ERC Advanced Grant for Professor Steinrück

Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Steinrück
Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Steinrück (Image: Gerd Grimm)

Researcher awarded approximately 2.5 million euros for research on ionic liquids

Another FAU researcher has succeeded in securing funding from the European Union amid tough competition. Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Steinrück, Chair of Physical Chemistry II, has been awarded one of the sought-after ERC Advanced Grants worth 2.5 million euros to fund his project ‘Ionic Liquid Interface Dynamics’ for a period of five years. The project will focus on basic research on ionic liquids, which are used in industry to manufacture new chemicals efficiently, for example.

In comparison to certain conventional substances, such as the ones used in nail varnish, the key advantage of ionic liquids – which are salts in the liquid state – is that they do not evaporate. Due to their physical and chemical properties, they can be changed in a huge variety of ways, allowing them to be adapted especially for catalysis in specific chemical processes and industrial-scale processes, for example.

Certain ionic liquids can be used to achieve a similar effect to that produced by Teflon coatings. ‘However, our goal is not to replace the lotus effect. Instead we aim to apply thin anti-corrosion coatings to valuable materials, for example,’ says Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Steinrück. The film made of ionic liquids is breathable and therefore prevents rust.

This is one of the possible applications of the research that Hans-Peter Steinrück and his team are conducting. ‘We are investigating both the surfaces and the interfaces of ionic liquids,’ Professor Steinrück explains. ‘With our project we are taking a pioneering step, progressing from our current understanding of the static properties to being able to actively control the dynamic processes that occur on the surfaces of ionic liquids.’

One of the team’s goals is to analyse the properties of the surfaces and examine how ultra-thin films of ionic liquids form when they are applied to a solid material at the atomic level. They also aim to study chemical reactions in ionic liquids in situ – i.e. while the process is taking place – rather than simply studying the end result. Their findings could have applications in industry that would enable new chemicals to be produced by catalysis.

Because ionic liquids do not evaporate in the way that conventional liquids do, they can be examined using methods in surface science which require a vacuum. A good vacuum is required as without it the electrons or ions used to take measurements would collide with gas molecules, interfering with the results. The specific techniques that the FAU researchers use to conduct chemical analyses of the liquids at the atomic level are X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy and scanning tunnelling microscopy.

The grant is an absolute highlight for me

Hand-Peter Steinrück is delighted to receive the European Research Council’s 2.5-million-euro grant. ‘The grant is an absolute highlight for me,’ he says. ERC grants are based on two criteria: the researcher’s academic excellence and the quality of their research project. ‘The grant is a great honour for me personally and of course for my group, and is testament to the international recognition of our work. It also comes with the responsibility of ensuring that the highly ambitious project that I initiated is a success.’

Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Steinrück is an internationally renowned expert on ultra-high vacuums in the field of surface science. Born in Austria in 1959, Professor Steinrück has been conducting basic research on ionic liquids for over ten years. He has been studying the physical and chemical properties of surfaces for over 30 years. After completing his studies and doctoral degree at Graz University of Technology, he conducted his postdoctoral research at Stanford University (USA) before completing his habilitation in experimental physics at Technische Universität München in 1992. After a stay at Rutgers University (USA) as a guest researcher he became professor of experimental physics at the University of Würzburg. He has been a researcher and lecturer at FAU’s Department of Chemistry and Pharmacy since 1998. He is a member of a large number of scientific academies, review panels and advisory bodies.

Further information:

Prof. Dr. Hans-Peter Steinrück
Phone: +49 9131 8527343