Prof. Dr. Thomas Schröder, Director IKZ ©Tina Merkau

Interview with Prof. Dr. Thomas Schröder and Dr. Aschkan Allahgholi, Leibniz Institute for Crystal Growth (IKZ), Berlin

"Tech sovereignty? We will do something about it." Prof. Dr. Thomas Schröder about the Leibniz-Strategy forum "Technological Sovereignty"


Professor Thomas Schröder is director of the Leibniz Institute for Crystal Growth (IKZ). In the Leibniz Association, he has just taken on the role of spokesperson in the Leibniz Strategy Forum “Technological Sovereignty”. In this forum, Leibniz institutes want to develop ideas and concepts to contribute to securing this sovereignty together with partners from science, business and politics. In the interview, he and Dr Ashkan Allahgholi talk about the project and in particular the field of quantum technologies.

Professor Schröder: You moved from Frankfurt/Oder to Berlin three years ago. How have you settled in? What do you think of Berlin?

Schröder: On the personal level, Berlin is very exciting, with lots of opportunities. And for me as a scientist too, Berlin is an incredibly vibrant city. Adlershof is now one of the largest technology and science hubs in Germany: Of course, this is a land of milk and honey for advancing research together with excellent colleagues.

There was a long interim phase at the Institute for Crystal Growth before my appointment. A lot of things had to be rearranged. But I think we have managed that. Now we have to bring the ideas there to life. I also have a professorship at the Humboldt University, so education and research keep me busy. All in all, Berlin is fun!

In addition to the professorship and the management of the IKZ, you now have a number of other functions. In the Leibniz Association you are involved in the “Technological Sovereignty” strategy forum. What does that term mean?

Schröder: Technological sovereignty is a topic that has been on our minds in society and in the media for a long time. It is also an issue that concerns us specifically in high technology. In the end, the question is how we can stay at the forefront of science and technology, how we can develop technologies in Europe independently and confidently.

In the pandemic, this could be clearly seen, where technological sovereignty, for example, played a major role in vaccine development. That was certainly also a reason for the Federal Government to start an initiative for technological sovereignty.

What is the role of the Leibniz Association in this?

Schröder: In the Leibniz Association we saw that we also have to be active, that we can do something. The Leibniz Strategy Forum “Technological Sovereignty” was launched as a platform for this. We want to bring the Leibniz perspective into the discussion, make the Leibniz contributions to technological sovereignty visible and finally derive recommendations for action for politicians.

What is the Leibniz perspective in this?

Schröder: The Leibniz Association has the guiding principle “Theoria cum praxi”, we work from basic to applied research to prototypes and small series. This is a very important area of innovation that we are mapping. And that must be linked to the economy and society, to the issues where technological sovereignty is important.

The BMBF [Federal Ministry of Education and Research] has written about these topics in its impulse paper ”Shaping the future with technological sovereignty”.

We try to display these key technologies with various contributions from Leibniz institutes. This can be vaccine research, where the Institute for Photonic High Technologies in Jena is very strong. These could be future communication technologies. My former institute, the Leibniz Institute for Innovative Microelectronics IHP in Frankfurt/Oder, is a leader in this field. And it could also be quantum technology topics. This is what the Ferdinand Braun Institute is working on here in Berlin. Mr. Allahgholi and I have a lot to do right now, to bring the players together.

Keyword quantum technologies. What exactly is your program, what do you want to achieve?

Schröder: Quantum technologies are some of the key technologies which the BMBF selected as being important. Issues that are not just about a technology, but about disruptive changes in various areas of life are important. And the fact that this technology will enable applications and new business fields.

With quantum computing, quantum communication, quantum simulation and quantum sensors, we have very complex innovation activities. We are now in the process of orienting ourselves again within the Leibniz Association. Which institute does what in which area? Of course, it is also important to determine where the handshake with business should take place, which will then also address production issues.

What activities are there in Berlin for this?

Schröder: At the IKZ we are working in the areas of quantum communication and quantum computing. We prepare so-called Spin-based Qbits there, where we generate correlated entangled spin states that then form the basis for quantum computing. The IKZ is a research institute with a focus on materials science, for which we develop high-precision materials, so-called isotope-pure semiconductors. And in the Leibniz Association, for example there is the IHP in Frankfurt Oder, which uses it to develop components. That is already part of the value chain, but not yet commercialised. We need industrial partners for that. To that end, we are already involved in BMBF projects, for example with Infineon, but also with the institutes of the Helmholtz Association in Jülich.

Other institutes in the Leibniz Association, such as the Ferdinand Braun Institute in Adlershof, are extremely strong in the field of quantum optics, which is a major focus in Berlin. The FBH has the possibilities to develop component technologies for quantum optics. This happens in very close collaboration with the Humboldt University, also in the Berlin University Alliance.

Keyword Berlin Quantum Alliance. Which partners do you work together with? You already mentioned the FBH, you mentioned the Humboldt University. Who are you working with directly on the strategy forum?

Schröder: In my opinion, quantum optics have the greatest potential in Berlin. We have a network around Professor Arno Rauschenbag and since I am also a professor at the Humboldt University, we are in contact with one another. The FBH is one institute that serves as a technology platform, but the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute is also very active there.

At the IKZ we are more active in quantum communication. Berlin has relatively few opportunities to connect because industry is lacking here. We are working on this with Brandenburg together with the IHP and with the industry, which has the potential to raise it to a market-ready technology level. We are keeping an eye on semiconductor manufacturers such as ST Microelectronics in France and Infineon in Germany.

The strategy forum is planned for two years. Where do you want to be in two years? What do you want to have on the table afterwards?

Schröder: We are now in the process of setting ourselves up in clusters. We will have a kickoff meeting in December, we call it “Leibniz meets Industry”. We meet there with partners from industry to discuss: What can we contribute? And how does the handshake with industry for further marketing take place? We discuss this for very different topics. This can be vaccine research, future communication technology or even innovative materials research. We have six or seven subject areas that we are preparing and working on.

In February/March next year we will meet the political decision-makers. On the basis of the position papers prepared with the recommendations for action, we want to discuss where we need political support. In order to create the framework conditions to map part of the value chain solidly so that the Leibniz Association can use its skills to help map technological sovereignty. Of course, one thing is clear: An institute alone does not make sense for technological sovereignty. The value chain is always required, and for me that has a lot to do with networking.

If you ask me where I would like to be in two years’ time, it would be a success for the Strategy Forum if we succeeded in acquiring funding for the Leibniz Institutes. And that we can say how we in the Leibniz Association can map the field of quantum technology from materials to components, and at least up to an industry benchmarking. Our approach is market-based, competitive, international.

Mr. Allahgholi, you represent this strategy forum in Berlin. What is your role and how would you summarise your offer for the Berlin quantum community?

Allahgholi: I am the scientific advisor of the “Technological Sovereignty” strategy forum, which basically covers the Leibniz Association. My role is networking, bringing together many institutes in this community. They are divided into clusters according to the guidelines of the impulse paper “Shaping the future with technological sovereignty”.

One of these clusters is the quantum technologies that you just mentioned. Various institutes are already involved in that. We have the IKZ on the one hand, the Ferdinand Braun Institute in Berlin, the IHP in Frankfurt / Oder on the other hand, but also others. Within this cluster, at the IKZ we have taken on the spokesperson role.

If I take an overall look, what does the Leibniz Association have to offer in the field of quantum technologies? I think that by linking all of these institutes, we are able to map the value chain from basic physical research to component development and also system integration.

One of the great advantages of the Leibniz Association is the interdisciplinarity and diversity of institutes. There are not only technology institutes, but we also have many social science and economics institutes. This enables us to look at the whole matter from a socially relevant perspective, which is also a central issue for the BMBF. With all the technological innovations, the social benefit must not be forgotten. And the Leibniz Association can score well here.

Mr. Schröder, do you want to do your projects within the Leibniz Association? Or do you invite external partners from the Berlin area to take part in them?

Schröder: When the findings phase is completed, in January/February of next year, we want to offer this very aggressively. But of course it is already happening. The institutes we mentioned are all very well networked in the Berlin landscape. The non-university partners from the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the Helmholtz Association or the Max Planck Institutes are always on board, as is the Federal government's departmental research, such as the Federal Institute for Materials Research. And in this quantum technology cluster we want to group the contributions of the Leibniz Association not only in Berlin, but also nationally and then make this core available to the Berlin partners.




The interview was conducted by Dr Andreas Thoß in November 2021.