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. 

Insights into Research Field Key Technologies

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

4d x-ray films for the material sciences

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

In recent years, magnesium and alloys based on this metal have attracted attention as a promising alternative to traditional titanium-based implants for use in the field of medicine. One of the prominent characteristics of implants made from this material is the fact that they degrade in the body over time. This means that a second operation is no longer required to remove an implant that is only needed temporarily, as it disappears on its own. The challenging aspect of developing the implants is adjusting the rate of degradation so the implant remains stable for as long as it is needed but then dissolves sufficiently quickly. Thus far, researchers working to develop novel magnesium alloys for implant materials examined their degradation behavior based on a number of test pieces, which were exposed to fluids similar to blood for varying periods of time. However, this approach is limited by the temporal resolution in particular.

At the Institute of Materials Research at the HelmholtzZentrum Geesthacht, a team made up of researchers in the materials physics and metallic biomaterials divisions developed a novel method for investigating the degradation of magnesium materials. This method permits studies to be carried out under environmental conditions similar to those found in the body with a high temporal resolution. 

To this end, the researchers use the large-scale devices operated by the German Engineering Materials Science Centre (GEMS) and an imaging technique called X-ray microtomography operated by HZG at the world’s brightest X-ray light source. This technology is combined with a specially developed measuring environment consisting of a small flow cell that is linked to a bioreactor circuit as well as to additional sensors. Most importantly, this concept makes it possible to also continually track the early, very dynamic processes of degradation at a resolution of around 1  µm (one thousandth of a mm) non-destructively in a single sample over the course of several days. The resulting findings allow researchers to conduct targeted observations of the degradation processes, which in turn make it possible to develop novel, degradable substances for use in the material sciences and biomedicine.

Pripay: privacy-protecting payment systems

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

"Electronic wallets" are part of everyday life today – for example in loyalty programs. But very few people are aware that they relinquish their privacy to a large extent when using such services. Computer scientists at KIT have now succeeded in developing PriPay, a system that is simultaneously capable of working offline, is efficient, and proven to be secure. The system uses encryption and signatures as well as advanced cryptography such as zero-knowledge authentication systems to protect users against invasion of their privacy and to protect operators against fraud.

Data-driven analysis and modeling of nanoporous metals

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

Nanoporous metals possess interesting functional and mechanical properties. Their complex structure resembles that of an open-pored sponge made of branched nano-ligaments. An analysis of big data from 800 ligaments captured using nanotomography showed that over half exhibited pronounced asymmetry. This discovery was taken into account in the developed modeling approach. The calculated rigidity of the structure showed that the usual method used to determine the thickness of this material overestimated the diameter of the ligaments by up to 30%.

Next step toward optic on-chip data transmission

Forschungszentrum Jülich

Researchers have been looking for a suitable solution to integrate optical components on computer chips for quite some time. But silicon and germanium – the material basis for producing chips – are ill-suited as a source of light on their own. In cooperation with international partners, a team of physicists at Forschungszentrum Jülich has now introduced a diode that also contains tin in addition to silicon and germanium with the aim of improving the optical characteristics. The special feature of this diode is the fact that all of the elements belong to main group IV, which makes them fully compatible with existing silicon technology.

Superior membranes for separating gaseous mixtures

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

Membranes can be used to separate components from liquid or gaseous mixtures. The separation of the CO2/CH4 gas mixture plays a key role in the provision of renewable resources such as biogas, for example. In addition to energy-efficient membrane processes, teams of researchers at HZG are developing new types of suitable membrane materials such as Claisen thermally rearranged (CTR) polymers. These enable the production of mechanically and chemically stable, highly permeable, and selective multi-layer gas preparation membranes.

Germany’s Fastest Computer

Forschungszentrum Jülich

The JUWELS system at the Jülich Supercomputing Centre represents a milestone in efforts to build highly flexible, modular supercomputers. The system was developed over the course of several EU projects under the leadership of the Jülich research team. Its first module has a computing speed of 6.2 petaflops and therefore qualifies JUWELS as the fastest computer in Germany. A second module is set to double its computing power in 2019. Meanwhile, researchers at the JSC have achieved a world record with Chinese and Dutch colleagues: Using two supercomputers, they succeeded in simulating a quantum computer with 46 Qubits.

A step toward quantum computers

Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT)

A universal quantum computer remains a vision for the future. However, special quantum systems – promising to solve specific tasks faster than today – already play a significant role in the sciences. In order to reliably find a certain element in unsorted data, a conventional computer would have to run through all of the search elements in a worst-case scenario. KIT-researchers have now implemented a Grover’s search algorithm in a molecular spin quantum system, which significantly reduces the search time. This is achieved due to the fact that it can be simultaneously applied to all conditions inside a molecule by generating a so-called super position.

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