TU Wien defines its research profile on the basis of existing strengths and competences, and has therefore specified five Research Focal Areas for the university: Computational Science & Engineering, Quantum Physics & Quantum Technologies, Materials & Matter, Information & Communication Technology, and Energy & Environment.
The university’s focal areas of research have been taken outside the faculty structure and assigned to TU Wien fields of research. All fields of research assigned to the university’s key areas of research represent cross-faculty areas of competence within TU Wien’s research expertise, and thus provide the basis for the scientific profiling.
A detailed evaluation of the research activities carried out at TU Wien, correlated with the research profiles of the scientists, revealed that approx. 80% of the research at TU Wien is carried out in research fields within the university’s key research areas. In order to promote research pooled according to specialism outside of the five key areas, four ‘Additional Fields of Research’ have been added to the university’s research matrix.
Computer technology for the scientific community
Along with experimentation and mathematical calculations, computer simulations have become a third major pillar of modern science.
Many research questions are now so complicated that they can only be answered with time-consuming numerical calculations. For several years, the computer science services provided by TU Wien have gained it widespread international acclaim.
Faster, better, more accurate
TU Wien carries out research not only into the fundamentals of computer technology but also into applications for specific scientific and technological questions. New mathematical methods are being developed to be able to solve a wide variety of computational tasks more efficiently. In information technology, established knowledge in the software and hardware fields is being used to extend the limits of the possible ever further. However, irrespective of how powerful modern parallel computers become and irrespective of how intelligent modern numerical methods are, for the increasing demands that science and technology place upon computers and their computational power, the best is still only just good enough. Whether it is in nuclear physics or construction analysis, in materials chemistry or fluid mechanics, every advance in computing power is used immediately to increase the accuracy and depth of detail of simulations and modelling calculations. At TU Wien, a particularly powerful mainframe computer is available for numerical simulations: the Vienna Scientific Cluster (VSC) is operated at TU Wien and, in collaboration with other Austrian universities, is used for a variety of research projects. An example of the excellent research in this field can be found in the computer-supported material sciences. The ‘Computation of Materials’ cross-faculty collaboration centre is one of the world’s leading research centres for quantum mechanics calculation of materials characteristics. Once the behaviour of the very smallest material component is understood, it is possible not only to solve fundamental scientific mysteries, but also to develop new materials for industry.
Making technical use of the quantum world
How deeply quantum technology is rooted in our everyday lives today is often barely understood.
Microchips control our electronic devices, laser beams are used for information transfer and high-tech sensors make our lives safer. What was still basic academic research just a few decades ago is now the foundation of whole branches of industry. Modern electrical engineering uses many aspects of quantum theory. Micro-electronic components are developed with knowledge from quantum research. Novel light sources are produced at TU Wien, such as special lasers in the terahertz range that previously were barely technically achievable, and quantum cascade lasers that can be used for versatile sensor systems. Ultra-short laser pulses open up brand new possibilities for the investigation of the world of atoms and molecules. Established quantum research is also now essential for chemistry. Even in the field of materials chemistry, quantum physics and chemistry often merge seamlessly into one another.
From basic principles to quantum technology
With spectacular scientific successes in the field of quantum research, TU Wien continues to attract international attention. Atom chips enable deeper insights into atomic physics. A better understanding of quantum interference and quantum decoherence opens the door to possible new applications: perhaps quantum information technology and quantum computers will one day be just as common as microchips and lasers. Without a solid theoretical basis, further development of quantum technology is not possible. In theoretical and numerical quantum research, the achievements of TU Wien extend from computer analysis of experimental results, through large quantum theoretical computer simulations that have long been essential for solid state physics, to the most fundamental and abstract questions that modern science has to offer – questions, for example, from the fields of quantum field theory, string theory and quantum gravity.
Understanding the properties of materials
Stone Age, Bronze Age, Iron Age – we name entire historical epochs after the materials that were being worked at the time. What materials will define our lives in the future? TU Wien is achieving important pioneering work in many quite different research projects in the search for the materials of tomorrow.
Material science is a particularly important inter-disciplinary field. Many research questions can only be answered if differing specialisms work together. At TU Wien there are highly successful cross-faculty research projects – for example the work on metal oxides, in the whole area between physics and chemistry, and the light controlled production of micro-structures – in which research teams from mechanical engineering and chemistry are participating.
The small and the mighty
Material research is carried out at vastly differing scales. It is just as involved with the atomic properties of new types of nanostructures as it is with the strength of new building materials or special metals for cars or aircraft. Sometimes it is also essential to combine the microscopic and the macroscopic worlds in one research project. Macroscopic material properties can be explained at the micro level. Completely new and exotic material properties promise exciting technological applications. The phenomenon of superconductivity still presents us with unresolved questions. Fascinating new electromagnetic material properties play an important role in micro-electronics. In such fundamental research fields, material research is closely related to the key research areas of ‘Quantum Physics & Quantum Technologies’ and ‘Computational Science & Engineering’. Many of the best materials have already been discovered by nature. Biomimetics, the imitation of ideas from nature for technological applications, plays an important role in material research. Micro structures on the skin of sharks optimise their hydrodynamic properties. Trees grow to a height of dozens of metres because their wood provides them with remarkable stability. If we understand nature’s tricks, we can copy them and ultimately extend their technological use way beyond the examples from nature.
Technology that lets us talk to each other
What developments will future generations regard as the decisive achievements of our age? Information and communications technology will certainly feature amongst them. Electronic data processing, mobile communications and the internet have completely changed our lives and this revolution is still going on today. TU Wien is extremely well equipped to make a significant contribution to this key area of research that is of such great social and commercial significance. The key area of Information & Communications Technology is of central interest in particular to both the Faculty of Informatics and the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology. Whether in relation to mobile telephones or the internet, fibre-optic cables or microchips, in many cases data transfer and data processing cannot be considered separately. Hardware and software aspects must be included together in the research. Only a large research organisation like TU Wien can effectively draw these different topics together.
Data and ideas networks
The theoretical basis of this research field lies in formal logic. Several decades ago it was still a purely abstract basic research field; today, it drives the software industry. More powerful computers and faster data transfer are continually opening up new fields of research. Telecommunications must keep pace with increasing demand and computer networks and large parallel computers must be planned and operated efficiently. The internet is still bringing us new opportunities and confronting us with fresh challenges, such as data security. The working relationship between people and computers is being freshly thought through, and virtual realities and modern visualisation technologies are being developed.
It is routine today for our computers to be networked worldwide. TU Wien is investigating how these networks might become even more comprehensive and more dense. Cars that communicate automatically should make street traffic safer and networked buildings and equipment should save energy – an ‘internet of things’ is emerging. The world is networking and we are networking with it.
How do we solve the challenges of the energy system? What does climate change mean for us? How do we make sensible use of our resources and how do we keep our air and water clean? Research questions from the energy and environmental fields affect our lives directly. This key research area is the most interdisciplinary and the most multi-faceted: all the faculties at TU Wien are participating with a vast range of research topics. To encourage interdisciplinary collaboration, the Energy & Environment research centre was set up to embody, link and promote the existing research initiatives in house and to exploit the synergies.
In the future we shall get our electricity from many different energy sources. TU Wien is providing valuable research ideas for this – from water power to solar energy. In the field of biomass recovery, TU Wien has enjoyed international recognition for many years. The pilot plants in Güssing, developed with TU Wien know-how, have meanwhile achieved a worldwide level of recognition. And yet electricity generation is only the beginning: it is just as important to consider possibilities for saving and storing energy. Even the electricity supply grids will look different in the future from the way they do today. If our large power stations are to be replaced by numerous small alternative electricity generators, then we need smart grid networks that can handle them. All these technical ideas must ultimately be considered against an economic and political background.
Technology for the environment
Almost all aspects of our daily lives could be made more environmentally friendly and this begins in the home: TU Wien is involved in energy efficient construction, with new, environmentally friendly building materials and with environmentally friendly buildings technology. Nor should the sociological aspects be ignored – all the way up to planning ideas for entire towns or regions. Sustainable materials, production processes and technology – mostly in association with digitalisation –can help us save energy and raw materials. In the development of new technical processes, new biotechnologies play a key role, tackling the use of biological systems to generate applications in industry, agriculture, the environment and medicine. New ideas for mobility should reduce our consumption of fossil fuels and create a multi-modal, sustainable and low-emission traffic system. Materials consumption cycles must be closed – waste needs to be viewed not as a harmful burden but as a valuable store of raw materials. TU Wien is developing environmental analysis methods for investigating, measuring and modelling water, air and soil, whether on site, in the laboratory or using satellite-driven processes. New discoveries arising from investigations of water quality are providing the direct foundation for effective and sustainable measures in the field of water and health. Environmental monitoring, which plays a central role in the area of managing natural risks, is providing us with reliable data on the condition of, and changes in, the environment where new strategies need to be found.
Pioneering basic research and applied research related to current practices are making all of these processes easier to understand and helping to protect the environment.
The major part of the research activity at TU Wien can be allocated to one of its five key research areas. Beyond these, however, there are a range of additional research fields that, whilst less comprehensive and cross-disciplinary, nevertheless have great significance for the success and the scientific output of TU Wien. These are embedded into the structure of the university as ‘Additional Fields of Research’.
The research field of Fundamental Mathematics Research deals with questions from pure mathematics that are generally derived not from specific technological applications but from curiosity about basic mathematics itself. Scientific history reveals how often such apparently applicationless fields have facilitated industrial research, for example in cryptography and computer graphics.
‘Mathematical Methods in Economics’ is a field without which modern mathematics is impossible to imagine: fields such as economics, econometrics, financial mathematics and mathematics for insurance require complex mathematical tools. A further research field at TU Wien is dedicated in particular to development planning: ‘The European City – between Self-Organization and Controllability’ is a field that embraces many aspects, including socio-economic, political and judicial issues. In the ‘Development and Advancement of the Architectural Arts’ research field, TU Wien creates a link between science and art – essential when researching and teaching architecture.