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Wanted: Problem Solvers for the Next Generation of Microtechnologies

Researchers from Chemnitz and Dresden give an overview of challenging ways to produce tiny batteries for microelectronics in the journal Nature - Interdisciplinary courses of study and cooperation are gaining in importance.

In the current issue of the scientific journal Nature, two scientists from Chemnitz and Dresden present a commentary on the topic "Tiny robots and sensors need tiny batteries - here's how to do it" The commentary discusses different ways that tiny batteries for applications in microelectronics can be produced today, which problems still need to be solved, and what is important. One of the authors is Prof. Dr. Oliver G. Schmidt. He heads the Institute for Integrative Nanoscience at the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research Dresden and, as Professor of Materials for Nanoelectronics at Chemnitz University of Technology, initiated the Center for Materials, Architectures, and Integration of Nanomembranes (MAIN). Schmidt is also a recipient of the Leibniz Prize, the most important research funding award in Germany. He and his research team have been following the vision of "batteries in dust grains" for more than ten years. For example, they created ultrathin layer systems that wind themselves into tiny ultracompact energy storage devices thousands of times over. The combination of layers can be chosen almost arbitrarily, making various types of energy storage possible. They also succeeded in folding nanomembranes into three-dimensional microelectronic devices using the magnetic origami method, producing the world's smallest microelectronic robots. These and other ways to shrink batteries are highlighted in the Nature article. But it also mentions the problems that will have to be solved in the future.

Schmidt and his co-author Minshen Zhu of the Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research Dresden know that interdisciplinary collaboration will become increasingly important in the future. Thus, in their view, interdisciplinary international conferences make sense, where they can develop a common roadmap for microbattery performance and target specifications. In addition, interdisciplinary teams combining expertise from microelectronics, electrochemistry, and battery and materials sciences, among others, should increasingly conduct research on solutions.

"We are also calling on universities worldwide to train scientists with even more interdisciplinary research skills needed to build the next generation of microtechnologies," Schmidt said. In Guangzhou, China, for example, a new campus of the Hong Kong University of Science Technology, a world-leading research institution, is currently being built with an investment of two billion U.S. dollars, where knowledge from materials science and microelectronics is being brought together to improve the integration of micro- and nanodevices into multifunctional components, he said.

In Germany, Chemnitz University of Technology is pursuing a similar interdisciplinary educational approach: the English-language Micro and Nano Systems Master’s program combines expertise from photonics, electronics, biotechnology, microrobotics, and energy storage to prepare students for the complex microsystems technology of the future. "In this way, problem solvers of tomorrow can be trained who, among other things, will also help to develop and mass-produce high-performance microbatteries," Schmidt said. With their article in the journal Nature, Schmidt and Zhu want to raise awareness for more interdisciplinarity at other educational and research institutions as well.

Original publication: Oliver G. Schmidt and Minshen Zhu, “Tiny robots and sensors need tiny batteries - here's how to do it”Nature, 2021. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-021-00021-2.

For additional information, please contact Prof. Dr. Oliver G. Schmidt, Chair of Materials for Nanoelectronics at Chemnitz University of Technology and Leibniz Institute for Solid State and Materials Research Dresden e.V., phone +49 (0) 351 4659-810, e-mail o.schmidt@ifw-dresden.de

(Author: Mario Steinebach / Translation: Chelsea Burris)

Matthias Fejes
20.01.2021

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