Helmholtz Association

Research Field Key Technologies

Scientists in the Helmholtz Association's research field Key Technologies work on topics including new components for tomorrow's computers, energy-saving supercomputers, and custom-made materials for use in technology and medicine. 


The goal of research in the field of key technologies is to develop generic technologies that contribute to the future viability of our society.

Nano-Spintronics-Cluster-Tool. Jülicher Wissenschaftler erforschen die Grundlagen für die Datenspeicher von morgen.
Bild: Digitalfotografie, Ralf-Uwe Limbach, Forschungszentrum Jülich

The researchers in the research field Key Technologies explore and develop generic technologies which will help to provide answers to the global challenges facing the society, in line with the new High-Tech Strategy and further programmes of the federal government.

The research programmes cover the complete spectrum from basic research to application, and work together in a multi-disciplinary manner. State-of-the-art research infrastructures (large-scale facilities and technology platforms) are scientifically developed through in-house research and made accessible to a broad community of users—external partners in particular.


In order to give fresh impetus to innovation and to consolidate Germany’s leading position as a research location, it is essential to further pursue the deliberately broad-based application-orientated basic research in the field of Key Technologies. In this regard, it is important to address the ethical aspects that are typically associated with research and technology development.

The research field addresses key scientific topics that will provide innovative impulses in the three major areas of the research field: information technology, materials sciences and life sciences. The research programmes in the fields of materials and nano-sciences, information and communication technologies as well as life sciences, implemented quite successfully in the last funding period, will be further strengthened and advanced. Integration of multi-disciplinary approaches, such as linkage of technology and medicine, biology and physics, simulation and “big data”, supercomputing and brain research, or microbial biotechnology and plant sciences, creates the basis for novel solutions in Key Technologies.

Programmes in the funding period 2015 - 2019

Three Helmholtz-Centres are involved in the research field Key Technologies: the Forschungszentrum Jülich (FZJ), the Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre for Materials and Coastal Research (HZG), as well as the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The research field comprises seven programmes as well as two joint programmes of the research fields Key Technologies and Energy: “Future Information Technology” and “Technology, Innovation and Society”:

Research Programmes

Supercomputing & Big Data

The main goal of the programme “Supercomputing & Big Data” is the provision of world-class instruments and infrastructures for high performance computing and for the management and analysis of large-scale data for computational science and engineering in Germany as well as in Europe and within the context of national and European frameworks.

Nano-Spintronics-Cluster-Tool. Jülicher Wissenschaftler erforschen die Grundlagen für die Datenspeicher von morgen.
Bild: Digitalfotografie, Ralf-Uwe Limbach, Forschungszentrum Jülich

Future Information Technology (FIT) – Fundamentals, Novel Concepts, and Energy Efficiency

The rationale of the research programme is twofold: First, it explores the fundamentals of solid-state based new technologies and strategies for a future green ICT. The focus lies on the development of highly energy-efficient concepts and processes for the storage and processing of information. Second, the programme will tackle material-related fundamental problems and microscopic mechanisms in the fields of energy harvesting, conversion and storage.

Science and Technology of Nanosystems

The programme Science and Technology of Nanosystems (STN) aims to implement a long-standing vision in science and technology, which is to control and shape materials from the atomic and molecular via the nano- and microscopic scales to the macroscopic scale in order to realise nanosystems with new and appealing functionalities.

Advanced Engineering Materials

The Programme Advanced Engineering Materials focuses on the development of selected materials and technologies, from fundamental understanding to technological application. Major challenges are the realization of low weight, high mechanical performance, and the implementation of multifunctional properties.

BioSoft – Fundamentals for future Technologies in the fields of Soft Matter and Life Sciences

The programme aims to engineer novel nanostructured functional materials and to develop knowledge-based strategies for disease therapy by means of application-orientated basic research in the fields of soft matter as well as molecular and cellular biophysics.

Bild: Forschungszentrum Jülich

BioInterfaces in Technology and Medicine

The scientists in this programme will conduct comprehensive analyses on cell cultures, biofilms, animal models and patient samples, in order to decipher the natural control mechanisms of cell division and cell differentiation. On this basis, rational design shall not only provide multifunctional synthetic molecules for the manipulation of cells in bioreactors or within the organism itself; it shall also facilitate the development of biomimetic substrates for 3D cultivation of stem cells.

Bilder: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Decoding the Human Brain

Decoding the Human Brain aims at contributing to a realistic, three-dimensional model of the human brain based on brain structure and function, both of which change or are modulated at different time scales. Among others, advanced neuroimaging techniques and methods from high performance computing are employed to provide the knowledge basis for such model. 

Key Technologies for the Bioeconomy

Key Technologies for Bioeconomy—as core of this cross-programme initiative—has the task to improve the potential of the most important biological systems, plants and microbes, to target bioeconomy challenges. 

Technology, Innovation and Society

The aim of this cross-disciplinary programme is to research the environmental, economic, political, ethical and social aspects of new technologies in order to support decision-making processes in politics, the economy and society as a whole.

Insights into Research Field Key Technologies

Here, we present projects currently being carried out by scientists at the Helmholtz Centres.

En route to the next generation of supercomputers

The networker: Dr Estela Suarez from Jülich Supercomputing Centre (JSC) is coordinating the largescale European project DEEP/DEEP-ER. Image: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Forschungszentrum Jülich

At CeBIT 2016 in Hannover, Forschungszentrum Jülich presented a new computer architecture for next-generation supercomputers, the result of the EU research project DEEP (Dynamical Exascale Entry Platform) coordinated by Jülich Supercomputing Centre. The computer is based on the “cluster-booster” concept and uses an innovative, highly efficient cooling system. Jülich and its partners have thereby taken a further step along the road to an exascale computer that will be able to perform over one quintillion computing operations per second. The cluster-booster concept functions like a turbocharger in a combustion engine, with the booster accelerating the cluster component. A cluster of high-performance multicore processors executes the complex parts of a programme. Simple programme elements, by contrast, are implemented by booster modules that consist of simple processor cores. These cores can calculate less complicated tasks in a much more energy-efficient manner.

The prototype showcased in Hannover featured a particularly innovative cooling system, a so-called GreenICE booster. The electronic assemblies are immersed in a special liquid that evaporates at a temperature of just 40 degrees Celsius. The phase transition from liquid to gaseous maximises the cooling effect. As a result, no waste heat is released into the environment and the energy requirements for cooling are cut to around 1 percent of overall system consumption.

In a successor project dubbed DEEP-ER (DEEP-Extended Reach), which is also being funded by the EU and coordinated by Jülich, researchers are aiming to develop a highly efficient system for data input and output. This would be particularly useful for applications such as climate simulations that involve vast amounts of data because here data bottlenecks can develop that slow down the entire system.

The second challenge being taken on in the DEEP-ER project is to make the computers of the future more reliable. There is a risk that the sheer number of components in exascale computers could result in several failures per hour with current hardware. To ensure that application programmesdo not lose their interim results and data, DEEPER researchers are aiming to develop tools that employ simple methods to enable programmes to continue running.

New insights into the genesis of depression

JuBrain: a three-dimensional atlas of the human brain comprising probability maps of cytoarchitecture. Image: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Forschungszentrum Jülich

Depression is linked to organic changes in the brain. Jülich neuroscientists have now shown that in people suffering from depression the volume of a particular part of the brain, the medial frontal pole, is reduced. To conduct their study, the scientists used the three-dimensional JuBrain digital brain atlas, which comprises maps of over 200 areas of the brain. Within the framework of the Human Brain Project, JuBrain is being further developed into a multimodal brain model, based in part on insights into the genetic features of the brain’s regions and cells.

Rerams with long-term stability

A view into an atomic force microscope at the Oxide Cluster, where layers of materials for storage cells are produced and studied in an ultrahigh vacuum. Image: Forschungszentrum Jülich

Forschungszentrum Jülich

Memristive cells, or ReRAMS, could in future provide the basis of fast and effective computer memories. However, this technology has still not been perfected. A team of researchers from Forschungszentrum Jülich and RWTH Aachen University have now discovered how storage cells that rapidly lose data can be distinguished microscopically from those with long-term stability. In the process they also found a way to make storage cells error-resistant. It is based on a storage layer for oxygen ions that can slow down and possibly completely suppress the error-producing process.

Bone regeneration with hydrogels

SEM image of the pore structure of a 3D architectured hydrogel (ArcGel) and the adhesion of hMSC t o the ArcGel surface after 24 hours. Images: HZG

Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre for Materials and Coastal Research (HZG)

Bone material that has been damaged or lost does not always regenerate by itself. In cooperation with researchers from Berlin and Rostock, the Institute of Biomaterial Science at HZG has introduced soft 3D architectured hydrogels based on gelatine and lysine that enable bone to heal completely in only a few weeks. Regeneration is achieved by residual cells that migrate into the material in vivo. In this process, cell differentiation and cell proliferation are supported i. a. by cell adhesion sites and a growing of the pores while the material degrades.

Magnesium affects growth and differentiation of bone cells

A study of calcium pr oduction in cultures in which bone-forming and bone-degrading cells are incubated together. Alizarin dye was used to make the calcium visible. In mon - ocultures the tolerable magnesium concentration is ca. 0 mM. Image: reprinted from publication Wu et al. 2015, Acta Biomaterialia 27, 295-304.

Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre for Materials and Coastal Research (HZG)

Scientists at HZG have conducted a pioneering study of the effect of magnesium implants on bone growth. The researchers used a cell-culture model in which bone-forming and bone-degrading cells were incubated together. Combined in this way, the cells tolerate higher concentrations of magnesium than in monocultures and communicate with one another differently. The result is an overall increase in the number of bone-forming cells, which in turn deposit more calcium, thereby contributing to bone regeneration. The study shows on a molecular level how an optimised release of magnesium can assist in the healing process.

World’s smallest lattice structure

The world’s smallest lattice structure is only visible under an electron microscope. The struts have a diameter of 0.2 micrometres. The total size of the structure is around 10 micrometres. Image: J. Bauer/KIT

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

KIT scientists have created the world’s smallest manmade lattice structure. Consisting of carbon with a glassy consistency, the struts are less than one micrometre long and 200 nanometres in diameter. The basic structure was created using 3D laser lithography and then shrunk and vitrified by means of pyrolysis. Due to its tiny dimensions, the structure exhibits previously unattained strength-to-density ratios. Possible applications include microelectronics and optical components.

How copper makes organic lightemitting diodes more efficient

Thanks to knowledge of their quantum mechanics properties, dyes can be customised for use in organic light-emitting diodes. Image: KIT

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

The use of copper as a fluorescent substance allows for the manufacture of inexpensive, environmentally friendly organic light-emitting diodes (OLEDs). Socalled thermally active delayed fluorescence ensures a high light yield. Scientists from KIT, KIT spinoff CYNORA GmbH, and the University of St Andrews in the UK have now measured the speed of the underlying quantum mechanics phenomenon of intersystem crossing in a copper complex. The results of this fundamental research will help to enhance the OLEDs’ energy efficiency.


Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Marquardt

Research field coordinator Key Technolgies

Forschungszentrum Jülich

52425 Jülich

Postal address:
52425 Jülich

Phone: +49 2461 61-3000
Fax: +49 2461 61-2525
w.marquardt (at) fz-juelich.de

Dr Christian Beilmann

Research Field Key Technologies

Helmholtz Association

Phone: +49 30 206329-20
christian.beilmann (at) helmholtz.de