nano sciences

Electrical generators in the nano format

Kiel nanosciences honours international visionary in nanotechnology and talented early career researchers 

On Tuesday, 18 June, the priority research area Kiel Nano, Surface and Interface Science (KiNSIS) at Kiel University (CAU) awarded the Diels-Planck Lecture for the sixth time. The award went to Professor Zhong Lin Wang of the Georgia Institute of Technology, USA, for his pioneering contributions to the development of nanogenerators and self-powered systems - microscopically small electrical generators, which could operate mobile devices with energy derived from the smallest movements. The award is made every year by the roughly 100 KiNSIS members to honour internationally-renowned scientists from the field of nano, surface and interface science. In addition, the priority research area yesterday honoured the best dissertations from nano and surface research of the past year. The award ceremony, which took place in the framework of the "Intelligent Materials" conference, was accompanied by the music of "Trio Total" from Kiel.

Pioneer in nanotechnology

"We are very proud to be able to welcome one of the pioneers in Nanotechnology here today," said CAU President Professor Lutz Kipp at the opening of the event. Wang, Director of the Center for Nanostructure Characterization at Georgia Tech and a member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, is a leader in the development of zinc oxide nanostructures, in particular nanogenerators. They can generate cost-effective and decentralised electricity from small mechanical movements. This technology has influenced science and industry as “energy harvesting”. This refers to the use of energy which already exists in the environment, such as body and water movements, air currents or temperature differences. In addition to powering mobile devices, there are also potential biomedical applications in sensors, or uses for portable electronics in smart textiles.

"Wang is a pioneer in nanotechnology, whose visionary work not only established new research fields, but also coined such key terms such as ‘piezotronics’," said Rainer Adelung, professor of functional nanomaterials at the CAU, in his laudation. Wang has also developed important fundamentals for nano-scientific investigation methods such as scanning transmission electron microscopy. He is one of the world's five most cited scientists in the field of nanotechnology, has published more than 660 scientific articles and holds 28 patents.

The ocean as a source of renewable energies

With the idea of ‘blue energy’, Wang described a new way of using the ocean, for example, as a source of renewable energy. "This goes way beyond solar and wind energy: a network of nanogenerators, which converts the movements of the waves into electricity, could make a significant contribution to the power supply. After all, the ocean covers about 70 percent of the earth, and there are waves day and night, regardless of the weather," said the physicist, underlining the potential of his technology, in a lecture held during the award ceremony. Wang's so-called triboelectric nanogenerators (TENGs) work by means of two layers of material, which are repeatedly connected with each other and separated. Within the contact of these layers electrical charges are built up, which can be used for the generation of electricity, which is called the triboelectric effect. "This principle represents a new approach to meeting the energy challenges of our time like Big Data or the Internet of Things," continued Wang.

Talented young nanoscientists honoured

In the second part of the evening, the best young scientists in Kiel’s nano and surface research were honoured for their outstanding achievements. The results of their doctoral theses have given rise to new areas of research, innovative materials and initial patents, they have successfully advanced large-scale research projects at the CAU, or they have already been published in prestigious journals and cited frequently. The awards, endowed with €1,000, were made in the categories of Nano Physics, Nano Engineering, Nano Chemistry and Nano Life Sciences.

The prizes are an integral part of the promotion of early career researchers at KiNSIS. "Young scientists are key to the future of the research location of Schleswig-Holstein," emphasized KiNSIS spokesperson Professor Jeffrey McCord. "With the KiNSIS doctoral prizes, we want to promote Kiel’s excellent young talents in the nanosciences, and support them on their way - not least through opportunities for exchanges with such high-calibre colleagues as our guests tonight." 

Three men and an award
© Julia Siekmann, CAU

Professor Lutz Kipp, President of Kiel University (left) and Professor Jeffrey McCord, spokesperson of KiNSIS (middle), gave Professor Zhong Lin Wang, Georgia Institute of Technology, the Diels-Planck-medal.


Man gives a lecture
© Julia Siekmann, CAU

In his lecture Wang explained the principle of self-powered nanogenerators.


group picture
© Julia Siekmann, CAU

In addition to that the best dissertations of the nano sciences in Kiel have also be honoured: Professor Lutz Kipp, President of Kiel University (left), KiNSIS spokesperson Prof. Dr. Kai Rossnagel, Dr. Emre Kizilkan, Dr. Nadja Stucke, Dr. Thomas Knaak, Dr. Tobias Dornheim, Dr.-Ing. Fabian Schütt, Dr.-Ing. Michael Timmermann and KiNSIS-spokesperson Prof. Dr. Jeffrey McCord.

More information

About the Diels-Planck-Lecture

The Diels-Planck Lecture is awarded annually to an outstanding and leading scientist in the field of nano, surface and interface science. The winners are chosen by the members of the KiNSIS priority research area at Kiel University (CAU). The name of the award comes from the founders of the nanosciences in Kiel, the Nobel Prize winners Max Planck and Otto Diels.
Max Planck was born in Kiel in 1858 and was appointed as professor of theoretical physics by Kiel University in 1897. In 1918 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for his groundbreaking work on quantum theory, which is the fundamental theory to describe nanostructures.
Otto Diels was professor of chemistry at Kiel University from 1915 until his retirement in 1945. Together with his doctoral student Kurt Alder, he discovered and developed a class of chemical reactions that was later coined Diels-Alder reactions, which is one of the most powerful methods to synthesize chemical compounds including nanomaterials. Otto Diels was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1950.



About the award winner of the Diels-Planck Lecture

Zhong Lin Wang obtained his PhD in physics from Arizona State University in 1987. From 1987 to 1988, he was a postdoc at the State University of New York in Stony Brook, and from 1988 to 1989, he was a research fellow in the Cavendish Laboratory at the University of Cambridge in England. He then worked at Oak Ridge National Laboratory from 1989 to 1993, and at the National Institute of Standards and Technology from 1993 to 1995. Since 1995, he has been at the Center for Nanostructure Characterization (CNC) at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Georgia Tech), where he is currently Director. He was elected a member of the European Academy of Sciences in 2002, and in 2009 he became a foreign member of the Chinese Academy of Sciences. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (2006), the Microscopy Society of America and the Materials Research Society (2008).


Winners of the KiNSIS dissertation prizes

The interiors of planets are characterised by extremely high temperatures and densities. Dr Tobias Dornheim, Institute of Theoretical Physics and Astrophysics, examined how electrons behave under these conditions in his dissertation. He developed elaborate new simulation methods, with which the complex interplay of many effects became fundamentally understandable for research for the first time. He received a "Nano Physics" prize for his achievements.

Bugs and geckos are the focus of Dr Emre Kizilkan’s research: at the Institute of Zoology, he investigated their abilities to repeatedly adhere to and detach themselves from surfaces. Biologically-inspired adhesion mechanisms such as these could form the basis for new adhesive systems in technical applications. With his research, Kizilkan was able to demonstrate completely new possibilities for controlling such materials, for example using light. He received one of the two "Nano Life Sciences" awards.

Dr Thomas Knaak, Institute of Experimental and Applied Physics, investigated the fundamental physical effects of magnetic molecules on metal surfaces in his dissertation, in order to further develop nanotechnologies. To do so, he used a scanning tunnelling microscope, with which the individual atoms and molecules can be depicted and made "visible". With his results, Knaak successfully advanced research in the Kiel Collaborative Research Centres 677 and 668, and was awarded the prize for "Nano Physics"

Dr Fabian Schütt, who obtained his doctorate at the Institute for Materials Science, received the "Nano Engineering" prize for a ground-breaking new approach to interweaving carbon nanotubes to form a 3D pipe system. In this way, materials can be created which are many times lighter than polystyrene, and which possess extreme mechanical, electrical and optical properties. Thus, they offer the potential for a wide range of applications, such as in battery, composite and light technology, gas sensors or regenerative medicine.

The aim of the doctoral thesis by Dr Nadja Stucke, Institute of Inorganic Chemistry, was to activate small molecules, and in particular chemically inert nitrogen (N2), with the help of a suitable metal complex, so that such molecules can be catalytically converted into bioavailable compounds. Her results gave rise to important and fundamental new research areas, such as electro-catalytic ammonia synthesis with the help of modified electrodes. She was awarded the "Nano Chemistry" prize for her work.

In his dissertation, Dr Michael Timmermann developed silicone into two different biomimetic structures, firstly to describe the behaviour of cells in cramped environments, and secondly to make a mechanical effect of cells usable for applications in the engineering sciences. With his cell-inspired, stretch-stiffening materials, Timmermann has opened up a new field of innovative materials for applications in the life sciences, and has already registered numerous patents. He was awarded a "Nano Life Science" prize.

About KiNSIS

Details, which are only a millionth of a millimetre in size: this is what the priority research area "Kiel Nano, Surface and Interface Science – KiNSIS" at Kiel University has been working on. In the nano-cosmos, different laws prevail than in the macroscopic world - those of quantum physics. Through intensive, interdisciplinary cooperation between physics, chemistry, engineering and life sciences, the priority research area aims to understand the systems in this dimension and to implement the findings in an application-oriented manner. Molecular machines, innovative sensors, bionic materials, quantum computers, advanced therapies and much more could be the result. More information at


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