13. March 2012
Where snails are giantsDimensions, especially those that are hard to conceive, are the subject of the artist Margund Smolka. At the new Microsystems and Materials Centre ZMM, she plays with the inconceivability of dimensions in modern microsystem technology.
Giant snails creep over the facades, stairwells and laboratory apparatus in the ZMM. Suddenly, they shrink to their normal size. Where else but at the ZMM could Smolka’s snails have found a better home, seeing that the dimension is one of the characterising features of microsystem technology? The tiniest of parts set giant machines safely and reliably in motion. And at the centre between the snail and the Airbus A 380 there is the human: as a researcher, entrepreneur, user.
Just as the invertebrates change their dimensions in Smolka’s video installation, the entrepreneurs and scientists live in the normal scale of their offices and laboratories, work there on miniaturised, virtually invisible technologies and overcome intellectual and geographical dimensions on global research networks – the last by plane at least.
You’re never alone on board the Airbus A 380. In this giant plane, the UV sensors developed by the Adlershof company sglux watch over the germ free state of the water on board. These sglux sensors are also a key constituent of the assembly process for these planes, when they control the level of undesired short wave UV radiation the lightweight carbon components are exposed to during their production. Compared with the cores of the sglux optical sensor systems, Smolka’s snails are giants. The silicon carbide chips measure just about 0.04 square millimetres. Notwithstanding, these microsystems also have to operate reliably in extremely hostile environments.
Likewise a tenant at ZMM, ColVisTec AG designs its optical measuring probes for reliable operations even at max temperatures of 400 °C in liquid, molten or powdery media. “Spectrophotometric process monitoring” is the name this company has given to its method of monitoring the mixing processes and all kinds of reactions “in line”, i.e. during the process itself. Optical fibres arranged in rings in extruders or reactors send xenon flashes directly into the monitored material. Another optical fibre directs the reflected light to a spectrophotometer whose software determines and analyses the spectrum. Besides precise colour values, e.g. for paints and foodstuffs, these spectra also supply information on the material’s homogeneity and therefore its process stability.
The Norwegian founder of ColVisTec, Jan Johnsen, brought the method with him from the USA. His search for a location took him all over Europe until he found what he was looking for at the ZMM. “We want to do the German stuff,” he confided. The Americans had tweaked the method to 80 percent of its full potential, but Johnsen wants 100 percent and is now turning to German engineering and the onsite network. Tilman Weiss of sglux had similar reasons for moving to Adlershof: “An optoelectronics company can only benefit from a Max-Planck-Strasse address in Adlershof, with its concentrated local skills in microsystem and optical technologies,” he explained.
ZMM Manager Jörg Israel is confident that the 6500 square metres of office, laboratory and clean room space will quickly fill with life. “Today there are about fifty companies developing microsystem technology in Adlershof,” he concluded, confident that the new centre would attract further companies to the location.
Peter Trechow/Rico Bigelmann