Professor Kramm, you’re working in the FLAME LOEWE cluster with the Department of Catalysts and Electrocatalysts. What exactly is the major focus of your research work? The description of my field of expertise may be misleading at first in terms of my connection with the FLAME LOEWE cluster (Fermi Level Engineering of Antiferroelectric Materials for Energy Storage and Insulators). In fact, I did not join FLAME because of my expertise in catalysts, but because of my specialist knowledge of Mössbauer spectroscopy. Mössbauer spectroscopy is a method for examining specific elements and allows us to make statements about the environment of certain ones. For example, you can see whether an element is present in metallic or oxidised form. Our work focuses on the local environment to determine, for example, how many binding partners are present and which ones. By using this method, we want to find out how small changes in the composition of the structures being investigated affect the local and electronic environment of individual metals – and to what extent or whether this relates to their antiferromagnetic properties. Within the FLAME programme, we’re mainly analysing the environment of tin in antiferroelectrics containing lead to see the effect of this element on the desired properties. We need this information to develop new, lead-free antiferroelectrics, which can then be used, for example, for energy storage purposes.
Physics and mathematics, your main courses at your grammar school, were certainly helpful for your current work in this field of research. Why were you so interested in science as a teenager? I never thought it was unusual for me to be interested in mathematics and physics. In my opinion, both subjects have an advantage over arts or humanities subjects: they have a clear structure and there is a clear categorisation of what is right and wrong - at least, related to what you learn at school.
My teachers always emphasised very strongly that it’s important to realise what simple tools were used to make a large number of major scientific discoveries. This has certainly helped to promote my interest in the history of science and the natural sciences as such. A certain sense of pragmatism also played a role at the beginning of the sixth form, because I was able to achieve better results in both subjects with less effort than I probably would have had to make in other subjects.
What do you believe makes the Hesse research promotion programme entitled LOEWE (Landes-Offensive zur Entwicklung Wissenschaftlich-ökonomischer Exzellenz or State Offensive to Develop Academic/Economic Excellence) special or what opportunities does it provide for your work that you wouldn’t have had otherwise? As regards the volume of applications, the application process for LOEWE research funding is relatively straightforward and fast; as a result, not much time elapses between defining the research subject and the actual project. This can be the crucial time advantage, particularly for current topics where a great deal of research is taking place, and enable you to launch a topic at a university in Hesse and therefore strengthen Hesse as an academic economic centre too.
The FLAME LOEWE cluster also provides strong cross-links between the research disciplines that are involved. I believe this interdisciplinary approach is very beneficial for training Ph.D. students; it makes specialist knowledge generally comprehensible at an early stage or the "languages" of the different disciplines are adapted. This helps people later at larger conferences or meetings at companies where an interdisciplinary approach is necessary.
You’ve been working as a scientist at various universities for more than ten years. In which areas do you see a need for improvements in "scientific business"? And what are we perhaps doing better at German universities than in other countries? In Germany, research is very well-structured and is guided more by the academic issue than the impact of the subsequent publication. This may not put us at the top of the world rankings, but students here do obtain the tools to think more freely in academic terms than in some other countries. Germany must become more competitive to ensure that it retains more excellent research scientists in the long term. The country particularly needs to improve the future prospects for young researchers during or after their post-doctoral studies. Reconciling a family and career is important for both parents. Western Germany still needs to learn a great deal from the Eastern German states in this area. Childcare should not be something that you have to fight for, but something you can use as a service.
Even if scientists usually pursue their work with a great deal of passion, they need some balance in their lives alongside their job. What do you do? I‘m married and have two children. This keep your feet on the ground and sometimes unintentionally provides some distraction. Sport – jogging at the moment – helps me switch off too.
About the Person
- Professor and project manager of the department of catalysts and electrocatalysts at the TU Darmstadt
Published in ProLOEWE NEWS
The LOEWE Research-Initiatives are also involved in the fight against the Corona pandemic. In this issue of the ProLOEWE NEWS the LOEWE-Initiatives report about their current research work. In addition you can get to know the new managing director of LOEWE-ALLEGRO.
You will also find a portrait of Juniorprofessor Dr Ulrike Kramm who is working in the LOEWE Cluster "FLAME".