Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel

Press release No. 48/2007, 2007-06-26

New Focal Point of Research for Kiel University

Nature as an Example: Nanotechnology and Surface Science

Operating on a molecular level is no longer just a dream for the future. A newly approved Collaborative Research Centre (SFB) of the Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel is working on "molecular machines". The project team will design and synthesize molecules and nanometer sized aggregates of molecules that will operate as pumps, rotors, actuators and "intelligent" materials. The German Research Foundation has approved a grant of more than EUR 5.5 million to the SFB 677 "Function by Switching” for its first four years. Spokesman of the project is Professor Rainer Herges (Chair of Organic Chemistry).

The researchers, following nature's examples, are miniaturising technical processes to a molecular level (1 nanometre = 1 billionth of a metre) in order to study ways to improve efficiency and to develop new applications. Examples are light- or magnet-driven switchability, or transportation across surfaces covered with synthetic hair-like flagella. Physics professor Richard Berndt, for example, aims at controlling switchability by beams of electrons or photons: "Addressing and controlling individual molecular switches is our prime target. The way from designer molecules to useful applications holds many challenges for creative physicists."

"Molecular nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary science involving organic chemistry, surface science and materials science", emphasises Prorector Professor Siegfried Wolffram. "We have demonstrated that our university provides excellent conditions for nano research, by combining forces in these three disciplines. 17 professors from different fields jointly collaborated over three years to establish an excellent starting point for submitting the SFB proposal to the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft. During the preparation phase open professorship positions, were filled with candidates that fitted to the project and funds were applied to strengthen the infrastructure. Nanotechnology and surface science form a focal point at the heart of our university’s research, in a field with great future potential."

Chairman Rainer Herges adds: "13 professors from two departments joined their forces to set common targets. We will be able to attract talented junior scientists to work in Kiel in a competitive and promising field of research and technology. Altogether about 100 scientists form a creative potential, which will strengthen Schleswig-Holstein as an internationally competitive place for science and research."

The new Collaborative Research Center combines fundamental research with an orientation towards practical applications. Explaining the task of the engineers involved in the project, Professor Franz Faupel says: "We materials scientists aim to develop new building blocks that will enable us, for example, to incorporate the switchable molecules developed by our chemist colleagues into existing materials".

Two faculties work together in this new Collaborative Research Centre: the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences and the Faculty of Engineering. Professor Grotemeyer dean of the faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences (which includes most of the projects scientists) enthusiastically supports the new focal point of research: "The basic research in our faculty will contribute various ideas and scientific approaches concerning this subject, and also test the results in experiments. I am particularly pleased about the collaboration with the Faculty of Engineering which will be able to develop applications from the results of our basic research."

Pictures to the story:
Switchable molecules can emit light on command. In a flask, the effect looks like cold fire.
Copyright and Photo: CAU
In Professor Friedrich Temps's research group in the Institute for Physical Chemistry, instances of switching in isolated molecules are examined with the aid of ultra-short laser pulses, which are used to show the movement of atoms in a motion freezing effect comparable to that of a stroboscope. A first laser pulse serves to trigger the reaction. A time-delayed second pulse subsequently scans the reacting molecules.
Copyright: CAU, Photo: Sandra Ogriseck
Experiments with a single molecule require skill and exotic measuring equipment. Using a manipulator, Dr Nicolas Néel of Professor Richard Berndt's research group positions a probe in a scanning tunnelling microscope, developed and built by Dr Jörg Kröger (in the back) at Kiel University. The conditions inside the microscope resemble those in outer space - extreme vacuum and temperatures close to the absolute zero.
Copyright: CAU, Photo: Kröger/Dorfmüller

Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Otto Diels Institute of Organic Chemistry
Professor Dr Rainer Herges
Tel. +49 (0)431/880-2440

Christian-Albrechts-Universität zu Kiel
Press and Communication Services, Head: Susanne Schuck
Address: D-24098 Kiel, phone: +49 (0431) 880-2104, fax: +49 (0431) 880-1355