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Aarhus University selected as the first Danish ‘lighthouse’ research environment in Lund

Denmark has invested billions of DKK in state-of-the-art research facilities around the European Spallation Source (ESS) near Lund in Sweden. Bo Brummerstedt will now be the first research director of a Danish lighthouse environment that will work towards realising the ambitions behind the huge Danish investment. The appointment is accompanied by a grant of DKK 34.5 million.

[Translate to English:] Partikelacceleratoren "European Spallation Source" bliver verdens største og mest avancerede anlæg for neutronbaseret forskning. ESS har base i Sverige på Lund Universitet. (Ill: Henning Larsen Architects)
[Translate to English:] Partikelacceleratoren "European Spallation Source" bliver verdens største og mest avancerede anlæg for neutronbaseret forskning. ESS har base i Sverige på Lund Universitet. (Ill: Henning Larsen Architects)

A very ambitious project is taking shape in Lund to build state-of-the-art research facilities around the European Spallation Source (ESS). Denmark has invested several billion DKK in the enterprise, and it is therefore important to appoint the strongest research groups to secure breakthrough results in core technological areas for the international community and for Denmark.

Bo Brummerstedt from Aarhus University is in charge of the first group to be designated as a ‘lighthouse’ environment by the Ministry of Higher Education and Science.

This means that AU will head of the first lighthouse environment, with focus on exploiting the major Danish investment in ESS, and the goal is to become an international leader within materials research. The area has enormous scientific potential and considerable commercial and innovation opportunities.

"It will be ground-breaking research, and we’ll be looking for completely new materials from the very edge of what we know today. It's a fabulous example of how basic research, where take chances without really knowing the ultimate goal, is fundamental for enabling us to solve major societal challenges. In the long term, it will give our businesses a head start, once we’ve made our first scientific breakthroughs. It’ll be incredibly exciting to follow the researchers' work," says Tommy Ahlers (Danish Liberal Party), Minister for Higher Education and Science.

Recognition of the Aarhus-based research
Many of the largest global challenges are within energy, the climate, drinking water, health and food production. All these areas require research and development of new advanced materials, which can make it possible to build tomorrow's society. Quite literally. Therefore, Dean Niels Christian Nielsen is particularly pleased that Aarhus University has been appointed to take the first steps to ensure that Denmark is on the right track towards achieving the best outcomes for both society and business:

"New materials are the backbone of the development of a modern society, and materials research is vital for a number of growth areas. It seems likely that breakthroughs in materials research will provide answers to some of the major challenges facing humankind.

We’re very aware of the confidence shown in Aarhus University by a unanimous selection panel, who have pointed to our skilled researchers as the first lighthouse environment. We have a clear ambition in our approach to the task to generate new knowledge that can support the development of society and not least industrial progress, and to secure solid momentum in Danish materials research," says Dean Niels Christian Nielsen from the Faculty of Science and Technology.

Lighthouse on solid ground
SMART (Structure of MAterials in Real Time) will be headed by Professor Bo Brummerstedt, who is associated with the Department of Chemistry and iNANO (the interdisciplinary Nanoscience Centre) at Aarhus University.

In materials science, there is rarely one method that provides all the answers. It is the symbiosis between chemical synthesis, structural studies, measurement of properties and advanced modelling that provides the major breakthroughs. This is also why SMART will be based at an internationally excellent research environment at AU in connection with the Centre for Integrated Materials Research (iMAT), and strategically it will bring together materials research from across physics, chemistry, geoscience, nanoscience and engineering science. IMAT has the highest excellence within all these fields and an outstanding local infrastructure. Coupled with the exceptional new possibilities in Lund, this will provide the basis for world-leading research.

"Aarhus University, and iMAT in particular are a solid enough foundation to securely anchor even a scientific lighthouse. Now I see it as our duty to establish a scientific environment in Denmark, drawing on our strong research and bringing together and supporting the other talented Danish research environments in the field," says Professor Bo Brummerstedt.

SMART has a broad scientific perspective, but two focus areas are energy materials and catalysis, and insight into the atomic structures of materials is essential in this context. The modern industrialised society is based on exploiting fossil resources, both as fuels and as a source of chemicals. The transition to a sustainable society is driven by new energy materials and catalysts, and SMART already has partnerships with Haldor Topsøe A/S and others. The challenge in our work so far has been that the rational development of new energy technologies requires that the atomic structures of functional materials can be observed in real time so that it is possible to see the insides of a battery while it is in operation, for example.

"ESS has a fantastic role for us here, and SMART will be a pioneer in a scientific paradigm shift towards studies of real materials in real time under real conditions. This could lead to ground-breaking discoveries of completely new physical and chemical phenomena, and it could also dramatically reduce the time it takes to develop materials for industrial applications. With this grant, Danish science can really contribute to adding value through scientific discoveries: one of the main objectives behind the establishment of ESS," says Bo Brummerstedt.

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