications," says Professor Kai Rossnagel. He is one of the spokespersons for the priority research area KiNSIS "Kiel Nano, Surface and Interface Science" at CAU, in which the Ruprecht Haensel Laboratory is settled. However, in order to apply the X-ray light to concrete research questions, the highly complex instruments have to be individually developed. The three grants from the BMBF enable this. "This funding not only strengthens the nano research in Kiel and the high-class research infrastructure in Northern Germany. It will also advance one of the central key technologies for energy research, digital technologies and life sciences.

The three funded projects at a glance:

Developing methods for energy research

© Olaf Magnussen

Project „HES4ES“ (High-energy surface X-ray scattering for energy science), funding reference number 05K22FK1

Prof. Dr. Olaf Magnussen, Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics

The further development of batteries and hydrogen technology is a central task on the way to a CO2-neutral society. Olaf Magnussen, Professor of Solid State Physics, CAU, is therefore investigating electrochemical processes in batteries, in fuel cells and during electrolysis, together with Hans-Georg Steinrück, Professor of Technical Chemistry at Paderborn University. A comprehensive understanding of what happens at the interfaces between electrodes and liquids on an atomic scale can make electrode materials more durable, for example.

So far, however, these interfaces have been difficult to access with most methods. With the BMBF funding, the scientists want to develop new methods using high-intensity X-rays. "We use particularly short-wave beams, such as those used for baggage screening at airports. This allows us to penetrate deep into the interior of materials and examine processes under realistic conditions," explains Magnussen. The instruments will be developed at the European Synchrotron Radiation Facility (ESRF) in Grenoble, France, and at DESY in Hamburg.


A deeper understanding of liquid interfaces

© Lukas Petersdorf

Project „LISA Dynamics“, funding reference number 05K22FK3

PD Dr. Bridget Murphy, Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics

What happens at the interface between liquids and gases, plays a crucial role in many areas of the life and the nano sciences - for example, in the release of drugs, at cell membranes or in molecular electronics. In order to be able to understand and control the structures and the processes taking place here, PD Dr. Bridget Murphy has developed X-ray scattering experiments at the PETRA III synchrotron radiation source at DESY (Liquid Diffractometer LISA). "Investigating ultrafast processes at liquid interfaces is challenging, but central to many questions in biology, chemistry and the nutritional and marine sciences," says Murphy.

With the new funding, she wants to further develop the existing instrument for processes from nanoseconds to milliseconds and for the next-generation radiation source, PETRA IV. The structures at liquid interfaces are to be excited with a laser to change on the nanometre scale. By this, it should become possible to observe and to better understand molecular changes in water or salt solutions or molecular processes of lipids and proteins at liquid surfaces.

Investigating novel quantum materials

© AG Rossnagel

Project „Pulse microscope for FLASH“, funding reference number 05K22FK2

Prof. Dr. Kai Rossnagel, Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics

The free-electron laser FLASH at DESY accelerates electrons almost to the speed of light and thus generates extremely intense X-ray light flashes lasting billionths of a second (“femtoseconds”). This way the movements of atoms and molecules in materials or chemical reactions can be filmed. With the BMBF funding, a consortium from the Universities of Kiel, Regensburg and Mainz wants to develop an extremely powerful pulse microscope for a measuring station at FLASH. Using this, dynamic electronic and structural properties of novel quantum materials can be investigated.

The goal is to develop a microscope that works at temperatures down to -263.15 degrees Celsius (10 Kelvin) and can be combined with the most modern terahertz radiation sources. Retarding electrostatic front lenses will be used to  to reduce the space-charge effects. In Kiel, components for low temperatures are being developed and tested under the direction of Kai Rossnagel, Professor of Solid State Research with Synchrotron Radiation at the CAU and senior scientist at DESY. "With this, we are opening a whole new chapter in recording complete films of ultrafast electronic and structural dynamics at complex interfaces," says Rossnagel.


Prof. Dr. Olaf Magnussen
Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics
Solid State Physics
+49 431 880-5579



Dr. habil. rer. nat. Bridget Murphy
Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics
Solid State Physics
+49 431 880-5558



Prof. Dr. Kai Rossnagel
Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics
Solid State Research with Synchrotron Radiation
+49 431 880-3876


About Kiel Univerisity's Priority research area KiNSIS:

The nanoworld is governed by different laws than the macroscopic world, by quantum physics. Understanding structures and processes in these dimensions and implementing the findings in an application-oriented manner is the goal of the priority research area KiNSIS (Kiel Nano, Surface and Interface Science) at Kiel University. Intensive interdisciplinary cooperation between physics, chemistry, engineering and life sciences could lead to the development of novel sensors and materials, quantum computers, advanced medical therapies and much more.



Julia Siekmann
Science Communication Officer, Research area Kiel Nano Surface and Interface Sciences