The understanding and design of materials for energy conversion and storage is the central aim of the International Max Planck Research School for Interface Controlled Materials for Energy Conversion (IMPRS-SurMat). Closely interlinked and therefore a central theme are the mechanical and (electro-)chemical stability and durability of materials and their relation to the material’s function.

Doing a PhD in the IMPRS-SurMat is possible in five main fields:

  • Microstructure and physics of defects in engineering materials and catalyst systems and their effect on stability and reactivity

  • Hydrogen uptake in materials and its consequence for mechanical properties

  • Oxygen reduction reaction and oxygen evolution reaction and their mediating surfaces, their stability, electronic structure and coupling between different materials (especially of oxides) and reaction mechanisms. Formation, nucleation and growth stresses of oxides

  • Reduction of CO2 involving catalyst materials, electronic structure and reaction mechanisms in {(photo)(electro)}chemical reactions

  • Degradation mechanisms and life extension of materials, including solid reaction-mediating materials. Design of interfaces to prevent degradation processes

The doctoral students are part of an expert team at one of five research institutes which develop new experimental, analytical, and synthetic techniques to foster the understanding of structure and processes at interfaces with expertise in:

  • High resolution analysis of the structure of materials (e.g. transmission electron microscopy, atom probe tomography)
  • Simulation of materials structures and properties over all relevant length scales, from atomic over mesoscale to macroscale, as well as scale bridging/multiscale approaches
  • Characterization of functional materials properties (e.g. mechanical properties of small scale systems, characterization of electrochemical reaction rates and chemical conversion)
  • Advanced synthetic methods for the creation of complex nanostructured composite systems
  • Combinatorial materials synthesis and high throughput materials analysis
  • In situ characterization techniques

The expertise of the IMPRS-SurMat partners is used to understand the processes at the involved interfaces where the reactions occur and to understand the modifications inside the solid energy conversion system. These topics include processes at liquid/solid interfaces as well as the role of solid/solid interfaces (e.g. in grain boundaries).

As an initiative in fundamental research, the IMPRS-SurMat focuses on the understanding of these reactions and their effect on solid properties, and not on the transfer of existing knowledge into industrially applicable energy conversion systems. Potential application for the knowledge created within the IMPRS-SurMat is seen in systems such as electrolysers, fuel cells, hydrogen storage systems, thermoelectrics, and turbines.

Curious? Get to know us at one of our annual interview sessions.


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