News › Jena Rese­arch Team Recei­ves “Thü­rin­ger For­schungs­preis” (Thu­rin­gian Rese­arch Prize)

Fraun­ho­fer sci­en­tist awarded for inno­va­tive 2D mate­ri­als research

For their rese­arch into cus­to­mi­zed 2D mate­ri­als, a team of four sci­en­tists from Fried­rich Schil­ler Uni­ver­sity Jena and the Fraun­ho­fer Insti­tute for Applied Optics and Pre­cis­ion Engi­nee­ring IOF have been awarded the “Thü­rin­ger For­schungs­preis” (Thu­rin­gian Rese­arch Prize). The award for sci­en­ti­fic excel­lence in the cate­gory “Applied Rese­arch” was pre­sen­ted today at a cerem­ony at the Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­sity Ilmenau and is endo­wed with 25,000 euros.

A hundred thousand times thin­ner than a hair, stron­ger than steel and effi­ci­ent media­tors bet­ween light and elec­tri­city – so-cal­led 2D mate­ri­als are a rapidly deve­lo­ping class of mate­ri­als with uni­que pro­per­ties and great appli­ca­tion potential.

For their rese­arch into these 2D mate­ri­als, rese­ar­chers from the Uni­ver­sity of Jena and Fraun­ho­fer IOF have now been awarded the “Thü­rin­ger For­schungs­preis” (Thu­rin­gian Rese­arch Prize). The award in the “Applied Rese­arch” cate­gory, which is endo­wed with 25,000 euros, was pre­sen­ted on June 18 at the TU Ilmenau. The prize win­ners – Prof. Andrey Tur­cha­nin, Dr. Ant­ony George, Dr. Chris­tof Neu­mann and Dr. Falk Eilen­ber­ger (Fraun­ho­fer IOF) – have deve­lo­ped a range of inno­va­tive methods to pro­duce and uti­lize tailor-made 2D mate­ri­als for pho­to­nic, elec­tro­nic and opto­elec­tro­nic applications

A hint of not­hing 

The 2D mate­ri­als stu­died repre­sent a new class of mate­ri­als that con­sist of just one or a few ato­mic lay­ers – a hint of not­hing. What is spe­cial about them: They dra­sti­cally change their pro­per­ties com­pared to the three-dimen­sio­nal start­ing mate­ri­als. One well-known nano­ma­te­rial is gra­phene. A 2D mate­rial that is iso­la­ted through the depo­si­tion of only nano­me­ter-sized lay­ers of gra­phite. In its ato­mic form, it is much stron­ger and more con­duc­tive than the start­ing mate­rial gra­phite, which we know from con­ven­tio­nal pen­cils, for example.

At Fraun­ho­fer IOF, Falk Eilen­ber­ger, head of the Depart­ment of Micro- and Nanos­truc­tu­red Optics, has stu­died and cha­rac­te­ri­zed the rela­ted mate­rial class of tran­si­tion metal dich­al­co­ge­ni­des, or TMDs for short. In their three-dimen­sio­nal form, TMDs only occur as indi­rect semi­con­duc­tors, which limits the poten­tial appli­ca­ti­ons. As a 2D mate­rial, howe­ver, the sub­s­tance trans­forms into a direct semi­con­duc­tor that can effi­ci­ently con­vert elec­tri­city into light and vice versa.

Sca­lable pro­duc­tion crea­tes new appli­ca­tion potential

Until now, 2D mate­ri­als have been obtai­ned by “pee­ling off” three-dimen­sio­nal crys­tals. Simi­lar to pee­ling off a fin­ger­print with adhe­sive tape, indi­vi­dual lay­ers of the crys­tals are remo­ved piece by piece. This is a time-con­sum­ing pro­cess that is unsui­ta­ble for use in indus­try and has so far limi­ted the poten­tial appli­ca­ti­ons of the materials.

The rese­ar­chers from Jena have focu­sed on a pro­cess that faci­li­ta­tes the indus­try-com­pa­ti­ble pro­duc­tion of cus­to­mi­zed 2D mate­ri­als. To do this, they use what is known as vapor depo­si­tion, in which the crys­tal grows on a sili­con or glass plate like a car­pet – a nano­me­ter-thin carpet.

”The new pro­cess not only made it pos­si­ble for us to pro­duce the 2D mate­ri­als effi­ci­ently, but also to grow them sca­l­ably as func­tional parts on opti­cal com­pon­ents,” explains Dr. Eilen­ber­ger. “This allows us to inte­grate TMD mate­ri­als into opti­cal fibers, among other things, which opens up a range of new appli­ca­tion possibilities.”

Pos­si­bly the world’s smal­lest LED

By intro­du­cing TMD, opti­cal fibers and pho­to­nic chips can be func­tion­a­li­zed in such a way that they not only pas­si­vely trans­mit light, but also gene­rate, change or detect it: an ideal plat­form, for exam­ple, to imple­ment cer­tain tasks of clas­sic com­pu­ter chips pho­to­ni­cally in an energy-saving way in the future. The rese­arch team also suc­cee­ded in func­tion­a­li­zing the 2D mate­rial as a diode and thus deve­lo­ping what is pos­si­bly the world’s smal­lest LED.

The inte­gra­tion of nano­ma­te­ri­als enables elec­tro­nic, pho­to­nic and opto­elec­tro­nic com­pon­ents to be pro­du­ced for the first time that are both extre­mely small and powerful. The effi­ci­ent con­ver­sion of elec­tri­city and light also makes the 2D mate­ri­als inte­res­t­ing for appli­ca­ti­ons in data trans­mis­sion, camera tech­no­logy or illu­mi­na­tion sys­tems. They can also be seam­lessly com­bi­ned with exis­ting semi­con­duc­tors, thus ope­ning up new ave­nues in semi­con­duc­tor technology.

The resul­ting light can also have very unu­sual quan­tum pro­per­ties. It is the­r­e­fore not only sui­ta­ble for clas­sic data trans­port, but also for quan­tum encryp­tion. TMD-loa­ded opti­cal com­pon­ents can the­r­e­fore also make a con­tri­bu­tion to the quan­tum secu­rity of data com­mu­ni­ca­tion net­works in the future.

One-of-a-kind com­bi­na­tion in Thuringia

Dr. Eilen­ber­ger empha­si­zes the spe­cial rese­arch envi­ron­ment in Thu­rin­gia as the key to the suc­cess of the pro­ject: “We have a very uni­que situa­tion here on site, which has led signi­fi­cantly to the suc­cess of our pro­ject,” he says with regard to the award. “In Thu­rin­gia, and espe­ci­ally in Jena, pho­to­nics know-how meets excel­lent sci­en­ti­fic faci­li­ties – in terms of per­son­nel and tech­no­logy – and also com­pa­nies that are wil­ling to take risks and do not shy away from inno­va­tive pro­jects,” explains Falk Eilen­ber­ger in reco­gni­tion of his col­la­bo­ra­tion with his col­le­agues Prof. Andrey Tur­cha­nin, Dr. Ant­ony George and Dr. Chris­tof Neu­mann from the Uni­ver­sity of Jena.

With the “Thü­rin­ger For­schungs­preis” (Thu­rin­gian Rese­arch Prize), the Free State of Thu­rin­gia has been hono­ring top sci­en­ti­fic achie­ve­ments from Thu­rin­gian uni­ver­si­ties and non-uni­ver­sity rese­arch insti­tu­ti­ons yearly since 1995. The most excel­lent rese­arch achie­ve­ments by indi­vi­du­als or rese­arch groups in the cate­go­ries of basic and applied rese­arch are hono­red with prize money tota­ling 25,000 euros, and the Rese­arch Prize Award. The Thu­rin­gian Rese­arch Prize was pre­sen­ted on June 18, 2024, at the Tech­ni­cal Uni­ver­sity Ilmenau.

You can read the full press release on the Fraun­ho­fer IOF online press por­tal here: