Letztens hat anlässlich des Jubiläums des Mauerfalls in Berlin die Falling Walls Konferenz stattgefunden. Diese behandelt bedeutende Durchbrüche in Wissenschaft und Gesellschaft und hat den Anspruch, mit renommierten Rednern einen großen Eindruck machen zu wollen.

Für einzelne Nachwuchswissenschaftler gab es die Möglichkeit, über lokale Vorentscheide ebenfalls ein Ticket für die Hauptkonferenz zu ergattern und bei der Vorentscheidung in Jülich habe ich es mir auch nicht nehmen lassen, daran teilzunehmen. Leider hatte ich damals nicht gewonnen, aber trotzdem möchte ich euch meinen Vortrag nicht vorenthalten und ihn somit nachträglich noch nützlich(er) zu machen.

Die Aufgabe war, in einem dreiminütigen Vortrag darzustellen, was der wirkliche Durchbruch an der eigenen Forschungsarbeit ist und weshalb die Welt dadurch bereichert werden würde. Dies hier war meine “Rede”:


Hi. I am Tobi. I have been a professional American Football player, a paramedic, glider pilot and currently I’m organizing the largest historic dance event that Germany has seen for 50 years. I graduated in condensed matter physics from the University of Cologne and currently I am a Ph.D. student in JCNS-2, the Jülich Centre for Neutron Science, working on a special project to bring a neutron source back to Jülich.

I really loved teaching high school pupils, physics and medicine students and currently I am blogging in the German Science Blogs to satisfy this passion.

This is a picture taken from one of my articles, where I explained why a banana, or a bananaphone in this case, is emitting more dangerous ionizing radiation, than a smartphone.

Slide 1:

My research will break the walls of large scale research reactors, like the DIDO reactor here in Jülich. With “breaking the walls” I mean, that the former job of this large scale research reactor can be done by particle accelerators, more reliably and available at low costs.

Slide 2:

Neutrons are like X-ray,  a microscopic probe to investigate materials from gigantic amino acids and proteins to spin structures in crystals and information storage devices. X-ray and neutrons are complementary, since x-rays scatter of the electrons of an atoms and neutrons – without any charge – interact with the nucleus.

So why are neutrons not used in every biology, chemistry and physics lab across the world, like x-ray sources are?

Because neutrons are only produced in nuclear processes, preferably nuclear fission or spallation and for these processes large scale facilities are needed. However today most of Germanys research reactors have been shut down and – given the political situation – no new reactor will ever be built again in this country.

So neutron scientists turn to the European Spallation Source, which is currently being built in Sweden with an essential contribution from Jülich.

Despite the costs of 2 billion € to build it the ESS will only support 22 instruments compared to the 18 instruments, that were stationed at DIDO.

There is no doubt that ESS – the most intense neutron source ever build – will provide us with totally new insights into the microscopic world within each of our body cells and every computer chip, but the success of a scientific method is not only measured by its best experiments, but also by how widely used it is.

Optical microscopes in every school and X-ray sources in every university have give us so much more understanding of the inside world… and that is just what I want to do with neutrons.

Slide 3:

If one shoots an accelerated particle at a target, neutrons are produced. This process is much less efficient than fission or spallation, but since it is using much lower energies no exotic stray particles are produced and radiation damage is limited. So we can utilize much better methods to enhance the brilliance, so – even though less neutrons are produced in total – there will be still enough at the sample.

This will be done by the finger moderator, which we have developed and filed a patent for. It will extract the neutrons directly from within the thermal moderating reflector using a cold para hydrogen source whose geometry is tailored to its special energy dependent neutron scattering properties.

With this we can build a medium flux source in Jülich, with a brilliance to rival those of the former DIDO reactor.

The HBS – the High Brilliant neutron Source.

In addition, small commercial accelerators can today be bought at the cost of a larger car. So applying the same technique we would be able to build a source as small as 10 meters at the cost of only 1M€ which is affordable for every mayor university or hospital and can be built in the basement of the university of Cologne and everywhere, where people may want to use the best microscopy technique available today.