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Editorial Empa Quarterly #76

How do you actually do innovation?

Apr 8, 2022 | MICHAEL HAGMAN

Many, if not most, technological innovations – maybe with the exception of the software sector – have their origins in new types of materials. It is no coincidence, then, that we speak of the Stone Age, the Bronze Age and the Iron Age – and perhaps soon also of the Concrete Age, when we look around us and see how we "rebuilt" our world with this almost ubiquitous material.

Thus at its core, the question of how to do innovation revolves around the development of novel materials. And that is exactly what we are doing at Empa – as the Focus of the current issue of Empa Quarterly illustrates. There is no one-size-fits-all solution, however. Sometimes our researchers – like Cpt. Kirk and the crew of the "Enterprise" – boldly go where no one has gone before and explore strange new worlds (from a materials science perspective, of course), for instance, by building up crystals from a wild mixture of ingredients, so-called high-entropy materials with amazing properties. Sometimes they fail magnificently, like in their attempt to print new types of transistors on paper or polymer foils – only to invent, also thanks to serendipity, a new, now patented process for 3D printing as well as a strange transistor with a kind of memory effect, which could be interesting for AI applications. And when it comes to scaling up processes for the industrial production of solid-state batteries – the new trend in battery research – they face countless obstacles, which they are trying to overcome with ever new experimental setups and approaches. The path to innovation oftentimes is anything but straight...

Speaking of exploring new territory: Empa is also breaking new ground in institutional terms; on 1 June, Tanja Zimmermann became the first woman to lead Empa in over 140 years. High time! In an interview she looks ahead and outlines where Empa can make its contribution to solving the numerous challenges that lie ahead of us. She is quite optimistic, taking over a research institute that after 13 years under the leadership of Gian-Luca Bona is "in better shape than ever before", as she points out.

Michael Hagmann
Head of Empa communication
Editor / Media contact

Dr. Michael Hagmann
Phone +41 58 765 4592

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