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Living, Adaptive, and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems (livMatS)


The cluster “Living, Adaptive, and Energy-autonomous Materials Systems” (livMatS) develops bioinspired materials systems that adapt autonomously to various environments and harvest clean energy from their surroundings. The intention of these purely technical – yet in a behavioral sense quasi-living – materials systems is to meet the demands of humans with regard to pioneering environmental and energy technologies. The societal relevance of autonomous systems and their sustainability will thus play a crucial role in their development.

Bioinspired materials, efficient energy systems, and reactive, self-repairing materials with different and often even contradictory properties and functional conditions all meet in a quasi-living materials system. Energy autonomy, adaptivity, longevity, and sustainability are the core properties of the materials systems to be developed in livMatS. They will be investigated and combined with each other in four research areas: A – Energy Autonomy, B – Adaptivity, C – Longevity, and D – Sustainability.




Research area A – Energy Autonomy will study novel methods of energy harvesting and energy storage within a single highly integrated system. Light, temperature differences, and vibrations are taken as potential sources of energy. Once harvested, the energy is either consumed directly or stored for later use. Another important factor is the transformation of energy to make it available in mechanical, chemical, or thermal form or as light energy for adaptive processes within a materials system.

Research area B – Adaptivity will develop new concepts for adaptive materials systems with complex energy landscapes that recognize and can react to sensory input from their environment. The recognition of the sensory input and the reaction to it are not performed by a pre-programmed chip but directly by the material or the materials system, using energy harvested from the environment. The goal is to develop a materials system with a “memory” that can adapt to its environment and improve itself.

Research area C – Longevity will develop strategies that focus on the longevity of complex materials systems, drawing inspiration from living nature, particularly plant life. Mechanisms for self-repair, the shedding and replacement of damaged parts, or also a training-based strengthening of system parts under special stress help to prevent minor damages from leading to a loss of functioning of the entire system.

Research area D – Sustainability will consider the societal dimension of autonomous, quasi-living materials systems and their sustainability. A societal discourse on disruptive technologies, such as autonomous driving or expert systems, is often conducted only after the development and introduction of these technologies. In livMatS, this discourse will be initiated even as the technologies are being developed. The goal is to strengthen the development of the materials systems by means of concurrent sustainability analyses and to actively explore their societal dimension by engaging in critical philosophical reflection and conducting psychological studies.

There are myriad potential applications for these materials systems. One example is “soft” machines that can recognize and grasp objects by feeling them, without the help of a computer. The capability of a materials system to adapt itself to temperatures, lighting conditions, or pressure opens up perspectives in a wide range of areas, such as protective clothing like helmets and back protectors or prostheses that can adjust themselves to fit the wearer autonomously and without needing batteries – for instance through the use of body heat. Other ideas include packaging materials that grow stronger automatically when placed under stress and building envelopes that level out temperature differences, for example to prevent overheating.

livMatS will use the ideas factory IDEASfactory@FIT to implement new forms of scientific exchange and interdisciplinary cooperation. The communication concept “learning from nature in nature” will convey the scientific content at the interface between nature, technology, and society to the general public. livMatS is based on the Freiburg Center for Interactive Materials and Bioinspired Technologies (FIT) and reinforces the university’s strategic alliance with Freiburg’s Fraunhofer Institutes, as exhibited among other things in the jointly operated Sustainability Center Freiburg.

Our interdisciplinary team brings together Principal Investigators from the Faculty of Engineering, The Faculty of Chemistry and Pharmacy, the Faculty of Biology, the Faculty of Mathematics and Physics, the Faculty of Economics and Behavioral Sciences, the Faculty of Humanities, the Fraunhofer-Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE, the Fraunhofer-Institute for Mechanics of Materials IWM, and the Öko-Institute e.V.

The interdisciplinary team of spokespersons includes Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rühe (Faculty of Engineering; spokesperson), Prof. Dr. Anna Fischer (Faculty of Chemistry, Pharmacy, and Earth Sciences; vice-spokesperson), and Prof. Dr. Thomas Speck (Faculty of Biology; vice-spokesperson).



Spokesperson: Prof. Dr. Jürgen Rühe

Tel.: +49 761 203 7160 (secretary)

Tel.: +49 761 203 7161 (direct)

Fax: +49 761 203 7162


Website livMatS


Coordination: Dr. Monika Edith Schulz

Tel.: +49 761 203 95101