The programme “From Matter to Materials and Life“

In the programme “From Matter to Materials and Life” (MML), previously known as “Forschung mit Photonen, Neutronen und Ionen“ (PNI), research scientists are using the scientific large-scale facilities and large research infrastructures to investigate the structure, dynamics and function of matter and materials, which are not otherwise accessible with conventional laboratory equipment. Included in this array of large-scale facilities are the photon-, neutron-, ion-, and high-field-devices with the abbreviations ANKA, BER II, BESSY II, ELBE, FLASH, GEMS, HLD, IBC, JCNS, PETRA III as well as international installations with Helmholtz participation such as the European SFEL and the planned devices FAIR and ESS. In terms of content, the research of the programme touches on diverse topics from magnetism and super-conductivity to material examinations for energy-, transport-, and information-technologies to issues regarding nano-sciences, health and life-sciences and the examination of extreme conditions of matter. This programme is thus confronting the great challenges of modern society. Through systematic use of the large-scale facilities, research in MML is complementing the work being done in other Helmholtz research fields, with which it is closely coordinated.

What is the goal?  

The scientific large-scale facilities operated in the programme make available probe particles such as photons, neutrons, ions as well as highly electromagnetic fields with frequently unprecedented brilliance, particle fluxes or beam intensity for an international user community. The probe particles serve as projectiles for scattering experiments involving manifold subjects of investigation. The goal here is to optimally adapt the scientific large-scale facilities for the researchers from science and industry, and to derive the largest benefit from them.

What is Helmholtz doing to achieve this goal?

A special characteristic of the programme MML is the considerable emphasis on scientific large-scale facilities, which take up roughly 80% of the resources. The majority of these research infrastructures are, for the most part, accessed by external users (universities, third-party institutions, international partners, industry, etc). The photon-, neutron-, ion-, and high-field-devices belonging to the Helmholtz Association have been allocated to the following four so-called Facility Topics:

•    Research on matter with brilliant light sources with the facilities ANKA, BESSY II, FLASH , GEMS-P, PETRA III and the contribution to the European XFEL,
•    Neutrons for research on condensed matter with the facilities BER II, GEMS-N and JCNS and the contribution to the European Spallation Source ESS,
•    Physics and materials science with ion beams with the facilities IBC and SIS/ESR/HITRAP at the GSI, as well as the accelerator facilities for FAIR
•    Research at highest electromagnetic fields with the facilities ELBE and HLD.

For construction and operation of scientific large-scale facilities and research infrastructures, including the experiments for scientific use and user support, it is necessary that the Helmholtz researchers are intensively committed to the research. Therefore, about 20 percent of the programme resources are allocated to the large-scale facilities for “in-house research”, frequently in close collaboration with other Helmholtz Association research fields. The research scientists from the participating Helmholtz Centres work together closely in this regard with universities, research institutes and industry. In all cases, the in-house research is intensively linked with the use of the MML research infrastructures. For this purpose, an organisational structure for in-house research within the Programme MML and parallel to the so-called Facility Topics was installed - “In-house research on structure, dynamics and function of matter at large-scale facilities” - with five research themes:

In the research theme Extreme states of matter: From cold ions to hot plasmas, fundamental issues are examined concerning the behaviour of matter in strong or extreme fields. Also the dynamics of structural changes in (bio-) molecules, which take place within the femtosecond range, are observed.

In the research theme Quantum condensed matter: Magnetism, superconductivity and beyond, the issue is comprehension and design of novel, complex correlated materials, such as superconductors and magnetic materials, which play a significant role in information and energy technology.

The research theme Materials and processes for energy and transport technologies is intended to contribute to sustainable creation of energy production in the future. Moreover, completely new approaches can be expected in the field of synthesis, processing and characterisation of materials with novel in situ and in operando sample environments in the use of the three probes photons, neutrons and ions.

The theme Nanoscience and materials for information technologies is dedicated to cutting-edge research in the field of methods, materials and processes for evaluation of dynamic and transitional phenomena with ultra-short scales of time and length. They are highly relevant to the design of materials at the nano-scale, e.g. in information technology.

Larger and more complex systems play the main role in the research theme Soft matter, health and life sciences. The focus is on the fields of functional materials, polymer-films, complex solutions and colloid-systems (“soft matter” section), as well as on biological objects from biological macro-molecules, bio-membranes and sub-cellular components to small organisms (“Health and Life Sciences” section).

Examples from research

With the aid of state-of-the-art radiation sources, structures, dynamic processes and functions of matter and materials are examined in the programme MML. Research priorities are for example transitional states in solid materials, molecules and biological systems, the examination of complex matter and the design of tailor-made intelligent functional materials, as well as new materials for the energy sector, transport systems and information technologies. An additional goal is improvement of the molecular structure of active substances and their characteristics. 

Participating Helmholtz Centres:

Deutsche Elektronen-Synchrotron DESY
Forschungszentrum Jülich
GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research
Helmholtz-Zentrum Berlin für Materialien und Energie
Helmholtz-Zentrum Dresden-Rossendorf
Helmholtz-Zentrum Geesthacht Centre for Materials and Coastal Research
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology

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    • Prof. Dr. Thomas Stöhlker
    • Programme spokes person From Matter to Materials and Life
      GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research