Interface Chemistry and Surface Engineering

The Department of Interface Chemistry and Surface Engineering (GO) is mainly focussing on corrosion and electrochemical energy conversion. It is internationally known to be one of the leading groups in the field of electrochemical sciences. Our mission is to combine both fundamental and applied sciences to tackle key-questions for a progress towards new or better, energy saving and efficient, cheaper and longer lasting materials for applications as structural (in particular steels and other alloys) and functional materials, e.g. for fuel cell catalysts, pre-treatments and smart coatings amongst others.

The department currently hosts four research groups. The different groups focus on high-throughput methods and the development of combinatorial methods in adhesion science and electrochemistry, on characterization of electrified interfaces by complementary methods such as vibrational spectroscopy, in situ diffraction studies and scanning probe techniques, such as Scanning Flow Cell (SFC), Scanning Kelvin Probe (SKP), Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM) or Scanning Tunnelling Microscopy (STM), as well as on related ab initio simulation. We combine electrochemistry with a surface and interface science approach, and in most projects we complement both, experimental studies on atomically well-defined model systems as well as on technical systems with atomistic ab initio modelling. All groups in the department have their independent and strong research agenda, while collaborative research projects are synergistic and focus on major challenges and complex scientific questions that require the scale and interdisciplinarity.
Of crucial importance in the last years was to stabilize the department. Since the head of the department Martin Stratmann, took over as president of the Max Planck Society from June 2014 to June 2023 and has officially been an emeritus scientific member of the MPIE since July 2023, there have been significant changes in the department. Michael Rohwerder took over the coordination of the department and Jörg Neugebauer (head of the department “Computational Materials Design”) acts as temporary head of the department. Most notably the number of research groups shrank quickly from six in 2014 to two in 2019. However, the research group of Andreas Erbe (Optical Spectroscopy) remained very active as a guest group until end of 2019, and the one of Karl Mayrhofer (Electrocatalysis) too, to be followed by the very active guest group of Olga Kasian (Dynamic Electrocatalytic Interfaces, until end of 2021). In 2020 the early career research group “Spectroscopy at Electrochemical Interfaces” was established in the GO department as joint research group of the MPIE and the cluster of excellence RESOLV located at the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB). The group uses interface spectroscopic methods to study solvation and other dynamic effects on solid surfaces interfaces. By establishing this new group important expertise could be regained. Patricia Jovičević-Klug's new research group (Surface Science for Future Materials) has been active since February 2024. The focus of this group is the investigating (geo)chemical, corrosion and wear interactions of the surface to bulk level using surface analysis and advanced method of testing.
The department is actively participating in various collaborative research efforts with internal and external partners. An important example is the German Research Foundation (DFG) Cluster of Excellence “Ruhr Explores Solvation” (RESOLV), which is centred at the RUB’s Faculty of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Our contributions to solvation science in RESOLV focus on the role of solvents in electrochemical reactions, and solvation of interfaces.
With its versatile experimental and theoretical expertise the GO department is in the unique position to assist and promote also diverse industrial research especially in investigating the underlying fundamental electrochemical reaction mechanisms and kinetics.
For instance, the electrochemical oxygen reduction reaction (ORR) - a key process in corrosion as well as energy conversion - has been the focus of several joint research projects in the department aiming at a fundamental understanding of its mechanism for better control in corrosion protection as well as improved catalysis in fuel cells and air batteries. These research projects combine both advanced electrochemical as well as in situ and in operando spectroscopic experiments. In additional to ORR, the oxygen evolution reaction (OER) has also become the subject of intensive research activities and, in this context, research into the transpassivity of electrode materials under OER conditions. The knowledge obtained in the fundamental research on electrochemical key reactions such as oxygen reduction and oxygen evolution play a crucial role in helping us to unravel practical problems met in industrial applications or processes such as in corrosion, batteries and fuel cells.
Several research projects focus on industrial processes such as pickling and alternative surface treatments. A special collaborative interest of the institute is hydrogen in steel. The activities in this field have been further enhanced, complementing experimental and theoretical methods in cooperation between the departments play an important role. In the GO department in particular the Scanning Kelvin Probe and Scanning Kelvin Probe Force Microscopy were further developed in combination with complementing techniques to uniquely and directly detect hydrogen in steel and even through zinc-based alloy coatings.

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