Scientist at TU Ilmenau receives Thuringian Research Award 2023

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The winner of the Thuringian Research Award in the category of basic research, P
The winner of the Thuringian Research Award in the category of basic research, Prof. Jörg Kröger, Head of Surface Physics at TU Ilmenau
Physicist Professor Jörg Kröger of the TU Ilmenau has been awarded the Thuringian Research Award 2023 in the category of basic research. With the award, the Free State of Thuringia honors Kröger’s many years of research on the quantum physics of matter. Quantum technologies are about to become key technologies. Mastering them requires an understanding of the underlying principles, as Kröger explores them experimentally in his work. Prof. Jörg Kröger’s basic research has the potential for innovative applications in electronics or medicine, among other fields.

"Quantum physics of matter - fundamental research using scanning probe methods to reveal mechanisms and principles on the atomic scale" - this is the title of Prof. Jörg Kröger’s research work, which he has been conducting at the highest level for more than a decade at TU Ilmenau. In addition to imaging individual atoms, molecules and the wave character of matter, Kröger is actively shaping the quantum cosmos. By manipulating matter atom by atom, the researcher is building nano-laboratories in which he can explore quantum physical mechanisms.

The scanning probe microscopes of the Institute of Physics at TU Ilmenau allow quantum research at the limit of what is currently technically possible. Only with such high-end microscopes can the sensitivity be achieved that Prof. Jörg Kröger needs in order to make the world of quanta visible and thus be able to shape it. To this end, for example, the metallic tips of the microscopes are functionalized with individual molecules, so that probes for high-resolution images of individual molecules can be realized. molecules can be realized. Other modifications to the tips enable particularly sensitive probes that use nano-magnetism to construct tiny data storage devices or extremely low-energy information technologies. In this way, Kröger also succeeds in realizing the spectroscopy of quantum excitations, i.e., the transmission of minute energy portions, with high energy resolution. In collaboration with theoreticians from the Technical University of Denmark, he is developing a magnifying glass for quantum excitations, so to speak: The scientists thus succeeded in observing vibrations of the atoms of a two-dimensional material as clearly as never before.

In his tribute, Wolfgang Tiefensee, Thuringia’s Minister for Economic Affairs, Science and Digital Society, emphasized that Prof. Jörg Kröger’s research makes electron waves directly visible by scanning tunneling microscopy: "The tips of the microscopes serve as proven tools for constructing artificial structures - nano-laboratories - atom by atom. This is of paramount importance for fundamental research in physics: The gain in knowledge is maximal on model-like systems, since mechanisms and principles of quantum physics can be derived that also apply to more complex setups. It is even possible to turn the tips into sensitive sensors by attaching individual atoms or molecules. This allows one to study superconductivity through molecular circuits, which will be significant in future computer architectures or neuromorphic circuits." Other experiments aim to prepare microscope probes in such a way that functional molecules for nanomedicine, for example, will be conceivable in the future.

The award-winning research work of Prof. Jörg Kröger was carried out with the help of a self-made scanning tunneling microscope and an atomic force microscope in laboratories of the Center for Microand Nanotechnologies at TU Ilmenau, which were specially vibration-damped and shielded for this purpose. In the ForLab project, which is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research, Kröger has set up another low-temperature scanning tunneling microscope here, with which he is trying to prove that the supercurrent can be controlled by an elementary magnet. If he is successful, an extremely energy-efficient switch based on superconductivity could be constructed, which could become relevant for novel computer architectures and neuromorphic electronics.

The Thuringian Research Award:

The Thuringian Research Prize is awarded by the Free State of Thuringia in the categories of basic research and applied research and is endowed with a total of 50,000 euros. Since two prizes were awarded in the basic research category this year, Prof. Jörg Kröger will receive prize money of 12,500 euros for his research work.