Every now and then, they move along well-trodden paths, but more frequently, the technicians and engineers headed by Prof. Ghaleb Natour (left) and Dr. Harald Glückler enter uncharted territory in order to develop devices suitable for certain ideas
At the beginning, a masterpiece can only be hoped for. “Most times, researchers approach us with a scientific issue for which they need an instrument or a component that they were unable to find in the catalogues of laboratory equipment manufacturers or instrument producers. They can’t manufacture it themselves because hardly any scientist learns how to weld, calculate complex circuits, or plan devices while at university,” says Dr. Harald Glückler. The physicist at the Central Institute of Engineering, Electronics and Analytics (ZEA-1) is an expert in the field of feasibility studies. Together with the researchers, he and his engineer colleagues search for the optimal solution. Initially, this often results in stacks of notes and technical drawings.
Image above: Every now and then, they move along well-trodden paths, but more frequently, the technicians and engineers headed by Prof. Ghaleb Natour (left) and Dr. Harald Glückler enter uncharted territory in order to develop devices suitable for certain ideas
“The art lies in combining the scientific way of thinking with the creativity of the engineers. Thanks to the great number of different experts at ZEA, there is almost always a suitable translation connecting both worlds,” says institute director Prof. Ghaleb Natour. “Under ideal circumstances, this combination constitutes more than a basic one-plus-one-type solution.” According to Natour, ideas that neither party thought of previously often develop through contact with each other.
However, good ideas also have to be feasible. “In many cases, the requirements of a planned instrument are very complex or are beyond what is possible with the current state of the art. This means we have to first examine how we can solve the issue technically and implement what is needed,” says Glückler. Such feasibility studies prevent the team from going down the wrong track, avoiding unnecessary costs. They also save time since devices often have to be finished by a certain deadline – for example if measuring campaigns are planned.
Development and testing takes up most of the time – usually about two thirds of the time that passes between the initial idea and the finished component. Before an idea is taken from the drawing board to the workbench, it’s down to the ZEA mathematicians: using computer simulations, they investigate whether a planned design will function as planned. Sometimes, they realize that the existing data are insufficient. “We then conduct experiments the old-fashioned way to collect more information. Only then can we predict whether a component will withstand extreme conditions,” says Glückler. In order to shorten the time that the complex calculations require, the experts from ZEA-1 often use Jülich’s supercomputer JURECA. In the case of Yannik Beßler’s moderator reflector unit, for example, they simulated in advance whether a weld seam would withstand the extreme temperature difference and the high pressure. On a conventional computer, this would have taken around eight months. With JURECA, it only took a few days.
“The results from the simulations often help to refine the selected approach,” adds Glückler. Only then can the last phase of the creative process begin: the manufacture of components and the subsequent assembly of all parts. “Once a device is finished, it’s often difficult to tell how much effort we’ve put into it,” says the physicist. “But the researchers notice, of course, when – in the ideal case – they can simply measure new things without any problems.” And that is what Glückler believes is the real art.
Image: Forschungszentrum Jülich/Sascha Kreklau