Software & Solar Cells:
Science Awards Guarantee Millions for Top Austrian Researchers
Robust software systems for complex systems and efficient organic solar cells as the basis for CO2-neutral chemical energy storage – these two research areas were honoured on June 12th in Austria with the Wittgenstein Award 2012. The Wittgenstein Award is Austria's highest endowed and most prestigious science award, and has been presented annually since 1996. With their awards, computer scientist Thomas A. Henzinger and chemist Niyazi Serdar Sariciftci both now have the possibility of investing up to EUR 1.5 million in their research over five years, guaranteeing the two award winners top status internationally, as well as ensuring further progress in their fields of research.
Computers operate on the basis of mathematical laws, and as such their behaviour is predictable. Or one would think. In fact, malfunctions regularly occur, which can have serious consequences for important systems. When testing systems, the current state of the art continues to be the test run. Thomas A. Henzinger, president of the Institute of Science and Technology (IST) Austria, has been working for over ten years to change that. Now, Henzinger has been honoured for his vital work with Austria's most highly endowed science prize: the Wittgenstein Award, which is worth up to EUR 1.5 million and is awarded by the Austrian Science Fund FWF.
For Henzinger, performing software test runs is the same as if a bridge engineer tested the sturdiness of his structure by walking on it – and not by static calculations prior to construction. The problem with such test runs is that they only represent one situation, and cannot represent all possible situations. While numerous test runs under different conditions improve the level of information, for modern software with numerous parallel processes the number of possibilities grows dramatically, and test runs cease to be a practically viable solution. This is not only unsatisfactory: for software of vital importance, it can have dramatic consequences. Thus, Henzinger and his team are working to develop basic mathematical models for process control software. To this effect, they employ methods of formal logic and mathematical theories for the modelling and analysis of discrete dynamic systems. Henzinger also works with an interdisciplinary approach to further develop methods for modelling software so that the methods can be used to analyse processes in living cells and organs. The ultimate goal of this line of research is to map a complete organism in software.
Solar Cells in the Spotlight
Currently, Sariciftci and his team are working not only to further increase the efficiency of organic solar cells, but also to improve their environmental friendliness. For the scientist, environmentally-friendly and biodegradable source materials are essential components of sustainable energy production. This is the objective of an additional focus of his efforts: the storage of solar-generated energy. For just as with wind energy, the availability of solar energy also fluctuates. However, the efficient storage – and renewed availability – of energy is not only a formidable scientific challenge per se, but must also take into account user behaviour and infrastructure. Consequently, Sariciftci and his team are working on the conversion of solar energy into chemical fuel. This is to be based on hydrocarbons and thus usable in the same manner as petroleum products. In addition, the carbon dioxide required for the chemical fuel is to be extracted from the air and waste gases, making the resulting fuel CO2-neutral. The Wittgenstein Award granted to Sariciftci guarantees the continuation of this groundbreaking sustainability research with additional financial resources.
The second Wittgenstein Award this year was presented to Niyazi Serdar Sariciftci, professor of physical chemistry at Johannes Kepler University in Linz. Twenty years after his groundbreaking publication in SCIENCE, Sariciftci remains one of the world's most renowned experts in the development of organic solar cells. At the time, Sariciftci demonstrated photo-induced ultra-fast electron transfer of organic semiconductor polymers onto so-called fullerenes, i.e. spherical molecules of carbon atoms. Along with this discovery, Sariciftci also developed two possible designs for solar cells. On the one hand, a variant which consists of two thin, superposed layers of organic charge donors and acceptors and, on the other, a variant in which the donors and acceptors are mixed, which maximises their interfaces with each other ("bulk heterojunction"). Both types of solar cells work on the same principle as silicon-based cells – light energy leads to a charge separation, which can be used as an electrical current – but they are much less expensive to produce and – in the truest sense of the word – are flexible in use. In addition, chemically they can be easily adapted to new requirements.
Austrian Science Fund FWF
Mag. Stefan Bernhardt
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Vienna, June 12, 2012
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