Excellence at Forschungszentrum Jülich
Jülich, 9 September 2019 – Dr. Doreen Niether, Dr. Felix Lüpke, and Dr. Peter Schüffelgen are the recipients of this year’s Excellence Prize awarded by Forschungszentrum Jülich. Chairman of the Board of Directors Prof. Wolfgang Marquardt conferred the prizes last Saturday during the JuDocs Ceremony honouring doctoral researchers who recently completed their doctorates. The prize is endowed with € 5,000 for each winner.
Forschungszentrum Jülich has been awarding the Excellence Prize since 2009. It is based on an outstanding doctoral thesis, the main parts of which were written at Jülich, combined with excellent achievements during the subsequent postdoc phase. This year’s winners conduct research in the fields of soft matter and the fundamentals of nanoelectronics.
Before the prizes were awarded, Forschungszentrum Jülich honoured 50 doctoral researchers who completed their doctoral theses between July 2018 and August 2019 at the annual JuDocs Ceremony. Most of them[S.1] (a total of 25) completed their doctorate at RWTH Aachen University, followed by Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf (6) and the universities of Bonn (5), Bochum (4), Cologne (3), Dortmund (1), and Wuppertal (1). In 2018, a total of 563 doctoral researchers worked at Jülich institutes.
In his address, Chairman of the Board of Directors Prof. Wolfgang Marquardt reminded the successful doctoral candidates of the great social responsibility that rests with science. “It is a crucial task for you as scientists to make use of your knowledge and skills to ensure that our society develops in a positive direction. Contributions to technical as well as social innovations are just as important as an open and fact-based culture of discussion.” He added that Forschungszentrum Jülich is fully aware of its responsibility towards the Rhineland region, which is undergoing a process of structural change, and of the necessity to contribute to the transformation of this former coal-mining region through Jülich’s expertise in the fields of information, energy, and bioeconomy.
The 2019 winners and presenters
Dr. Doreen Niether
After completing her master’s degree in physical chemistry at Freie Universität Berlin, Dr. Doreen Niether conducted her doctoral research at Jülich’s Institute of Complex Systems – Soft Matter. Research at the subinstitute focuses on the behaviour of synthetic and biological colloidal systems, i.e. particles or droplets in the nano- and micrometre range that are finely dispersed in a liquid medium. For the formation of structure and the dynamics in these mixtures, external influences such as electric or magnetic fields play a decisive role, as do interactions between molecules.
The early-career scientist investigated the relationship between thermophoresis – the migration of dissolved substances in temperature gradients – and the formation of hydrogen bonds. A deeper understanding of these fundamental physical principles is an important factor in researching biological systems. For her thesis, Niether successfully developed models on the origins of life and on protein–ligand complex formation. In April 2019, she began working at Jülich’s Institute of Energy and Climate Research, where she is investigating the behaviour of trace gases in the troposphere.
Dr. Felix Lüpke
For his doctoral thesis at Jülich’s Peter Grünberg Institute, Dr. Felix Lüpke modified the technology of multi-tip scanning tunnelling microscopy, which was originally developed at Jülich. He succeeded in revealing electronic properties of charge transport in quantum materials on the nanoscale. The early-career scientist primarily used the technology to conduct research into topological insulators. These are novel materials with special electrical conductivity – materials that are needed, among other purposes, for the construction of high-performance quantum computers.
Lüpke determined the influence of nanoscale defects on charge transport in topological insulators by measuring “potential maps” around these defects. Through additional measurements, he was also able to distinguish different charge transport channels in topological insulators. The results of his thesis create an important foundation for future applications of topological insulators in quantum computers. Having concluded his postdoc period at Carnegie Mellon University (Pittsburgh, USA), the researcher is now working at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in the USA, thanks to a Feodor Lynen Research Fellowship provided by the Humboldt Foundation.
Dr. Peter Schüffelgen
During his time as a doctoral researcher at the Peter Grünberg Institute – Semiconductor Nanoelectronics, physicist Dr. Peter Schüffelgen researched the crystal growth of topological insulators, which are noted as materials for future quantum computers. If these insulators are combined with superconducting materials in a smart way, “Majorana states” form at the interface. These promise to be highly error-resistant – and thus to address a major problem in current research on quantum computers.
When manufacturing such components, it is important that the interface is of high quality. To achieve this, the nanostructures must not come into contact with air during the manufacturing process. Schüffelgen found a way to combine and independently structure superconducting and topological materials under ultra-high vacuum conditions. Transport measurements at very low temperatures carried out on samples manufactured in this way showed indications of Majorana states.
The early-career scientist is currently establishing his own research unit at Forschungszentrum Jülich. In the coming years, Schüffelgen and his team will be concerned with equipping the vacuum-produced Majorana states with readout and control electronics in order to make these quantum materials accessible for applications in topological quantum circuits.
Dr. Regine Panknin, press officer
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