Prof. Dr. Dr. Thomas Geßner: Nanotechnology – Made in Saxony

Nanotechnology is a cross-sectional technology. There is hardly any other discipline that offers more potential for innovative applications. Through further developments of technologies on the nanometre scale and the discovery of new physical phenomena on the atomic or molecular level, entirely new solution approaches in ­microelectronics, biotechnology, environmental monitoring, measuring techniques, mechanical and plant engineering and in many other areas have been developed.

According to the Saxony Economic Development Cor­poration (WFS), the state of Saxony, with its 200 companies specialised in nanotechnology, ranks among the top 5 locations for nanotechnology in Germany. This field mainly focuses on electronics and the industry network “Silicon Saxony” and mechanical and plant engineering (especially in the field of surface and coating technology).

Micro- and nanoelectronics is still one of the key technologies in our society. There is almost no device or sys­­tem where electronics do not serve an important function, which in turn is decisive for the value creation that can be achieved and their competitiveness. This is also confirmed by the classification of micro- and nano­­electronics and nanotechnology as “Key Enabling Tech­­nologies” (KET) by the European Union.

Approximately 300 scientists work at the TU Dresden and TU Chemnitz as well as at nine research facilities in­­cluding the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, Leibniz Associ­ation and Max-Planck-Association as part of the TU Dresden’s Cluster of Excellence Center for Advancing Electronics (cfaed). They all work towards the same goal: to explore alternative and complementary technologies for the electronics of the future to help overcome the foreseeable limits of conventional technology.

In order to achieve this they carry out research in nine different research paths. One of them is the Carbon Path. All smartphones users know the problem of the battery in their phone losing power quickly and having to re­­charge it. Much of the energy is needed for the wireless communication with the network transmission station. Here, scientists from Chemnitz, Dresden and Waldheim begin their work by seeking to develop a new generation of electronics using tiny carbon nano­­tubes. This new ge­ner­­ation of components uses up to 40 per cent less energy. The required processes and technologies for this are being developed at the Center for Microtechnologies (ZfM) at the TU Chemnitz; first prototypes, including the first GHz transistor, have already been produced.

Nanometre multilayers are the basis for the production of efficient X-ray mirrors. High reflectivity requires sharp transitions from one material to another and very smooth layers with typical microscopic roughness ranging from 0.1…0.2 nm rms. Furthermore the conformity between target and actual values at every part of the mirror should  be between 99.8…99.9 per cent.

Nanometre multilayers are the basis for the production of efficient X-ray mirrors. High reflectivity requires sharp transitions from one material to another and very smooth layers with typical microscopic roughness ranging from 0.1…0.2 nm rms. Furthermore the conformity between target and actual values at every part of the mirror should
be between 99.8…99.9 per cent.

Many applications with intelligent functions based on microsystems and microtechnology have become an important part of our everyday life. Today it is impossible to imagine cars, phones and medical equipment running without sensors, actuators and signal processing functions. Germany is today one of the world’s leading countries when it comes to developing and producing these embedded intelligent systems. To retain this com­­petitive advantage, it is essential to make these systems smaller, more intelligent, more efficient and more cost-­effective through the use of nanotechnology. Besides its tremendous potential, research and development face huge challenges regarding the application of nano­­technologies. Working at physical thresholds, developments in less and less time, production with costly equip­­ment and the foreseeable increase of the complexity of systems require a high degree of specialisation and a wide range of skills.

This is the task of nanett, a nano system integration net­­work funded publicly until 2014 through the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), which consists of eight research facilities supervised by the Technische Universität Chemnitz and the Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nano Systems (ENAS). The network’s main focus were high precision magnetic field sensors, different materials whose properties are changed by using nano structures so that sensory and actuator functions can be implemented, as well as energy-efficient sensory networks with autonomous sensor nodes. Their entire energy needs can be drastically reduced by using the developed Wake-Up Receiver.

The aim of the project “Material integrated sensors based on nano effects” was to develop functional ma­terials whose properties are based on the integration of nano effects into the material, in particular polymers. Through this, sensor functions can be integrated into the material. Compared with standard sensor systems, there are no discrete sensors integrated into or onto a component, rather the material itself contains the function. The latter could be used for monitoring structural lightweight components.

Here the MERGE Cluster of Excellence of the TU Chemnitz starts its work by consolidating technologies for multifunctional lightweight structures. The aim of the cluster’s research is to merge basic technologies suitable for mass production, comprising plastics, metals, textiles and Smart Systems for the development of resource-efficient products and production processes.

In industry, the amount of nanotechnology products is increasing steadily. Saxony’s nanotechnology companies and research institutions are supported by var­­ious active networks. Along with Silicon Saxony, this includes the Nano-Technology Center of Com­petence “Ultrathin Functional Films” (Nano-CC-UFF), the Saxon Cluster of Excellence “ECEMP – European Centre for Emerging Materials and Processes Dresden” as well as the Fraunhofer Cluster Nanoanalysis and the Saxon institutes active in the Fraunhofer Nano­technology Alliance Fraunhofer IWS, IKTS and ENAS.

ProfThomasGessner_ausschnittProf. Dr. Dr. Thomas Geßner
The author was born in 1954 in Karl-Marx Stadt and studied physics at the TU Dresden and received his doctorate from the TU Dresden. He has been the Director of the Center for Microtechnologies (ZfM) at the TU Chemnitz since 1991. In 1993, he was named Professor for Microtechnology at the TU Chemnitz. Prof. Geßner was Deputy Director of Fraunhofer IZM from 2006-2008. He has been Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Electronic Nano Systems (ENAS) in Chemnitz since 2008.