Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rödel received the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz-Preis for his research on high-performance ceramics. With a grant of 2,5 m €, the award is the highest national price for scientific research.
Trailblazing and creative
Jürgen Rödel reacted calmly when he heard the news. In December 2008, the German Research Foundation (DFG) awarded him the Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize, Germany’s most prestigious research prize. “Jürgen Rödel is without a doubt one of the most renowned materials scientists in Germany. In particular, he has distinguished himself through his meticulous, trailblazing work on the mechanical and functional properties of ceramics,” the DFG said in its citation. The President of TU Darmstadt, Professor Hans Jürgen Prömel, lauded him as “one of the TU’s most high-profile scientists”.
Experts agree that the 50-year-old materials scientist demonstrates exceptional experimental creativity in his research on high-performance ceramics. He has, for example, developed new lead-free piezoelectric ceramics and ferroelectric functional ceramics, which are used, among other things, in mobile phones and to control internal combustion engines. Equally significant is his research on novel gradient materials, whose properties vary depending on the surface. Using new methods, Jürgen Rödel has produced ceramicmetal gradient materials that have great potential for applications in the fields of energy and medicine.
Jürgen Rödel’s numerous national and international collaborations and his diverse managerial functions reflect his high standing in the scientific world. He is the first non-North American president of the prestigious Gordon Research Conference on Ceramics. Furthermore, Jürgen Rödel is also the first non-North American to be appointed Chairman of the Publication Committee of the American Ceramic Society, the largest and most important scientific association in this field.
Professor Rödel, how did you hear about the award?
I had no idea that I had been nominated. I received the email from the German Research Foundation at midday on December 4, 2008. It sounds legitimate, was my first thought.
Of course, I was pleased, too.
What makes your work so special?
We are the leaders in the field of functional ceramic materials. Darmstadt is the center of materials development. I don’t regard research teams in the US or in China as being stronger.
What do you plan to do with the prize money?
I will share the prize with my colleague in Dresden, Jürgen Eckert, who until recently worked in our department at TU Darmstadt. Most of the 1.25 million euros that I receive will be channeled into developing new piezoceramics. That is one of the main fields of research in our department at present.
What does it involve?
Piezoceramics have huge potential. Within microseconds, these intelligent materials can change their size reliably, and with great force. They are used, for instance, in diesel injection engines. The problem is their lead content.
Why is that a problem?
Lead is poisonous and contaminates the environment, and so the European Union wants to remove it from products. We are currently testing for an alternative. A material based on bismuth has already provided very good parameters. But we have a long way to go before it is actually ready for application. It may can take another four years to reach market maturity.
Jürgen Rödel was born in Hof, Germany in 1958. He studied materials sciences in Erlangen-Nuremberg and ceramics in Leeds, England. After obtaining his doctorate from the University of California in Berkeley, he remained in America and worked as a postdoctoral researcher at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania and at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Gaithersburg, Maryland. In 1991, he returned to Germany to work at the Technical University of Hamburg-Harburg, where he completed his doctorate in 1992.
In the same year, Rödel was awarded the Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Prize by the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). In 1994, he accepted the Chair of Non-metallic Inorganic Materials in Darmstadt. In 2001, he coordinated the DFG Priority Program on Gradient Materials. Since 2003, he has been the coordinator of the DFG-funded Collaborative Research Centre “Electric Fatigue in Functional Materials” in Darmstadt. As the spokesman of the DFG Review Board on Materials Science between 2003 and 2008, he was also involved in academic self-government.
The Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize
The Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz Prize is the largest monetary award for research in Germany. It has been conferred annually since 1986 by the German Research Foundation (DFG) with a view to improving the working conditions of outstanding scientists. It grants unique freedom and flexibility in the scientific community, as winners can use their prize money for their own research as they see fit over a period of up to seven years. The prize is only awarded on the basis of nominations submitted by a third party.
Previous researchers awarded with the prize at the TU Darmstadt were Prof. Dr. Thomas Weiland from the department of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology in 1998, Prof. Dr. Johannes Buchmann for his research on Computer Science in 1993, Prof. Dr. Bernd Giese for organic chemistry in 1987, and Prof. Dr. Frank Steglich for his work on condensed matter physics in 1986.