Here's how beautiful research can be! On this page we have gathered the most exciting vistas from our labs from the "Insights" section of our research magazine. You want more? That's easy, you just have to subscribe (for free) to Empa Quarterly here.

Empa Quarterly #78: Self-assembly Crystals from droplets

Crystal structures can be created not only from atoms and ions, but also with building blocks that are 100 times larger and have hardly any attraction to each other. These structures are called superlattices. This electron micrograph shows how this works: The individual building blocks are dissolved in the solvent toluene and a surfactant. This forms small droplets. Slowly, the toluene evaporates and the droplets become smaller until the building blocks have to move close together. To save space, they form crystal structures. Researchers from the Functional Inorganic Materials group are already experimenting with superlattices for which there are no natural models: In addition to cubes and spheres, they use building blocks in the form of discs or flat pills. Image: Empa

Further information: Empa - Thin Films and Photovoltaics - Nanomaterials & Self-assembly

Empa Quarterly #77: Paving the way for solar fuels

In August 2022 the ETH Zurich spin-off Synhelion has become the first company in the world to succeed in producing syngas on an industrial scale using only solar heat as an energy source. The successful demonstration took place at the multifocus solar tower of the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Jülich. Synhelion's unique technology uses high-temperature solar heat to produce syngas, which is then used in standard industrial processes to synthesize liquid fuels, such as kerosene, gasoline, or diesel, that are compatible with conventional jet engines and internal combustion engines. To enable the chemical reactors for solar fuel production to operate around the clock, a cost-effective, high-temperature thermal energy storage is developed together with Empa's Laboratory for High Performance Ceramics. 

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Empa Quarterly #76: One peculiar pet


The body is the house of the soul, as the philosopher Philon of Alexandria put it some 2,000 years ago. In this house, the so-called cochlea, the snail, is our pet. The delicate bony structure in the inner ear houses our sense of hearing. Researchers at Empa's Center for X-ray Analytics in Dübendorf, in collaboration with the group of Image Guided Therapy at the Artog Center in Bern, examined the cochleae of healthy subjects using microcomputed tomography. The aim of the imaging technique is to precisely determine the microanatomy of the cochlea in order to optimize surgical interventions when inserting hearing prostheses. If hearing is impaired but the auditory nerve still intact, a cochlear implant can help. Inserting the tiny implants is risky, however. Computer tomography scans can provide helpful insights.

For further information on the topic please visit:

Image: Empa / 

Empa Quarterly #75: Floral splendor from the lab


The New York and Istanbul based artist Sonia Li has created an artificial flower garden with her walk-through installation as the center of the compassion mandala,"Buddhaverse", which also features two technologies from Empa's Advanced Fibers lab: an artificial turf made of bicomponent fibers with a polyamide core and a recycled polymer film coated with a conductive nano-metal layer in Empa's plasma coating facility. Lasers were used to cut floral motifs out of the film, which shimmer in a multicolored way in the installation's UV light. The conductivity of the nano-coating will be used to create a space with interactive multi-sensory experiences when the work is developed further, the artist said. Sonia Li was supported by the TaDA Textile and Design Alliance during the previous grant period. The temporary installation was showcased at the final exhibition at the end of her residency. TaDA promotes interdisciplinary works by artists from all over the world that combine contemporary art with textile innovation and tradition in Eastern Switzerland.

Image: Ladina Bischof / TaDA (

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Empa Quarterly #74: Teaching fungi how to write


Spalted wood is a highly sought-after material in the high-end furniture industry. In a newly developed process, Empa scientists led by Francis Schwarze have succeeded at controlling the spread of fungi in native wood types. Recently, they created an elaborate clock one meter in diameter made of spalted ash, beech and maple wood using the soft rot fungus Kretzschmaria deusta. The fungi were even taught to write some words, and just like first graders, they are still a bit shaky when writing particular letters. Image: Empa

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