The first century of the Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung

Currently three essential developments are revolutionizing materials research. The first one is the availability of models with predictive capability such as provided by density functional theory, advanced quasi-particle and continuum simulations as well as big data driven tools and machine learning. The second one is the availability and concerted use of highest resolving characterization tools such as corrected electron microscopes, atom probe tomography, synchrotron and neutron imaging. The third one is materials synthesis, which stretches nowadays from chemical processes, combinatorial casting to additive manufacturing providing fast and flexible routes for material screening and fabrication. All these techniques enable us to solve some of the most essential challenges in the fields of mobility, energy, infrastructure, medicine and safety.

In this exiting scientific setting the Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH (MPIE) conducts basic and applied materials research since 100 years.

Out of 83 institutes of the Max Planck Society, it is the only institution which is financed jointly by public funds through the Max Planck Society and industrial funds through the Steel Institute VDEh. The mission of the institute lies in understanding and designing complex metallic materials, which are exposed to real environmental conditions, down to atomic and electronic scales. More specific, the Institute conducts basic research on structural and functional materials considering their complex chemical–physical synthesis, characterization and properties, as well as their use in systemic components and under harsh environmental conditions.

Projects are conducted highly interdisciplinary, in mutual stimulation among experimentalists and theoreticians as well as among different departments. The methodological interplay reaches from macroscopic and combinatorial synthesis up to thermomechanical processing of novel alloy classes through the observation of individual atoms by high resolution electron microscopy and atomic probe tomography, closely flanked by atomistic simulations, The MPIE laboratories and simulation groups cover the entire materials chain from synthesis, processing, microstructure and properties; that is, the materials development and understanding include and control the entire history of each specimen.

The institute has defined a number of core research topics, namely, the development of new structural materials; analysis of microstructure-related material properties, surfaces and interfaces, scale-bridging simulation of materials and energy related materials.

Through its focus on advanced engineering materials the Max Planck Institute occupies a key role in enabling progress in a number of fields that are important to society such as

• Mobility (e.g., ductile magnesium sheet alloys, high strength steels and soft magnets for light weight hybrid vehicles)

• Energy (e.g., hydrogen-tolerant structural alloys, efficiency of thermal power conversion through high temperature alloys, semiconducting materials for photovoltaics and photo-electrochemistry, fuel cell components)

• Infrastructure (e.g., steels for large infrastructures such as wind turbines and chemical plants)

• Health (e.g., development of elastically soft titanium hip implants)

• Safety (e.g., nanostructured bainitic steels for gas pipelines, nanostructured maraging steels for aerospace and power plant applications).

The institute conducts primarily pre-competitive and basic research, including also aspects associated with the application and commercial relevance of the materials and processes. With its system-oriented research agenda and its institutional co-sponsoring by industry, MPIE constitutes a unique and successful example of public–private partnership both, for the Max Planck Society and for industry.

The institute has several Max-Planck sponsored partner groups for instance at Göttingen University (materials physics, atom probe tomography, hydrogen), Oxford University (high temperature alloys, simulation) RWTH Aachen University (combinatorial and thin film materials design, self-reporting materials), and at Ruhr-Universität Bochum (superalloys, energy-related materials, high entropy alloys). With these fellow groups a number of joint projects is pursued such as, for example, exploring the limits of strength in Fe–C systems; hydrogen-propelled materials and systems; defectant theory; creep of superalloys; self-reporting and damage tolerant materials; atomic scale analysis of interfaces in superalloys and hard coatings.

The institute hosts currently about 300 people, the majority being scientists. As 180 employees are funded by the basic budget provided by the shareholders of the institute, around 120 additional scientists work at the MPIE supported by extramural sources such as the European Research Council ERC, German Research Foundation DFG, Alexander von Humboldt Foundation AvH, German Academic Exchange Office DAAD, German federal and state funding programs and industry.

An increasing number of co-operations with strategically selected industrial partners worldwide have provided further extramural momentum to the dynamic growth of MPIE during the past decade. Besides its strong links to the metal industry the institute has established new strategic and sustainable collaborations with companies in the fields of alloy design and maturation (bulk and surface), advanced characterization, surface functionalization, computational materials science, engineering systems under harsh environmental conditions and manufacturing.

The strongest areas of growth in the institute's research portfolio are currently in the fields of steels and related materials for automotive hybrid- and electro-mobility, energy conversion and storage, renewable energy, hydrogen-based industries, and computational materials science.

Further scientific momentum is provided by the requirement for better understanding of the complex interactions between electrochemistry and microstructure. This interplay stimulates new experimental and theoretical projects at MPIE in the fields of atomic scale and in situreaction analysis at interfaces; hydrogen embrittlement effects; combinatorial surface-electrochemistry; in situ and multi-probing of interfaces and electrochemical processes; corrosion protection; interface cohesion and solid–liquid interfaces.

MPIE also conducts long-term methodological developments in the fields of scale bridging and multi-physics computational materials science, advanced correlated multiprobe and in situ microstructure characterization, combinatorial electrochemistry and high throughput materials synthesis.

MPIE researchers have recently achieved several scientific breakthroughs such as the development of 7 GPa strong steels [1], observation of mechanically induced martensite formation by severe plastic deformation [2], ductile and strong high entropy alloys [3], ultra-sensitive and highly resolved mapping of hydrogen in materials [4], development of long-term reliable corrosion sensitive self-healing coating systems [5,6], derivation of a scaling strategy predicting large-scale properties such as adhesion or cell-cell interactions on the basis of single-molecule measurements [7], design criteria to control corrosion resistance and fracture toughness of metallic glasses [8–10], the discovery of linear confined structural and chemical states (linear complexions) [11], understanding the complex interplay between vibronic and magnetic degrees of freedom in steels [12], quantum mechanical approaches to fully ab initio predict finite temperature materials properties [13], the discovery of novel 2D interfacial phases in complex oxides [14], linking transport properties in semiconducting phases to growth conditions and defects and understanding degradation mechanisms in energy generating devices [15].

Further reading

[1] Y. Li, et al.
Phys. Rev. Lett., 113 (2014), p. 106104

[2] S. Djaziri, et al.
Adv. Mater., 28 (2016), pp. 7753-7757

[3] Z. Li, et al.
Nature, 534 (7606) (2016), pp. 227-230

[4] S. Evers, C. Senöz, M. Rohwerder
Sci. Technol. Adv. Mater., 14 (2013), p. 01420

[5] T.H. Tran, et al.Adv.
Mater., 27 (2015), pp. 3825-3830

[6] A. Vimalanandan, et al.
Adv. Mater., 25 (2013), pp. 6980-6984

[7] S. Raman, et al.
Nat. Commun., 5 (2014), p. 5539

[8] V. Schnabel, et al.
Sci. Rep., 6 (36556) (2016), pp. 1-12

[9] M.J. Duarte, et al.
Acta Mater., 127 (2017), pp. 341-350

[10] M.J. Duarte, et al.
Science, 341 (6144) (2013), pp. 372-376

[11] M. Kuzmina, et al.
Science, 349 (6252) (2015), pp. 1080-1083

[12] F. Koermann, et al.
Phys. Rev. Lett., 113 (16) (2014)

[13] B. Dutta, et al.
Phys. Rev. Lett., 116 (2) (2016)

[14] M. Todorova, J. Neugebauer
Faraday Discuss., 180 (2015), pp. 97-112

[15] C. Freysoldt, et al.
Rev. Mod. Phys., 86 (1) (2014)

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DOI: 10.1016/j.mattod.2017.02.005