When it comes to the question of why certain industries are more successful in Thuringia than elsewhere, there's no getting around the term "innovation". Making things that don't yet exist possible and making things that already exist better are fundamental characteristics that are highly valued in Thuringia. We present three areas in which Thuringia's innovative strength is particularly evident: in materials research and processing (in detail: ceramics), in optics and photonics (in detail: laser technology and beam shaping and guidance) and in medical technology (in detail: sepsis research).
Thuringia traditionally has excellent materials expertise. This is already evident from the large number of different material suppliers in the various material classes. Materials are the starting point of any product innovation. Elementary material knowledge as well as processing competencies play an essential role for the additional integration of functions, which has become increasingly important in recent years. In short: new or improved materials, new material combinations and interface modifications or refinements are the basis of innovative products that impress with improved functionality.
- In the spotlight: ceramics and SAPHIR
The importance of ceramics in Thuringia is already evident from the fact that the 98th annual conference of the German Ceramic Society will be held in Jena and Hermsdorf in March 2023 - the most important ceramics conference in Germany, at which numerous international guests are expected. Strong alliances have been established in Thuringia, particularly in the field of research and development, culminating, for example, in the SAPHIR research alliance funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF): The goal of the alliance, which consists of nearly 20 members from science and industry, is the substantial further development of the material and manufacturing know-how of advanced ceramics - with important impulses for the energy transition, electromobility, climate stability and health. To this end, the region around Hermsdorf is to be established as a leading center for advanced ceramics in Europe.
- The TRIDELTA CAMPUS Hermsdorf – Center for innovations
The companies and facilities at the TRIDELTA CAMPUS in Hermsdorf create future-oriented solutions for resource conservation and energy efficiency, climate protection and sustainability, as well as for safety and health. As a traditional location, Hermsdorf is tailor-made for this: shortly after the founding of the first porcelain factory in 1890, Hermsdorf became world-famous with the development and production of electroporcelain for insulators. This means that people here know what they are doing. And so they can look back on more than 130 years of experience, with which they have always been able to flexibly adapt to what is coming. In 2010, the Hermsdorf Institute for Technical Ceramics (HITK) became part of the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft after successfully merging with the Fraunhofer Institute for Ceramic Technologies and Systems (IKTS). The fruits of this merger then became apparent in 2017, when the IKTS won the Joseph von Fraunhofer Prize for the development of the nanofiltration membrane.
- More alliances
Besides SAPHIR and TRIDELTA CAMPUS Hermsdorf there is also "Pades – Partikeldesign", which specializes in powder synthesis. 17 members with a total volume of 18.4 million euros belong to the alliance. The WIR!-Konsortium „Vogtlandpioniere“, on the other hand, pursues special innovations in the field of society and culture and is committed, among other things, to the long-term preservation of buildings and cultural assets via surface finishing.
The history of optics and photonics in Thuringia can be traced back many centuries. In Jena in particular, the development of optics is a success story that is second to none - not least thanks to Carl Zeiss, Ernst Abbe and others. In 2021, Jena was therefore awarded the honorary title of "Historic Site of Physics" by the European Physical Society - the first city in the world to bear this title. As a result of its history, a large number of innovative small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) settled throughout Thuringia, and Thuringia is also a very attractive location for start-ups.
- In the spotlight: laser technology, beam shaping and beam guidance
Optical or photonic technologies are high-tech technologies. They are closely linked to electronics and precision engineering. Special areas of expertise include glass and crystal developments, fiber lasers, and beam guidance and shaping, which are used, for example, in particle accelerators, quantum communication or lithography systems (writing microchips) - a team from Thuringia was even awarded the German Future Prize in 2020 for developments in the field of EUV lithography. This centered competence often enables Thuringian companies to be at the forefront or world leader when new technologies are developed - currently: in free-form optics, in special fiber optic developments and in laser technology.
- The "Wachstumskern" fo+ and Tailored Optical Fibers
Nine companies and two research institutes from the Thuringian photonics industry have joined forces in the "Wachstumskern" fo+. The collaboration aims to develop and market innovative free-form optical systems. Free-form optics enable the production of complex optical systems that are significantly smaller, lighter and more functional. To this end, the members are further developing the "free-form optics" technology platform at all stages of the value chain (design, material, processing, coating, structuring, system integration) and are thus working together to manufacture and market free-form optical systems for national and international customers. The other "Wachstumskern", Tailored Optical Fibers, consists of 18 companies and three research institutes. Together, they developed a joint technology platform for tailor-made special fibers in new applications. Innovative high-tech products such as high-temperature fibers for raw material exploration, fiber sensors for minimally invasive surgery or smart luminous surfaces for vehicle interiors have been or are continuously being created from these cooperations.
- The RUBIN-Alliance: UKPiño and Quantifisens
The RUBIN (Regional Entrepreneurial Alliances for Innovation) funding program of the Federal Ministry of Education and Research improves strategic cooperation among companies and with universities and research institutions. The focus is on the development of innovations with high application potential through regional entrepreneurial alliances. The RUBIN alliance UKPiño focuses on ultra-short pulse laser innovations for customized applications. 16 members are driving developments and new applications of high-tech UKP lasers, enabling ever better processing of a wide range of materials, especially metals, glasses, semiconductors and tissues. Teams from Thuringia have been researching this technology at the highest level for years and were awarded the German Future Prize in 2013 (for the development of ultra-short pulse lasers suitable for industrial use). Quantifisens is located in a different division: The 13 members of the research-and-development RUBIN alliance are building a quantum-inspired, omnifunctional fiber sensor platform to provide adapted fully integrated sensor solutions for use in different markets. The long-term goal here is also to enable quantum technologies for a sustainable innovative leap in fiber sensor technology. Here, too, a number of award winners for innovative technologies can be found, such as the companies ADVA Optical Networking SE (Thuringia Innovation Award Winner 2021 for "Highly Secure Crypto Module for Quantum-Safe Communication in Critical Infrastructures") or Quantum Optics Jena GmbH (IQ Innovation Award 2022).
Medical technology in Thuringia is closely associated with companies of global importance: Bauerfeind AG from Zeulenroda and Carl Zeiss Meditec AG, headquartered in Jena. On the scientific side, the CSCC in Jena should be highlighted - the Center for Sepsis Control and Care. The research institute at Jena University Hospital (UKJ) coordinates the research focus on sepsis and infectious medicine, provides structured training for young scientists, improves care and informs the general public about life-threatening infections and sepsis. Carl Zeiss Microscopy GmbH caused a sensation in 2022. It won the German Future Prize for its developments in lattice light sheet microscopy. The new technology enables investigations of the smallest living structures without damaging them.
Thuringia is thus the federal state whose companies have received the most awards for the German Future Prize.
- In the spotlight: sepsis
Sepsis (also called bloodstream infection) is a life-threatening condition - it occurs when the body's own defense reactions against an infection damage its own tissues and organs. Sepsis is one of the most serious complications of infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or parasites. Sepsis must always be treated as an emergency. In 2017, WHO declared that the treatment and control of sepsis must become priorities in the health systems of member states - to improve prevention, diagnosis, treatment, registration and follow-up of sepsis patients.
- Research campus InfectoGnostics
At the InfectoGnostics research campus in Jena (30 members), light-based and molecular biological methods are being developed and combined to reliably detect infectious agents (viruses, bacteria and fungi) and their antibiotic resistance. Due to the increasing resistance of pathogens and the emerging global threat they pose, it is becoming increasingly important to unambiguously detect and combat the pathogens. This can be achieved with modern infection diagnostics that have non-invasive and patient-friendly solutions at the ready that can detect pathogens and their resistance potential quickly, cost-effectively and on site. As an important location for research and development in photonics and biotechnology, Jena offers particularly favorable conditions for developing completely new diagnostic solutions through to market-ready diagnostic products.
- The RUBIN Alliance ATHANA
The alliance "Antifungal therapeutic approaches through nanoparticle-based targeting of active agents" (ATHANA) consisting of 8 partners aims to develop a nanoparticle-based platform technology that enables innovative therapeutic approaches for the treatment of infectious diseases. Pharmacological problems of anti-infective therapies are to be solved in this way and active agents are to be used which, due to their side effects, have not been applicable in the current clinical setting so far. An industry-driven Thuringian focus in the field of infection therapy is to be further established and expanded.