Who are you and what is your profession?

I am the scientific/administrative coordinator of the Paul Drude Institute for Solid State Electronics. This is a Leibniz Institute in the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. Here I am also the head of the department for technology and transfer, and there I am concerned with interactions with the outside world – that means industrial contacts as well as interaction with the general public.

What are you working on at the moment?

At the moment, I’m working on our projects for Berlin Science Week at the Art & Science Forum, especially on the Big Evening “From Order to Disorder and Back“. It will be an adventurous exchange between social sciences, natural sciences and art.

You are a BrainCity ambassador. Why did you decide to get involved in Berlin in this capacity?

Berlin is often quite loud in some corners and far too quiet in others. To me it seems too quiet in important core competencies: science and the intellectual scene, which are not as prominently seen outside of Berlin as they deserve to be. Berlin as a science location is very strong, wonderfully diverse and extremely international. I want to tell the world about it.

What does Berlin have to offer as a science location from your point of view?

One very important point is Berlin’s almost unique openness to the new, the surprising and also the daring. Berlin is characterised by a very young start-up scene, where you wouldn’t get anywhere without a spirit of adventure. The basis of science is crossing borders, the search for the new. Berlin has a wonderful history here, the right atmosphere, fantastic people. This is not only due to the countless scientific organisations and research institutions represented here, but also due to the cultural environment and Berlin’s unique international sound.

How do you see the role of events like Berlin Science Week in Berlin’s scientific and cultural life?

Berlin Science Week has developed enormously. It targets an international audience that lives in Berlin and shapes Berlin, and thus reaches far beyond the city. Berlin Science Week is a great multiplier for the adventure of science. It offers an enormous spectrum from lectures to experiments, participation, activities and exhibitions in almost every discipline. The unifying factor is the enthusiasm for intelligent exchange.

You work at the Paul Drude Institute for Solid State Electronics. Can you tell us more about the current projects there?

The Paul Drude Institute for Solid State Electronics is a Leibniz Institute that deals with basic research in materials science. We are known worldwide for designing solid state materials with atomic precision. And at the moment we are naturally interested in materials that are relevant for future quantum technologies. This arises quite naturally because when you scale down materials to the atomic level (as we do), you reach an area where quantum effects become relevant or even dominant.

What recent developments or discoveries at the Institute have particularly fascinated or surprised you?

That’s hard to say – basic research has its own fascination and surprising consequences in application can emerge with a significant delay. Often the significance only becomes apparent in retrospect. For example, the PDI’s research has contributed to the fact that today there are LEDs that you can buy in any DIY store. Today, we are interested in developing materials with unusual properties that were perhaps previously considered incompatible. For example, we are interested in transparent conductors, i.e. materials that let light through although they conduct electricity – which is not typical. When thinking of electrical conductors, for example, one thinks of metals, which tend to reflect light. Transparent conductors are needed for optimising solar cells, for example, where contacts can be made on top of the solar cell without reducing its efficiency because they do not shade the light. We are working on a broad spectrum of unusual materials. Really surprising, revolutionary things come from small steps we take to gain fundamental insights in materials science.

How do you see the future of solid-state electronics and what role does the Paul Drude Institute play in this context?

Solid-state electronics has a golden future if we look back at the development in the past. The transistor was invented in the 1950s as a physically interesting phenomenon with huge potential for applications. At that time already with the idea that one could make applications out of it. Today, semiconductors are the largest market segment of all. The further development of material sciences will continue to show this dominance. All real breakthroughs in electronic technologies are based on material science developments. The realisation of quantum computers depends to a large extent on materials that do not yet exist. The same applies to virtual reality, communication technologies, etc.

How do you collect and structure your thoughts?

The basis of scientific thinking is free thought and the free exchange of thoughts. It is very important to work together with people who think differently in order to get beyond the limits that you yourself have through experience and habits. Collecting, structuring and developing thoughts usually happens in cooperation with staff, with colleagues. One enters into discussions, develops goals, argues, rejects and travels together on a path that was largely unplanned and emerges in the process.

What keeps you awake at night?

What drives scientists across all disciplines is curiosity, the search for the next question. And it is precisely this next question that is always more exciting than the last answer, so I definitely have sleepless nights because I find new questions that I immediately want to discuss with other people. As a physicist, one is used to having few contacts to chat about work in one’s personal environment, because physics is so insanely complex and often uses a very unloved language as a tool (mathematics). That is also why I try very hard to make the questions and the solutions we discuss generally understandable; to discuss this and thereby also get new input myself.

What are you currently reading and/or which newsletter(s) do you subscribe to?

I don’t subscribe to any newsletters and try to detach myself from the real-time flood. I have devices that are completely disconnected from the internet so that I can work in peace. And I read paper books from time to time. Right now I’m reading the book “How Democracies Die” by Levitsky and Ziblatt. It’s a book that was written in 2018, examines the political situation in America at the time and tries to see from a social science perspective whether one can formulate general insights about transitions in social systems – which, by the way, is the driving question in the event From Order to Disorder and Back – Phase transitions in Matter, Mind and Society at the Berlin Science Week on 9 November.

What is your favourite place in Berlin?

Oh, I won’t tell you my favourite place! It’s one that stands out because I’m there undisturbed but still in the middle of life.

What trends in your field do you think will influence your work the most in the next few years?

There is a trend in how science is done. In materials science, it is essential that we push forward with “predictive” materials science, i.e. looking for ways to predict material properties before we produce the materials. The relationship between structure and properties of materials is quite easy to describe in crystals of elements. But in combinations of materials, it becomes more and more complex. And that’s where I assume that the input of artificial intelligence and machine learning will also play a very significant role in material analysis and theoretical material synthesis.