Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Markus Rettenmayr: Conducting research into new materials for making customised components and products

Today we can assume that research into new materials in the sense of the selective configuration of characteristics in materials and components took place in the Bronze Age in Central Germany 4,000 years ago. Through the cooperative venture between Ernst Abbe, professor of physics at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, and glass researcher Otto Schott into lithium glass, which took which Otto Schott to Jena in 1882, the age of materials ­science in the modern sense began in Thuringia.

The Otto Schott Institute for Materials Research, which came into being in 2013 as a result of the merger between two research centres at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, is continuing research into modern materials in Thuringia. Today, scientists are working on the entire range of materials research in all categories of materials.

The Institute is made up of the Chairs of Glass Chemistry 1 and 2 (for Metals and Alloys, for Materials Science) and the Chairs of Surface and Interface Technologies for Modelling and Simulation and for the Mechanics of Functional Materials. This is added to by a junior professorship in Structural and Property Relationships in Glass and a jointly-appointed Chair of Fibre Optics. Overall, some 100 people are employed at the Institute, of whom well over half are funded from external sources.

The Otto Schott Institute deals with both fundamental issues in materials science with the aim of tracing mechanisms responsible for certain characteristics of materials. In the process, functional and structural materials are treated similarly. Examples of such issues include the effects of pressure on the structure of glass, the producibility of ceramic nanoparticles through evaporation in laser rays, the function of friction and wear at atomic level and the influence of surface roughness on the adhesion of bacteria. These examples show clearly and directly that the path from the fundamentals to application in materials science is extremely short. With an optimised glass structure, it is possible to produce ultra-strong glass for use in lightweight construction and in safety applications; through sintering, or vitrification, nanoparticles can be used to make new ceramics with reduced brittleness; achieving reduction of friction is one of the main goals in products with numerous moving parts; materials with reduced adhesion of bacteria are of considerable interest for medical implants.

Accordingly, the development of new materials is a major mainstay of the Institute in conjunction with direct co-operation with industry. The range of work is also considerably broad, as is typical for material research. For example, the institute develops various brazing alloys in cooperation with industry, specifically with the use of environmentally friendly soft solders as a substitute for lead solder through hard solders and high-temperature solders to active solders which can be used to join ceramic components. The abovementioned development projects are intended to lead to competitive products and are typically financed to a large extent by partners in industry. The cooperation thus provides access to analysis by the Institute, its work helps train students and, at the same time, gains a considerably more thorough impression of student performance than in a limited-period job interview, for example.

Small and medium-sized companies with no research departments of their own develop materials and components together with the OSIM (Otto Schott Institute for Materials Research). One example is the development of cardio-vascular implants (occluders) used to correct congenital heart defects. The aim here is to optimise the material characteristics of occluders implanted via a catheter using minimally-invasive surgery in such a way that its mechanical function (closing a de­­fect in the ventricular septum) is fulfilled reliably, but which simultaneously demon­­strates no undesired side effects such as releasing ions in a concentration which may harm human health. An improved understanding of the interaction of the surface of materials with the surrounding medium is also gained – in this case, of body fluids/tissues – and verified using the latest analysis methods.

Larger-scale projects with partners in industry are also (co-)financed by the public purse. These include government ministries with responsibility for economic and research matters both at federal and state level. Particularly major development projects are financed by the European Union. One such example is the de­­­­velopment of large glass surfaces for architectural purposes which, besides their usual characteristics such as protection and transparence, fulfil functional characteristics as well. A project of this nature is currently being carried out under the heading “Large-Area Fluidic Windows” (LaWin) with partners in in­­dustry in Thuringia in central Germany and throughout Europe. The aim is to develop large-scale façade components which are used as active outer shells for buildings and which function both as heat-exchangers and solar­­collectors. The actual function is by glass structured with micro-channels through which a liquid circulates. This liquid both automatically regulates exposure to light and absorbs exterior warmth. During the course of the project, it is intended to produce the first prototypes in order to test the technology.

autorenbild-rettenmayrProf. Dr. Dr. h.c. Markus Rettenmayr
The author studied metallurgy in Stuttgart and worked at the Max Planck Institute for Metals Research in Stuttgart while writing his doctoral thesis. As a post-doctoral researcher, Markus Rettenmayr conducted research at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY, USA, after which he completed his German “Habilitation” thesis at the Technical University of Darmstadt. He is a professor at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena and managing director at the Otto Schott Institute for Materials Research (OSIM).