Stifterverband Science Prize 2022

Virtually frictionless − virtual material probe sheds light on the friction gap

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Winners of the “Collaborative Research” Stifterverband Science Prize: Prof. Matthias Scherge (left) and Prof. Michael Moseler

©  Photo: Fraunhofer / Piotr Banczerowski


Prof. Dr. Michael Moseler and Prof. Dr. Matthias Scherge (Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM)
Dr. Ing. habil. Joachim Otschik (EagleBurgmann Germany GmbH & Co.)


Ensuring that power plants operate without breaking down and that vehicles run energy-efficiently ultimately depends on just a few atoms. A virtual material probe makes it possible to see, and therefore control, tribological processes at the atomic level. A team of researchers from the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM is being awarded the Stifterverband Science Prize 2022 for this development.

Friction and wear are all-pervasive in mechanical components. Because of this, mechanical seals for pumps or compressors make use of diamond coatings: The crystalline material protects components that rub against each other, allowing them to slide smoothly over one another, and therefore ensures a long service life. However, sharp fluctuations in the coefficient of friction, and in rare cases even total system failures, can cause damage costing millions of euros. The causes of these high coefficients of friction and the conditions needed to keep friction at a constant low level were not previously known.

Now, a team of researchers has solved the diamond friction mystery using a virtual material probe. This combines simulations at multiple scales with real experiments and can effectively see into the gap between components as they come into contact − the only one of its kind. Prof. Michael Moseler and Prof. Matthias Scherge of Fraunhofer IWM are receiving the Stifterverband Science Prize 2022 for developing this probe. The third member of the team, Dr. Joachim Otschik of EagleBurgmann Germany GmbH & Co., will also be receiving the award. The jury was particularly impressed by the trio’s years of research cooperation, support for the development of the probe and contribution to our understanding of the phenomenon of friction in mechanical seals.


Stifterverband Science Prize

For over 15 years, the Stifterverband has been awarding the prize (worth 50,000 euros) every two years together with the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft. The prize rewards research projects in applied research that demonstrate scientific excellence, where Fraunhofer institutes work together with industry and/or other research organizations.