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TUHH successful in first stage of selection process for new Clusters of Excellence

Hamburg University of Technology (TUHH) will apply with a Cluster of Excellence, "BlueMat: Water-Driven Materials", in the nationwide competition of universities for funding as part of the Excellence Strategy of the German federal and state governments. In May 2023, 143 draft proposals were submitted by 59 universities. In this first phase of the competition, 41 draft proposals were selected for the second round of evaluation. TUHH's draft proposal was positively evaluated and the team was invited to submit a full proposal by summer 2023.

To further strengthen the international competitiveness of research at German universities, the federal and state governments have established the Excellence Strategy (ExStra as a permanent funding program. Researchers and universities enjoy a completely free choice of research fields and profile areas. The annual budget for selected Clusters of Excellence and Universities of Excellence is currently EUR 385 million p. a., with the overall budget having been increased to EUR 539 million per year from 2026 onwards. The key objective of the Excellence Strategy is to strengthen top-level research in areas that are internationally competitive, to institutionally strengthen German universities, and to advance the development of the German higher education system.

The Cluster of Excellence "BlueMat: Water-Driven Materials" based at the TUHH is a research cooperation of 25 core and 20 associated research groups between the TUHH, the Helmholtz Center Hereon, the University of Hamburg, DESY, the Max Planck Institute for the Structure and Dynamics of Matter, the Helmut Schmidt University Hamburg, the European X-Ray Free Electron Laser GmbH (EuXFEL), as well as the Hamburg University of Fine Arts and other associated partners in the Hamburg area. The project is led by the TUHH, in particular the spokespersons Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Patrick Huber, Prof. Dr.-Ing. Irina Smirnova and Prof. Dr.-Ing. Christian Cyron. In the event of funding, the TUHH and other applicant partners would receive funding of around 7 million euros per year for 7 years from 2026 onwards.

The aim of this Cluster of Excellence is to mimic natural processes such as water-driven mechanical actuation, capillarity-driven water transport, humidity dependent color or photocatalytic water splitting as observed in animals and plants, most prominently in trees, and extend them to functionalities not found in nature, such as control of acoustic and electromagnetic waves, tunable thermal emission and electrical energy storage and generation. These radically new functionalities will be pursued up to device-level applications, e.g. smart windows and thermal insulation for energy-efficient architecture and hydrovoltaics to harvest electrical energy from environmental processes and waste heat. To achieve this goal, BlueMat draws on the exceptional talents of an interdisciplinary team several world-class research institutions in Hamburg with outstanding expertise in molecular water science, multiscale materials, process engineering, and diverse application areas including micromechanics, fluidics, photonics, energy systems, computer science, and art, building on the success of the DFG Collaborative Research Center "Tailor-made Multiscale Materials Systems". It will leverage "Hamburg's globally unique ecosystem of brilliant X-ray analytics and natural and engineering sciences with a strong focus on sustainable technologies", according to the draft proposal of the scientists involved.

New and sustainable materials are essential to meet the challenges of climate change. For this reason, intensive research into new materials has been carried out in the Hamburg area and at the TUHH in particular for more than 15 years. The planned Cluster of Excellence is intended to further strengthen the strong research network in materials science in Hamburg by linking up with PIERPlus, the Center for Integrated Multiscale Materials Systems (CIMMS) and the Advanced Materials & (Bio) Processes research field at the TUHH, among others, and to make an important contribution to the city of Hamburg's climate plan with new materials.