From KIT’s Geophysical Institute to the ISS
ESA Astronaut Alexander Gerst will join Expedition 40/41
He will be the eleventh German in space: On May 28, Alexander Gerst, astronaut of the European Space Agency ESA, will leave for the International Space Station ISS together with the American Reid Wiseman and the Russian Maxim Suraev.
Gerst, who is 38 years old, studied at the then University of Karlsruhe. In 2003, he was conferred his diploma by the Geophysical Institute. For a period of six months, he will work on the ISS as a technician and scientist during the expeditions 40 and 41, about 400 km above the Earth. Gerst will be the third German astronaut living and working on board of the ISS. He will conduct scientific experiments in the European Columbus Laboratory and perform maintenance and repair work as a flight engineer. The astronaut still loves to remember his studies at the Geophysical Institute of the then University of Karlsruhe: “Karlsruhe marked the start of my scientific career. There, I learned to conduct scientific work and to do research. It was a great time. I highly profited from the education in Karlsruhe and I am very grateful for it. I still very much like to remember that time.”
Less Accidents Thanks to Smart Vehicles
KIT Coordinates New Priority Programme
Nearly 44 million private cars are registered in Germany. Individual mobility is considered an element of the quality of life by many people. However, 300,000 traffic accidents with many casualties occur every year. Autonomously driving vehicles that coordinate their activities with the help of sensors are to enhance the safety of road traffic in the future.
The new priority programme "Cooperatively Interacting Automobiles" funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG) will now pool the work of various research institutions in this area. This programme is coordinated by Professor Christoph Stiller, Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT). The negative aspects of individual mobility do not only include nu-merous traffic accidents, but also environmental pollution by noise and exhaust gases, high fuel consumption, and traffic jams. Moreo-ver, demographic change calls for maintaining the mobility of elderly people. After having lost their fitness to drive, they are frequently dependent on inadequate public passenger transport systems or support by social services.
Environmentally Compatible Organic Solar Cells
KIT Coordinates “MatHero” Project
Environmentally compatible production methods for organic solar cells from novel materials are in the focus of “MatHero”. The new project coordinated by Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT) aims at making organic photovoltaics competitive to their inorganic counterparts by enhancing the efficiency of organic solar cells, reducing their production costs and increasing their life-time. “Green” processes for materials synthesis and coating play a key role. “MatHero” is funded by the European Commission with an amount of EUR 3.5 million.
Organic solar cells will open up entirely new markets for photovoltaics. These “plastic solar cells” have several advantages: They are light-weight, mechanically flexible, can be produced in arbitrary colors, and hence allow a customized design for a variety of applications. Moreover, organic solar cells can be produced by printing processes with a low consumption of materials and energy, enabling the inexpensive production of high numbers of solar cells. In order to become competitive in established markets, various challenges still have to be mastered. The energy conversion efficiency has to be improved to more than ten percent. Costs of materials synthesis have to be reduced. The life-time of the materials and modules has to be enhanced to more than ten years.
Self-healing Plastics Developed
Novel Polymer Network that Selfheals Rapidly and Repeatedly at Relatively Low Temperatures
Scratches in the car finish or cracks in polymer material: Self-healing materials can repair themselves by restoring their initial molecular structure after the damage. Scientists of the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology and Evonik Industries have developed a chemical crosslinking reaction that ensures good short-term healing properties of the material under mild heating. The KIT group headed by Christopher Barner-Kowollik uses the possibility of crosslinking functionalized fibers or small molecules by a reversible chemical reaction for the production of self-healing materials. These so-called switchable networks can be decomposed into their initial constituents and reassembled again after the damage. The advantage is that the self-healing mechanism can be initiated any time by heat, light or by the addition of a chemical substance. “Our method does not need any catalyst, no additive is required,” Professor Barner-Kowollik says. The holder of the Chair for Preparative Macromolecular Chemistry at KIT studies syntheses of macromolecular chemical compounds.
It took about four years of research for the working group of Barner-Kowollik, together with the Project House Composites of Creavis, the strategic innovation unit of Evonik, to develop a novel polymer network. At comparably low temperatures from 50°C to 120°C, the network exhibits excellent healing properties within a few minutes. Reducing the time needed for healing and optimizing the external conditions, under which the healing process takes place, are the major challenges of research relating to self-healing materials. Using the healing cycle developed by them, the KIT researchers have found a large number of intermolecular compounds that close again within a very short term during cooling. Mechanical tests, such as tensile and viscosity tests, confirmed that the original properties of the material can be restored completely. “We succeeded in demonstrating that test specimens after first healing were bound even more strongly than before,” Barner-Kowollik says.
The self-healing properties can be transferred to a large range of plastics known. Apart from self-healing, the material is given another advantageous property: As flowability is enhanced at higher temperatures, the material can be molded well. A potential field of application lies in the production of fiber-reinforced plastics components for automotive and aircraft industries.