Cool research


Cool research

Scientists receive research funding from the European Union

Three TU Darmstadt scientists were awarded substantial grants from the European Research Council (ERC) for their excellent projects.

The outstanding research of Professor Oliver Gutfleisch on the substitution of critical raw and other materials for energy technologies is acknowledged with an “ERC Advanced Grant” (2.5 million euro). Professor Mikael Hård also receives a 2.5 million euro “Advanced Grant” for his “Global History of Technology from 1850-2000” project. An “ERC Starting Grant” (1.5 million euro) goes to Sascha Preu, Assistant Professor for terahertz systems technology.

Energy-efficient cooling technologies

Prof. Dr. Oliver Gutfleisch, Leiter der Fachgebiets Funktionale Materialien im Fachbereich Materialwissenschaft der TU Darmstadt. Bild: Katrin Binner
Professor Dr. Oliver Gutfleisch. Picture: Katrin Binner

Oliver Gutfleisch is researching into permanent magnets with a drastically reduced rare earth content, for use in electric motors and wind turbines, and also into new materials for innovative solid-state based cooling technologies. The key issue preoccupying Gutfleisch is: How can the earth’s population cope with the challenge of having to invest increasing amounts of energy in cooling systems in the 21st century. “Keeping cool is fundamental to a higher standard of living, and many countries are quick to install ever greater cooling capacities based on non-sustainable and less-efficient technologies”, says Gutfleisch.

Gutfleisch thinks that the best opportunities for a new, energy-efficient cooling technology quite possibly lie in using the magnetocaloric effect. “Admittedly, the materials used so far are based on critical metals. And current cooling concepts do not yet exploit the full potential of the materials.” This is why Gutfleisch and his team are planning to use so-called Heusler materials in a fundamentally new process regime that capitalises on the effects of hysteresis. Should the tests prove successful, this could revolutionise cooling technology right down to product level, and greatly reduce the global energy consumption for cooling systems.

Local technology in a global world

Prof. Dr. Mikael Hård, Institut für Geschichte. Bild: Katrin Binner
Professor Dr. Mikael Hård. Picture: Katrin Binner

Historian Professor Mikael Hård and his young team are working with archive material from all over the world to set the history of technology discipline in a new, global context. As Hård explains, “the idea that technological development is a powerful driving force that connects our world and unifies it has gone unchallenged for far too long”.

At first glance, it is reasonable to conclude that globalisation is accompanied by homogenisation. For example, we all know just how similar the major airports of this world are.” But the way in which people shape their everyday life is very different. “Some prepare their food on a ceramic hob, others use charcoal.”

Hård is particularly interested in the differences and similarities between the industrial countries and the so-called “third world”, the “Global South” – especially as the history of technology has so far dealt almost exclusively with Europe and North America, explains the Darmstadt Professor. If the specialist discipline occasionally studies Africa, Latin America or Asia, then it is mostly from the point of view of dependence on the “Global North”, or as a passive acceptance of “modern” technology, accompanied by a process of cultural “Westernisation”. “We often forget that every cultural area has developed its own technological solutions – some of which are still in use today. House-building is one area where these traditions are particularly apparent.”

Hård feels it important to point out that the comprehensive exchange of experience and information between the countries of the “Global South” was already significant in the Age of Imperialism. Around 1900, for example, there was intensive contact between engineers and traders in India and East Africa.

The TU Darmstadt team will pay particular attention to hybrid technological solutions – that is, products originating from Europe or North America, but modified and changed on other continents. One such example is trucks that are adapted to make them fit to drive on dirt roads and in desert landscapes.

At the end of the research project, there will be a number of case studies from Latin America, Asia and Africa that will highlight the creativity of the inhabitants of the “Global South”. “It is certainly true that during the period under investigation – 1850 to 2000 – these people usually had less economic resources available to them. But that does not mean that they had fewer ideas or less knowledge”, says Hård. “The challenge is to re-discover this local knowledge and skill, and relate a history of technology that is genuinely global.”

Taking full advantage of the terahertz spectrum

Sascha Preu, Juniorprofessor für Terahertz-Systemtechnik an der TU Darmstadt. Bild: Jan-Christoph Hartung
Professor Dr. Sascha Preu. Picture: Jan-Christoph Hartung

Professor Sascha Preu and his team want to combine optical and terahertz technologies, in order to develop new photonic vector network analysers and photonic spectrum analysers that are far more powerful than the existing electronic terahertz systems. Preu's research belongs to the Profile Area “From Material to Product Innovation”.

The terahertz range (100 GHz-10 THz) lies between infrared radiation and microwaves, that is, on the boundary between electronics and optics. Despite the great advances made over the last two decades, this is still the least used range of the electromagnetic spectrum. The extremely high cost of systems to characterise circuits and components is not the only factor making it difficult to develop efficient components and systems. This is the starting point for Professor Preu’s project, that intends to cover a considerable part of the THz spectrum. The project focuses in particular on photonic systems that can also analyse THz chips. This should help make it easier to develop THz circuits and compact THz systems.

New technologies must be explored, which can allow wideband photonic components to be integrated on a chip and which can be used for system integration. Photonic circuits have multiple advantages compared to conventional metallic circuits – such as far lower losses at high frequencies.

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