The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Materialkunde e.V. (German Materials Society) has awarded Rainer Adelung, Professor of Functional Nanomaterials at Kiel University (CAU), this year's DGM Prize. With this award, the society honours excellent researchers who have achieved impressive breakthroughs in their field or have opened up new fields of research. Adelung's creativity has enriched the field of functional nanomaterials in many ways with numerous innovative material developments, the laudation said. Particularly noteworthy were his contributions to ultralight framework materials based on tetrapodal zinc oxide and their transfer to a wide variety of material classes. His work ranges from fundamental research to application in industrial products. The prize was awarded to the Kiel materials scientist at the DGM Day in Frankfurt on 7 September.
Researching fundamentals and bringing novelties into application - that has always interested Rainer Adelung. The physicist with a doctorate, who switched to engineering, investigates the special features of structures and processes on the nanoscale. He uses the findings to develop materials with unusual properties that can be used for various applications in the fields of energy, health or the environment. For example, Adelung, who has been a professor at CAU since 2007, has developed "smart materials" that react to their environment, bind viruses, release drugs in a controlled manner, enable novel sensors or actuators or are used as environmentally friendly antifouling coatings in shipping.
Central to Adelung's research are tetrapodal zinc oxide networks, which have unique properties due to their special shape at the nano level. The development of a highly scalable manufacturing process offers numerous potential applications in industry and medicine. On this basis, Adelung presented "Aerographite" in 2012, at the time the "lightest material in the world". Since the ultra-light framework material is at the same time unusually stable, it is interesting for various applications.
Using special electrochemical etching processes, Adelung also succeeded in structuring surfaces on a nanoscale and thus decisively improving the properties of materials. Silicon anodes should thus store significantly more energy and be brought to market maturity in cooperation with a company in more powerful rechargeable batteries. Similar processes also underlie the so-called "nanoscale sculpturing" method. The innovative method joins metals together in a mechanical way, thus making conventional welding processes superfluous. Publications and public presentations, such as at the Hanover Fair, attracted great interest and resulted in several industrial collaborations.
Adelung's highly innovative research is reflected in more than 300 publications in sometimes very high-ranking journals, which have been widely cited. In the last two years alone, Adelung has raised more than five million euros in third-party funding and is involved at EU level in the Graphene Flagship Project, for example. More than twenty - mostly international - patents, very successful industrial cooperations and company spin-offs illustrate the high application potential of his research.
As part of his habilitation in materials science and a Feodor Lynen Fellowship from the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation at Case Western Reserve University, Ohio, USA, Adelung "developed his own research profile very early on and impressed with groundbreaking research work", said the laudator, Prof. Franz Faupel. As an independent Heisenberg professor and subsequently head of the Chair of Functional Nanomaterials at CAU, Adelung "built up a large and extraordinarily successful working group within a very short time and enriched the field of functional nanomaterials in many ways".