Synthesis & structuring

Stone age, copper age, bronze age, iron age, glass age, silicon age – all the eras of mankind are named after materials. Materials are not some detail on the side; they have always been the basis and starting point for new technologies and profound changes in society. 

In the past, plenty of materials have been discovered by tedious trial-and-error procedures and excessive experimentation. Only thereafter, theory explained them and set them into a consistent framework. Today, advances in both chemical synthesis and physical nanostructuring in Topic 1, combined with advances in computer-based methods in quantum chemistry and engineering (see Topic 3), open the door to a more rational design of molecules, molecular assemblies, novel materials, structures, and devices (see Topic 4) based thereupon, with unprecedented chemical, mechanical, optical, electrical, magnetic, and other properties.

The task of specific new-material synthesis is still challenging. Although the properties of some new materials can be predicted in advance, fundamental knowledge in chemical synthesis and creativity are needed to access these compounds. This is followed by a proper characterization using state-of-the-art methods (see Topic 2). Besides the synthesis of new materials, also new routes to established material in more efficient ways (e.g., less energy, waste) are needed.

In terms of nanostructuring, one current challenge is to drive digital 3D Additive Manufacturing towards the nanoscale or even to the molecular scale. For example, such approaches allow for realizing novel 3D architectures for optical chips and light management, 3D rationally designed artificial materials called metamaterials, and 3D scaffolds for biological cell culture (see Topic 5).  

Printing the KIT logo

Tightly focused femtosecond laser pulses can trigger a local chemical reaction via two-photon absorption, which concentrates the energy into a tiny volume element called the “voxel”. This excitation can, for example, convert a monomer into a cross-liked polymer. After light exposure, the remaining monomer is washed out by a chemical called the developer. By such 3D laser printing, complex 3D structures with feature sizes in the range of 100-200 nm can routinely be manufactured.